Thursday, 31 August 2017

Ink Tip: The Tyranny of Daily Writing

There is a tiny piece inside of me which shudders whenever I talk about how difficult writing is.  It's a loudmouth, reminding me that making up stories is something I have always done for fun, so how dare I complain about any aspect of it.  But, there's another part, larger and more sober, which reminds me that there's a difference between imagining a story, writing it down, and creating something which other people want to read.  All three are very different.  (And yes, I have many voices in my head, but that's between me and my court-appointed psychologist.)

Writing a book is hard and takes a lot of work.  It takes me a year to write and edit a book that someone can read in a few hours.  Don't get me wrong, I love it and it's what I want to do, but like anything else, there are days when I'd much rather veg and watch TV than haul out the computer.

This is where writing advice people will talk about the importance of making yourself write every day.  Even if all you pen is a measly 500 words, that's 500 words further ahead than you were before.  And after (pause for calculator) 200 days, you have 100 000 words, which is a decent size novel.  It sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

Except that this approach doesn't always work.  Especially if the author is still juggling other commitments (like a job, for example).  Sometimes those little patchwork pieces of 500 words don't come together into something coherent and exciting, because the author has been pushing his/herself instead of taking the time to recharge.

Writing advice is like any other advice.  It's well-intentioned but it's not going to work for everyone.  My parents encouraged me to throw my time and effort into climbing the career ladder, which would have required 80-100 hour weeks, because that's what worked for them.  I was capable of it, but it wasn't what I wanted, so I chose work that I knew wasn't going to follow me home at night or on weekends, giving me predictable space for other pursuits that I felt more passionate about.  In other words, I went with what worked for me.

Self-awareness is the real key to success.  Do I do better writing in two or three large blitzes or in steady, small doses?  Am I a plotter or a pantser?  How much prep work is too much?  And sometimes those answers aren't always immediately obvious.  I enjoy doing character studies and writing out backgrounds, which helps to create interesting characters but can also end up taking away from time actually writing the story.  I need regular breaks in my writing, but if I take more than two days off, I have trouble getting back into it.

The only way to find what works is to push yourself to try different things.  And then be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn't.  I'm a big believer in writing things down, because otherwise I evaluate success emotionally.  I might feel like I've succeeded or failed but it's the numbers that tell the objective story of daily wordcounts or books sold.

If you're looking to make the jump between writing for fun and being a published author, then start your homework now.  Join a group, read the magazines and blogs, try different approaches until you find something that works for you.

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