I’ve heard so many people talk about “well I started writing, but I got distracted and I need to get back to it”. Indeed, I’ve said something similar a million times myself. Life is really good at keeping us too busy to write. Life is good at keeping us from doing lots of things we want to do.
But since I decided that I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from writing, I’ve learned some things that have been very helpful. Some are techniques, and some are just realizations that helped me wrap my head around this insane process that I love so much. And, though I am not a paid professional, I thought I would share those things with you, in case you find them helpful.
The first thing I’ve learned is that I need a writing buddy. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but I cannot stress it enough–get a writing buddy. My writing buddy and I check in with each other daily on how things are going. I know there is someone else out there paying attention to whether or not I’m working on my writing projects, and it’s just the right kind of accountability. But that’s not the only thing that’s helpful: we also work in tandem.We “meet” via Google Chat, and discuss how things are going. We brainstorm (it’s awesome brainstorming via chat, because then everything is saved in a file in gmail so that you can refer back to it) and problem solve. And then we set a timer–usually 20 minutes if we’re composing new writing, 30 minutes for editing sessions. We each focus intently on our projects during the timed session, then we come back to chat and compare notes, discuss any new issues that have come up, have a little personal chat time, and then do another session. It’s actually pretty amazing how much work we both get done this way. We are both easily distracted, so the combination of accountability plus a timer helps us to focus.
This is related to the second thing, which is that we really do try to write every day. Some days it doesn’t happen. We both have kids, we garden, we preserve food. I have a million other projects going on. But schedule in time to write almost every day, even if it’s only for an hour. I’ve actually had days where I only got 20 minutes or half an hour, but I squeezed in what I could.
Which leads to the third thing, which is that writing is never going to just happen. You want to do it, you have to schedule it. And then that scheduled time needs to be sacred. If you skip it, there should be a damn good reason. And sometimes there WILL be a damn good reason. And sometimes you may have to decide, “this period in my life is not conducive to writing”. And that’s okay too.
But I’m learning that, if a friend wants to meet for coffee, I can schedule that around my writing time. It’s okay to tell my 11 and 14 year old kids, “I’m writing. I need for you to give me this hour without interrupting me unless it’s a life or death situation.” And then make them stick with that. (Obviously, it’s different with younger children who can’t do things for themselves. Writing Buddy Laura has to work during her two-year-old’s nap time. So right now, we schedule around her toddler.) Neither of my kids has so far died or been otherwise damaged by my closed door policy. I think it’s good for them to see me doing what’s important to me and setting healthy boundaries.
The fourth thing is that inspiration is NOT the greatest factor in writing. Writing isn’t some mystical, ecstatic experience that descends like a dove from heaven and overtakes you. If you’re waiting to feel inspired? You will finish your novel in approximately 250 years. If you finish at all. Inspiration is only the jumping off point: it’s the seed, the spark, that first idea that fills you with excitement and giddiness. And it’s a WONDERFUL start. But if you want to finish, you can’t rely on inspiration. You will have to rely instead on motivation and perspiration.
A lot of people seem to think of inspiration and motivation as sort of the same thing–when they say “I didn’t feel inspired today”, I think what they really mean is, “I wasn’t motivated today”. But they’re really not the same. Inspiration can set you in motion initially, but without continuing motivation you will get nowhere. To motivate someone is to “provide with incentive, move to action, impel.” My blog buddy Cat has a great post on this subject. One of my favorite quotes from her musings on the subject:
Some writer’s get feisty when they believe their fellow scribes are not willing to put in the time, yet insist on instant gratification without the work. In a recent discussion, one asked in this paraphrased kind of way, “If I was a dentist could I just shrug and tell my patient, oops, guess I don’t feel like drilling today?”
If you want to write, you have to . . . well . . . write. You have to do it regularly, if you want to finish something. Writing is work. It’s delicious, satisfying, beautiful work, but it is still work.
But work is good. We have this idea in our culture that work is soul draining, unfulfilling drudgery. And many jobs are just that. But work is an important part of life–and at its best, it can give us purpose and let us contribute something new to the world that wasn’t there before. Work can be a passionate and life-feeding process. But it will always be a process which requires us to give our time and energy. If you want to write a novel, or your memoirs, or a comic book or screenplay or poem or children’s book, you should be willing to perspire for it. Regularly.
And now that I’ve been all pragmatic, I’ll move on to the airy fairy fifth thing. Which is that I DO believe there is some bizarre kind of magic that happens in the writing process. I DO believe in divine inspiration, or a muse, or whatever you’d like to call it. There are things that come to me during the writing process that I’m pretty sure I’d never create on my own. BUT, I think that your muse, your divine inspirer, your grace, whatever you call it, STILL expects you to do the work. It isn’t the job of the muse to drop the finished work in your lap, or to deliver some kind of disembodied dictation which you merely transcribe. If that’s happening, you aren’t creating, you’re channeling. Different process entirely. Still an awesome process, but not the same thing. The muse gives you the spark; then you have to carry it, feed it, nurture it, work for it, and something beautiful will come from it. And once you start working, sometimes the muse will give you new things to add to the process, some amazing bit of fuel for the fire that sends flames shooting skyward. But you still have to take what you are given and shape it. I am finding that the more I give to the process, the more I receive from it. I think that’s like anything else in life–what you put in to it determines what you get out of it.
The sixth–and last–thing is this; if you don’t love the process of writing, you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s crazy and ridiculous to write only for the sake of being published. Do I want to be published? Hell yes. Would I love to earn money with my writing? Absolutely. But if I knew I would never get a cent from writing? I would still do it. My writing buddy isn’t even sure she WANTS to be published–but she loves the process, so she does it anyway, and lets the publishing question be a problem for her future self. I DO want to be published, but I refuse to answer questions from my friends about when I think it will happen. I have no guarantee that it will ever happen. I hope it will, but I don’t know. But I write because I want to, because I need to, because there is no rush in the world like taking part in the unfolding of a story. If you don’t feel that way about it–are you sure you want to do it? Or do you just like the idea of having a book with your name on it? If you don’t enjoy the process, maybe you should find something that you DO love doing. And if you DO enjoy the process, then don’t let anyone convince you to stop, even if all you do with the things you write is tuck them in a box. Publication should not be your only reason to write–and it shouldn’t stand in the way of your writing either. Write because you fuckin’ love it–because otherwise, what’s the point?