I was talking to my coach a few days ago about writing and where I’m struggling versus where I’m succeeding, and we started making kind of a list of things I either wish I had known earlier in my writing journey or that I need to remind myself about when times are rough. I figured I’d share them here, at least the ones I can remember at 2am.
In no particular order:
1.) There is no being “as good as” or “better than” other authors. In the end, my voice, my style, my choices, my pacing, they’re as unique to me as a fingerprint. There are lessons to be learned from other authors, and when reading their works I may feel like mine is nothing more than a paper doll held up before a wedding dress in comparison. But it’s not the right way to think about it. What’s mine is mine and it has value even if I don’t feel its magic the same way. Just as I look at others in awe, others may look at me and feel those same things. Writing is not a race run against other people. It is only a race run against myself.
2.) The people who love me may not always be my readers, even if I want them to be. No matter how much I want to share my writing, it may not always be a fit for the people around me. And that is not a judgment on me or them. Don’t take it personally when others bow out. A story written to appeal to literally everyone appeals to no one. Let people self-select so they read the things that excite them and let the rest go. The people who love me still love me just the same whether or not they read my books.
3.) The only easy part of the writing process is the having of an idea. Inspiration is easy. Literally everything else is work and sweat and stress and discipline and happy accidents and frustrating effort and sleepless nights and deadlines. And that’s okay. It has been like that for every author in history. It has been like that for every single book I’ve completed. The fact that it gets hard is not reason to stop or give up. The work, in the end, will reflect the effort put into it. So put in the effort, and see what grows out of it.
4.) Writing and publishing are different. Writing is about expression, art, emotion. Writing comes from the soul and the imagination. Writing is like taking one photo of my mind and heart and crystalizing it in time. Publishing is a business. Publishing is about producing and selling a product, and it doesn’t really care how I feel about it. Sitting quietly in the dark and writing is my time with myself, to commune, to feel, to seek — but that will never be what nets a book deal. Publishing comes from marketing and querying and pitching. I am a writer. I am an author. Nothing can change or take that away from me. What happens on the publishing journey can and will be scary and stressful and sad sometimes, but it does not invalidate me or my art or my writing, no matter how it ends.
5.) When in doubt, make the bold choice. If I am at a crossroads in the middle of a work and hesitant to move forward, it is likely because one path feels “safe” and the other “risky.” One path aligns with my original ideas or my outline, while the other is a flash of inspiration that hit along the way. One path keeps the story chugging along on its neat little track; the other leaps the track and heads off into the field of flowers. And the risky choice is always the better one. It is always the more exciting one. It is always the one that elevates the story and everything in it. Don’t get bogged down in the rules of an outline or expectations from the start. Let the story breathe, and when it decides to sing instead, pick up an instrument and play along.
6.) Deadlines help — until they don’t. Having a goal and a deadline is a great driver for me, and it helps me stay focused and disciplined. But there comes a point with a looming deadline that it starts to stress me out and I find myself writing *less* because I’m afraid I’m going to miss it. At that point, I need to take a breath. For as long as I’m not under a contract with a deadline that impacts other people, it’s okay if I push mine out a week. For as long as it’s just me and my story, there is no harm to giving myself an extra week to breathe. My high standards are good at pushing me, but when they push too hard, I need to relax them. It’s not a failure to rest. It’s not a failure to take a break and get back to writing tomorrow. It may even be for the best if today’s writing would be blah but tomorrow’s will be zing.
7.) With all possible self-affirmation, STOP GETTING DISTRACTED. I know, I KNOW my brain will be in the middle of a dialogue and suddenly I’ll get a song in my head and just NEED to go watch the YouTube that I associate with it. I have interrupted my writing time with everything from blog posts (ha) to beefing up my already-robust collection of cool digital art to watching multiple full episodes of a show because my brain went down a rabbit hole and ooooooh look at that shiny other thing that’s not writing. Yes, my brain is a distractable little toddler sometimes. But I can do better, and my wife who would like me to be asleep now would appreciate if I saved my “I’ll just download one more picture” until daylight.
8.) Don’t try writing anything more complicated than a blog post with a migraine. And maybe not that, either. Yes, wordcount can be forced out through the pain, but it is like pushing a dried out wedge of garlic through a garlic press — and with about the same results. Writing through feelings is one thing, and often a positive one; even stress or grief improve with writing. But physical illness is not the same thing. I need to give my damn body a rest and write tomorrow when it doesn’t hurt to move. (No, this wouldn’t possibly be true today…or yesterday…right?)
9.) Mayyyybe start trying to write earlier than 1am. Just a thought. I know I write best when the work of the day is truly behind me and the thoughts of dishes or laundry can be put completely aside. I know I write best when I don’t feel like I’m missing out on time with Sarah or friends, when the visits have ended and Sarah no longer wants to watch the show or play the game with me. But there is a vast margin between when people go home and Sarah settles down with her own book and my 1am spot. Quit messing around online and just get to work. Yes, I can do absolutely excellent work at 1am, but even I annoy myself when I get tired before I want to be done. Even if it feels like “taking time away” from Sarah, it isn’t. She says so. Trust her and take the gift she’s giving of time to write at 10.
10.) My stories deserve to be told. Keep that negative self-talk out and focus on this one. My imagination deserves to be given voice. Whatever the doubts of the day, whatever the fears, don’t back down. My words don’t have to be revolutionary to have worth. They don’t have to change the world to have a place in it. Maybe only 100 people will read them, but maybe just one of those people will be better for them. And that is worth everything. One life made better by reading my story is worth every minute of writing. And somewhere there is that one person. My stories deserve to be told for that one person. No fear or doubt can ever be as important as that.
You know, the more I become aware of and exercise control over my negative self-talk, the happier I am as a person. The less I stress about my writing, about publishing, about all of it. So much of that fear and hurt was coming from me. And I have miles and miles to go as I get better with instituting the positive self-talk in its place, but it’s an improvement and a powerful one.
The me of five years ago couldn’t have found peace with so much of this list. But here I am. And if all that work I’ve put in has gotten me this far, I can only imagine what the me of five years from now will be able to say about herself.
Good job, past me. Keep going, current me. And hi, future me — I hope it’s nice there!