Writing can be a difficult and intimately personal undertaking. We all have different approaches, different voices, and different methods for the way in which we weave words. There are lots of ways to write a book, and a problem I’m seeing a lot in writing classes, blogs, and instructional books is the expectation of imparting the One True Way to write.
Hello, Happy Writers, long time, no see! I didn’t mean to go on such an extended hiatus — Hurricane Irma scattered our lives for several weeks, then October flew by, and now NaNoWriMo is chewing up my life! EEK. But! I have returned to issue you your weekly writerly goodness. 🙂
So, we’re deep in the thick of it for NaNoWriMo (Become my Buddy!) and, by now, we’re all probably feeling a tad overwhelmed by the task we have set for ourselves. You might be feeling you’ve bit off more than you can chew with NaNoWrimo — or, in fact, with any of the writerly goals you’ve set yourself this month.
What is the answer? How can we set goals for ourselves, shoot hit, but not get overwhelmed at the same time? I’m constantly gripped with guilt over the amount of writing I haven’t done — and very rarely do I remember to feel proud for the work I have put down. Before you beat yourself up for not reaching whatever goals you have set for yourself, consider — it might be your goals, not your writing, that are the problem.
It’s always good for writers to have goals, be they weekly word goals, to write a short story every month, or get a book finished every year — But I was wondering, lovely writers out there: What is your end goal? What is it that you’re working toward?
What are you writing for?
At what point will you consider yourself successful, or your writerly wishes fulfilled? When you hold your published book for the first time? When you see your work on the shelves of a bookstore? Why do you want your story to be published? To see your name in print? To make money? To tell a story you desperately want to tell? What makes you excited to finish your writing?
For me, I really want to know that I’ve entertained someone, that I’ve given them a few minutes or hours of escape. Reading has helped me out of countless depressive episodes; when you’re feeling listless and lost in the world, it can be so amazing to pick up a book, get engaged in the story, and remember how to feel feelings again. So, if someone reads what I’ve written and tells me it got them through a bad night, through a plane ride, that it cheered them up after an exam or long day, that something I wrote made them smile or laugh, I would be walking on cloud nine.
Consider your end goal often. Do something to remind yourself why you’re writing. Write your goal down on the first page of your writing notebook, or scribble it on a Post-It note that you mount above your desk. On days when the work seems endless and the story too difficult to wrangle, remind yourself that you’re doing this for a reason. You want to share your characters with the world. You want to see your name on a printed book. You want to sit on a panel of authors at a convention and share your knowledge as an equal, an authority. Or, you want to get someone through a bad night.
Hold onto why you’re doing this. Whatever your motivation, whatever gets that story out of your head and onto the printed page, it’s worth it. And it’s worth reminding yourself of, from time to time.
You know the feeling. You were super excited about your book, all the words were flying out of you, the characters were yammering on inside your head so clearly you really could hear them, everything was going great—
And now … you don’t know what to do.
First drafts almost always feel like this, at some point. That initial burst of inspiration has dwindled away and we start to feel pretty daunted; maybe our word count isn’t where we want it to be, or our story isn’t as good or exciting or as competently written as we’d hoped. Our Inner Editor is whispering nasty things in our ears. The urge to quit might be growing too strong to ignore.
If you’re feeling exhausted and getting stuck in the endless ream of drivel you believe your draft to be, here are some things I think will help keep your spirits up, keep your fingers moving, and keep that word count growing.
It’s only by sitting in the chair
that we can hope to rise.
It’s only by tackling the knot
that we stand any chance of untangling it.
By putting words to the page
so many words,
any and all kinds of words,
too many words.
It’s only by doing this work that we might hope to find
the perfect words.
The keys that turn the locks.
The switches that bring to life the lights.
The whispers of truth
the strength to the muscles
the shape to the spine
the beat to the heart
of the narrative.
The right words are there.
Not in some nebulous cloud floating above your head,
not lurking in your computer,
not sleeping in the pages of that thesaurus you never open.
The words are in you already.
Perfect words in search of a perfect place.
But the only way to find them
is by doing the work.
By opening the page.
By uncapping the pen.
By sitting down in that chair.