TAKE BACK YOUR WRITING LIFE or Make a Damn New One with Julie
TODAY’S BREW: Fancy Mistobox blend with green apple and milk chocolate top notes. I KNOW.
I used to pride myself on my 1000 word a day diet to get a book done. 1000 words every day no matter what, whether done from 5 in the morning to 7 or done in snippets of a sentence here and there all day, it’s how I got both THE HARPY and THE ANIMAL completed, as well as much of RUNNING HOME. But with RUNNING AWAY that structure didn’t work. And with my current novel, THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, there was just no way.
I was so proud of putting myself somewhere near the top of the priority list and not letting that 1000 words a day get brushed under the rug that when that structure didn’t work–because hey, things change and different books require different processes– I fell apart. My personal life was falling apart, and my writing life did the same. I’m talking for months on end. My writing was inconsistent, and for someone who knows that I need to write every day that’s baaaaad.
Just as fast as the routine fell apart, my world started to come back together again. I’m healthy (er), all my other things and people are stable. The time came to pick up the book I hadn’t given attention to for so long. The book with no outline, a 5 subject notebook full of research, dropped off at over 50,000 words. In the meantime it feels like everyone I lay eyes on is putting a book out, getting great reviews, writing 5000 words a day and complaining it’s not good enough.
Not daunting at all. Nope.
I had no excuses. Time to get to work if I wanted to be in league with them again.
Guys. I did it. I’m steadily doing my 1000 words a day again after not having done it for probably a year, and I’ll tell you how.
I changed my thinking. My rules had been flushed down the toilet, and I made the suckers anyway. Time to let them go. The first thing to go was the rules for my sticker chart. The lovely Victoria Schwab inspired me to have a sticker chart for my writing accomplishments. Small sticker for 350 words (this is the minimum I allowed myself because in the words of my hero, Chuck Wendig, if you can’t do 350 words a day, 5 days a week, you don’t want to be a writer; you don’t GET to be a writer. (Note: I’m not knocking either of these thought processes, they’re the foundation on which I’ve built my writing routine, and like any system, it should evolve to stay relevant.) After looking at months of a sticker here and there, and general failure by my own standards, I decided that writing at all when I haven’t been is an accomplishment. BIG FUCKING STICKER for getting down 150 words when I didn’t think I had one in me. 4 stickers if I damn felt like it for 300 words. Maybe I only want one sticker. FINE.
REWARD THE ACT, NOT THE RESULT.
Remember that your work has value. I felt irrelevant. I’m sitting on a book that I pulled from my now former agent that I finished over a year ago. Still unpublished. I’m sitting on a book that’s been called “dangerous,” and not right for me right now. My vampire series isn’t new anymore by my own standard. So what the hell good was I in the writing community? Then a couple of things happened.
- A few readers reached out that had just discovered RUNNING HOME and fell in love with it. Remember, fool. Just because the book has been out for a while doesn’t mean it’s not new to people who don’t know your work.
- It gave me the courage to ask a couple of folks to read THE HARPY for me, now that it’s back in my own hands seeking publication. I just needed to hear from SOMEONE that it was worth reading.
- A dear friend has been asking me for almost a year to read THE ANIMAL, at which I always claimed it wasn’t good enough, after it had been shot down by my agent. I finally said screw it, it has to be good enough because I’m not perfect and perfection isn’t real. I gave it to him to read and he loved it. Called it “amazing.”
Just because YOU feel down on your luck with your writing doesn’t mean it loses its value to others. Get excited to mean something to people again.
Screw the getting-to-know-you phase. How do you just pick up a book you haven’t messed with forever and start writing again, especially if you’re a classic pantster like myself and don’t work with an outline? Of course, you need to re-read what you wrote, go back over your notes, watch all the movies that inspired you, take long walks and go to museums and climb a mountain for inner peace first.
- NO YOU DO NOT.
I realized if I took the time to refamiliarize myself with the first 50K of THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS that it would be another month before I started writing and by then I would have built up the pressure so much that I’d stumble and fall in the first paragraph.
YOU CAN DELETE STUFF, YOU GUYS. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. BUT IT DOES HAVE TO *BE* THERE.
So I just started writing. A paragraph or two here and there. I didn’t clean the desk first, buy all new pens, demand extreme quiet, none of that. I sat down and just did it. IF I MAKE WRITING AN OCCASION THAT REQUIRES FANFARE EVERY TIME I WILL NEVER GET TO IT. If you want it to be a routine, it has to fit into your life like all your other ones….toothbrushing, making coffee, checking your email. You don’t “get ready” for that stuff, you just do it. JUST DO THE WRITING.
Delilah S. Dawson tweeted the other day, “ONE OF THE HARDEST PARTS OF FIRST DRAFTING=REMEMBERING THAT THE TENSION AND GLITTER HAPPEN IN LATER DRAFTS. SCAFFOLDING IS ALL DULL STEEL.”
I reintroduced rules when I could reach them. Once I wrote a couple of chapters over a couple of weeks, I realized I was about 15,000 words from finishing this book! That sure happened fast! And if I DID sit down and do 1000 words a day, I could finish it in two weeks!
Don’t let your own rules hurt you. When you look at 1000 words and it seems like a million, DON’T LOOK AT THE WORD COUNT. JUST WRITE STUFF. Put a piece of tape over the word count for chrissakes. Just write.
Be a better friend to yourself. If a friend told you they only got 100 words written that day would you say to them that it sucked? No. You’d tell them “hey! 100 words more than yesterday!” Give yourself the same credit. Give yourself the same pat on the back. Treat yourself like you treat the ones you love. Make yourself a priority. Give yourself that 1000 words a day when you feel ready. It’s your gift to you. You’ll feel better afterward.
Speaking of feeling better…. The cookies I’d eat as a pre-comfort to writing? They made me feel like I was already nursing my wounds after failing at writing. I stress eat. So you know what? I stopped. Yeah, that’s right. I stopped. I EAT, man. I love to eat. But eating the crap I was while I was writing was not setting me up for success. It made me feel crappy, and when you feel crappy you think crappy. Then I’d get crappy results. Do I still eat cookies? Yes. But because I want them, not because I’m stressed out and feeling bad for myself. And when I got up from my laptop I felt good. And I wanted to go back to the laptop and do it again.
There you have it, guys. I hope it helped. Now get to work.