Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesdays, where I post (you guessed it) tips on writing every Wednesday at 5:00 PM ET. This week’s topic:
Have you ever picked up a copy of your favorite book and thought “Man, how did they write this? It’s a huge book!”
Have you ever picked up a book that was HORRIBLE and thought, “Man, I could have written this a thousand times better?”
Well, I am here to tell you that the difference between you and either of the authors in this scenario is virtually non-existent. How is that possible, you ask?
Simple, right? Or so it sounds.
Before we dive into that idea, let’s think back on our school days. You’re in your too-small-for-you chair, one person is complaining that it’s too cold in the classroom, while some one else is complaining it’s too hot, and bam—just when you think it can’t get any worse, the teacher assigns an essay due by the end of next week. Sure, it’s a short essay, but you can’t help but internally roll your eyes a bit.
Now you’re out of class. It’s the middle of the week. You haven’t started the essay yet, but after all—you’ve got this. Your week goes by, you have a blast, and somehow it’s Sunday at 11:30 PM and you have a half hour to write a three-page essay. How did this happen?!
Okay. So maybe everyone’s not the extreme procrastinator that
I am have been, but this is a reality for many people, and it’s often, at least partially, because the assignment is little, it’s small, so we believe we can do it. And believing in yourself is great—except when it sets you up to write the three-page essay in a half hour.
How does this connect with writing your novel, screenplay, etc…?
When we look at a three-page essay, we look at it and say, “Oh, I could do that easily,” yet our procrastination is admitting something otherwise; our procrastination admits that there is something about the task that is difficult, and makes us not want to do it, so instead we find little ways to make us feel successful in the meantime—“little victories,” if you will. Now, there are psychological reasons for this, of which I am going to leave to someone else more qualified to explain to you, but the gist is this: if you break something down into small, achievable pieces, you are more satisfied, less stressed, and end up with a better quality product.
Because here’s the thing:
Writing is hard.
Writing well is even harder.
Yes, you could write that horrible book better. Yes, you could become the next Tolkien. But the nagging question remains: why haven’t you?
It’s because of a lack of discipline, and a lack of priority.
I have learned recently about the danger of excuses. Per Steve Kamb’s book, Level Up Your Life, that I have been reading recently, try seeing what happens whenever you replace, “I don’t have time” with “It’s not a priority.” I even like changing it to be “It’s not a priority right now,” this way I am actively being positive by saying it’s something I may do in the future still.
If your family, your business, your job, your pet, your lemonade stand is more important than writing right now, guess what? That’s okay.
The thing about writing a book, however, is that it doesn’t happen by wishing. It happens through work. A lot of creative souls, myself included, fall into the trap of “I don’t have any inspiration right now.” “I have writer’s block.” Or: “My muse hath lost her way and doth no longer speak to me.”
Pick whichever version you like, but if you’re a writer, you’ve probably said as much not only to yourself, but to anyone who will listen to you talk about writing.
I don’t let myself fall into the trap anymore. You see that language I used there? I don’t let myself. It’s your choice whether you sit there and write, or you complain that you can’t.
I am a romantic at heart, and I do still believe in inspiration, but I don’t use it as a crutch anymore. I save inspiration for projects I don’t have an immediate goal or deadline for. Like when I’m on a walk and I take my journal with me just in case something strikes me as particularly beautiful, or writing down some amazing thought I had as I was going to sleep to elaborate on the next day.
All this to say….
THIS is the secret to writing. Are you ready?
Yeah. Profound right? It’s like the best worst-kept secret ever.
It sounds silly, but this helps me out every single day as a writer. I choose to write. Writing isn’t some flitting, flirtatious muse—it is a skill. And unless you hone it and move toward a goal, the end goal of becoming the next Tolkien, or writing better than that horrible, nameless author, isn’t going to happen.
Do you remember this meme?
What would happen if we stopped seeing this meme as motivation, and instead saw it as a tempting call to the dark side? The one where there are no cookies?
If we rethought of our ability to write quickly as the all-coveted skill, and instead changed the goal to writing high quality, publishable material, then I bet a lot would change.
But what if you write slowly? No problem. So do I.
Writing, like anything else, is something you have to make time for—especially if you want to get published.
“But I don’t have ti—” Nope, we nipped that in the bud earlier. “It’s not a priority right now.”
Now then, make yourself an accomplishable writing goal every day. I’ll tell you what worked for me, so you can get an idea of how it works.
I am NOT a planner. I am, like….the ANTI-PLANNER. And I always have been.
However—I have a book that I want to get published around November 2017. Crap. That means I have a deadline. That’s so scary. Anxiety. Ahhhhhhhh!
Despite my desire to Anakin-write because of my anxiety, that just isn’t going to happen with a 90,000+ word novel if I want it to be any good.
So I did…………math.
My boyfriend sat down with me and we worked out how many words a day I would need in order to meet a word-count goal of 90,000 words by Dec. 1st. Luckily, I already have about 30,500 written.
But before that, I did something even simpler, and less scary.
When I decided to start writing my book again after finishing grad school, I sat down and gave myself a goal of 50 words. That day I ended up writing 66.
The next day, I kept a goal of 50, and wrote 88.
Then I gave myself a goal of 100, and I wrote 120.
The process continued until eventually, I was easily hitting between 1,000-2,000 words a day.
Then I went on vacation and my system was kind of blown, and it took me a long while to get my groove back. See future post about how I got my groove back!
Now this is how I have done things, and this doesn’t mean this is how you have to do it. Remember, I am NOT a planner. Planning gives me anxiety, but the result gives me peace.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a writer, or interested in writing. So I tell you what. I challenge you: go write 50 words of your heart-project. Whatever that is. Novel, poem, screenplay, whatever. Just 50 words, and see what happens.
Writing isn’t going to be a magical experience every time you do it. In fact, a lot of times it just feels like work.
Future Me is always happy that I wrote.
My encouragement to you is this: know that writing is hard, it is solitary, it can be lonely, and writing a longer work is extremely daunting.
But give yourself a break by working on it one step at a time.
The secret to writing is writing, not writing fast.
It took Tolkien about 10 years to write The Lord of the Rings.
It took Patrick Rothfuss 15 years to write The Name of the Wind.
The only difference between them and you is that instead of going to Barnes and Noble and thinking, “Hm, I could write a book like this,” and then continuing on their merry way, they made a decision—a decision to be a writer.
It’s a dedicated passion, that’s for sure, but remember Future You—will Future You be happier that you did it?
If yes, then go for it. If not, then that’s okay, too! It’s up to you to decide where your priorities are, and what will make you happy in life.
But if you foresee endless trips to Barnes and Noble where you look for your name on the shelf in vain, wistfully wishing you hadn’t spent all of your time [INSERT VERB] ing here, then maybe writing is for you.
It’s both the best and the worst thing:
All you have to do to be a writer, is write.
Alyssa Grace Moore
You can also find Alyssa on Twitter: @alyssagracem