Writing is hard. It sometimes sucks and doesn't often pay well. Still, I wanted to share with you a quick follow up. Last week I had really beat myself up on being frustrated and not doing well in making my writing goals. Working on my next novel was like having teeth pulled at the dentist's. Well, it's a week later and I wanted to come clean on my progress or lack of it.
My writing goal from 11/22-11/30 was 6,000 words. My plan was to have two days off and then write 1,000 words on the other days. How did I do? I wound up writing 10,242 words. Yeah, me! But that's not why I wanted to write this blog post. I discovered something really amazing and wanted to share it. I've had this happen to me in the past, but I forget to write it down. Let me share with you how I've overcome writer's block, feeling dispassionate about a project or just wanting to give up.
Here is how a typical writing project goes for me: I have an idea, make a commitment to start writing the book, start strong, drag on through the middle that sucks really, really bad, stall, stop and want to quit and then rediscover why I love writing and finish strong.
I have published four novels and a collection of short stories and you would think that I would have figured this out by now, but that's not the case. The secret to overcoming the parts in which I want to quit is the most simplest of things, but not easy to do. I have tried to share this tip, boiling it down to its core, to: "Just do it." Yet my wife hates it when I say that. We'll talk and express a problem she's trying to overcome and I tell her to "Just do it." She interprets that as "it's really simple to do but you're lazy and can't do it so stop your whining and get to work."
That's not what I mean. I recently came across some other good advice lately and it translates into: "Do it." And the next part is: "But it's not easy." I internalize the advice to being that I need to make time to write and that it will take effort and hard work on my part. I've heard this advice before and it's been: "Sit butt in chair." But what does that really mean?
I take it to mean that I sit down at my laptop, ignore social media and the internet and just start writing. I just write. It doesn't matter if the words are good, bad or indifferent, but what matters is that I am giving myself the permission to write and to screw up. I think about it this way: When I sit down and think about how hard it's going to be to write 90,000 plus words and then have to throw about probably 40% and then start on a second draft and then get beta readers involved and then someone to edit the work and then I create another draft and then work on the cover with a graphic designer, convert the book into ebook formats, publish them on various online platforms, well, you get the idea: If I were to think about all the steps it takes to complete a book, I become frustrated and paralyzed. I can't complete the work.
It's when I focus on the positive, let go of the shackles that hold me back and give myself the freedom to write that I can overcome. I don't have any secret, but to share that writing can be hard work or the most exciting of times--it all depends on your point-of-view. When I sit down and approach writing in a positive way, I'm then going to have a blast. If I sit down and think, "Damn, I have 1,000 words to write today and don't feel like it," well, it's going to be a struggle.
The end goal of writing 1,000 words remains the same, but it's the interior monologue that's different. Overcoming a rough spot is mostly mental. How I perceive the writing comes down to this simple thing:
Do you see writing as a chore or the chance to have a blast?
The perception and how you write is key. Now I can hear you saying, "But you're full of bullshit. None of this is going to help me overcome writer's block or my slump." Yes, you're right if you think that way. Here's a real life example: I am working on my latest novel, been bummed out because I have three novels out and my sales have been flat. I have two choices: Quit or write more.
I have put in years of work so far on my indie publishing journey and, yes, it's frustrating to see that I've a long way yet to go. But again, it's all about perception. This is the key that I need to write down, remember, star it and make it stand out in bold:
If I allow the individual tasks of writing (writing, editing, proofreading, marketing, social media, etc.) to pull me down, then I won't be able to get to the good stuff: Writing and sharing my thoughts with the world in a book.
When I sit down and write with joy and allow myself to be free, then I am unstoppable (and the quality of my writing is way better).
The challenge is remembering what ignites the flame within me and to keep on working. I find it good to look at the long term plan from time to time, but on a daily basis, what works for me is to set achievable goals. Work on what will be possible today. This is one of the reasons why I have never wanted to do NaNoWriMo. I don't wish to deal with that type of stress to knock out a 50,000 word book in one month. Maybe when I'm more disciplined and have been working at this longer, I'll change my mind, but for today this is what works for me:
- Make a public commitment to write a book (public accountability with friends, family and social media friends helps).
- Sit down and write.
- Remember why I'm writing and who for (me!!) and embrace that.
- Focus on the day by day.
- Have fun. Really. Have fun. Sit down, allow yourself the freedom to write whatever you want about whatever and your mind will shape the work over time.
- Rinse, repeat and move onward. Don't give up. Express frustration, talk about it, but shake it off. Shake it off like a sickness that's pulling you down into a deep pit that will strangle you. Fight it. Fight like you have never fought before. Use that emotion and energy and channel it in your work.
- Relax and admire your work. Job well done.
- Dream up the next project and start over again.
None of this is a secret recipe, but what is really hard to remember is that when I'm in the midst of my frustration, that I can't see the long term goal. It's really hard to see out of the tough times and to embrace why I really love to write.
I wanted to share this to give hope to others. If you're going through a rough time, give yourself a hug. Hang in there, talk about your frustration and then sit your butt in the chair and write. Do it. It'll be hard in the beginning, but then you'll smile inside and the lifelessness will bloom into a spring field with crazy colored flowers and bees will pollinate your soul with bits of the divine. Sound like fun? It does to me. Now I just need to remember all of this during the rough times!
Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.