I love writing. It’s not just telling stories or getting my ideas down on paper that appeals to me so much. Rather, it’s the fact that writing is a process, a sort of continual evolution of creativity that is not the same for anyone else. As a kid I remember Mister Rogers reminding those of us who were watching him all the time that there was no one else like us in the entire world and that there would never be anyone like us again. I’ve noticed that about the writing process. Multiple times a day I go on Twitter where I am acquainted with all sorts of aspiring indie writers (and the occasional pro) who are quick to offer their own two-cents about writing and what is right and wrong when it comes to composing. Instead of talking about all that unsanctioned advice, I want to talk about some of the things I have learned all by myself just by opening Microsoft Word and writing!
LESSON ONE: Writing is more than a word count. Like many authors, when I write I tend to focus more on how many words I manage to crank out each session than the number of pages. While I have read several different estimates as to what a single, double-spaced page on Word will equate to on various mass-market book pages, I still to this day cannot picture what three pages of my writing from my computer would look like if I transferred it from screen to page. In interviews I’ve watched or articles I’ve read from some of my favorite authors, I notice that they focus on words, of that, and never on pages. Harlan Ellison encouraged new writers to sit down on their ass and do no more than 1,000 words a day. Isaac Asimov wrote a bare minimum of 4,000 words a day, a feat that an English professor of mine once told me would be impossible for most writers. Stephen King chose 2,000 words as a good daily goal.
The problem with all the starts and stops I’ve had over the course of a decade or more of writing is that I have not completely figured out a goal that works for me. When I can off of my latest months-long drought I pushed myself to 2,000 words a day, reaching it (including a couple of days where I reached 4,000 words) but it took me most of the day and it burned me out. I stared the second week off with a smaller goal of 1,000 words. I began a new story yesterday and comfortably wrote 700 words before choosing to follow Harlan’s advice and quit while I was hot. Picked it up this morning and have 400 words down easy.
That is when it hit me that while it probably is best to shoot for a goal, you can’t force yourself to go any faster than you can. In a race you can’t force yourself to run faster than your body allows or it will mean bad things for you. If all you can manage one day is 700 words, be proud of what you accomplished, go away and come back next time and have at it.
Which leads to the second lesson I learned from writing…
LESSON TWO: WRITING IS A MARATHON Actually, I shouldn’t say marathon. Writing is a workout. You write because you have ideas in your brain that you want to get out on paper. The brain, surprise surprise, is a muscle. What do you do to muscles? You work them out. You tire them out and occasionally even tear them. Then, you recuperate and feed them protein and they not only recover but grow. That’s essentially the exact same thing that’s writing is and I learned that because of the word count goals I talked about before.
You do not start off as a weight trainer by lifting the biggest and heaviest weights in the gym. You do not start with long sets and a bunch of reps. Instead, you start with smaller weights that you can actually lift without injuring yourself and you can take it easy at first. Overtime those weights will become lighter and lighter and you have to increase weights and add in another set or some more reps in order to continue to make gains. With writing, I made the mistake of trying to go for the hundred-pound word count when my muscles could really only handle a fifteen-pound word goal. Isaac Asimov I am not. As many stories and blog entries as I have floating through my brain, psychically and mentally I am not prepared yet to go for 4,000 words a day. The environment around me does not permit it, either. I write either sitting up in bed at night when what I really want to do is play video games or I’m sitting in the living room where everybody and their mother is coming in and out making noise and distracting me and I have my eight-month old little girl I constantly have to pay attention to. I have no desk and I have no office where I can have any sort of privacy or peace and quiet. So instead of 4,000 words or even 2,000 words as a returning-beginner, 1,000 words is what I can easily and readily accomplish at this point in my writing journey. Some days I can push myself past that breaking point and I can write a few more words, but I’m careful not to allow myself to burn out or I am in danger of going months and months again without a single word being written, and that just cannot happen anymore. The best advice, and this was seconded by an email from one of my favorite authors that I posed this question to afterward, is that you sit down, write, find a length you can easily accomplish and stick to that until it’s so easy and you’re ready to go further.
LESSON THREE: IF YOU WRITE, YOU ARE A WRITER Some people are convinced that you need to be published or be making money from your writing in order to consider yourself a writer. Up until very recently when I returned to the blank page and reactivated my Twitter account and blog and all that stuff, I felt the same way. I considered myself an aspiring writer even though I am already a published author who has actually made money from the art of writing. Not much, but more than countless others have. My lifelong sense of self-doubt caused me to not have much faith in myself at all, and it extended to my writing.
Like so many amateurs, I had decided that until the time came when people outside of my immediate circle knew who I was as a writer I would not consider myself one.
The more I write, though, and the more I blog I find out just how wrong I am and just how wrong other people are. Technically, and truthfully, the only qualification needed to be a writer is to put words down on paper. To write. If you can do that, you’re a writer. You can be an aspiring bestselling writer or an aspiring published writer, but those both sound tacky and have a degree of arrogance attached to them, so it is probably best to stick with “writer.” There is no “aspiring” necessary. My daughter Kenway IS an aspiring writer because she is at the age where she can’t even hold her bottle by herself, let alone a writing instrument. Lots of goo-goos and gah-gahs but no actual words yet. SHE is an actual aspiring writer. Those of us who can write and do write are not.
Which brings me to the final lesson of the day and the one that I find personally to be the most important one of all…
MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OF ALL: HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR WRITING! You should have confidence in everything that you do, but if for some reason you can’t and can only limit yourself to being confident in one particular area…you should probably find something else other than writing. You might have a better life that way.
But if you insist on only being confident in your writing…
You will find that the more confident you are in yourself and your ability to write the bette your rough drafts are going to appear when you go back and read them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lacked confidence and would go back and re-read something that I wrote and would be disgusted at what I was reading. Never mind that it was a hastily-written zero draft and that I wrote with no regard to spelling, grammar, or any other important writing conventions. That wasn’t the point, the point was to get the thing out of my head and onto paper so it could be revised later. Instead of going into the draft with an editorial mindset, though, I would allow my lack of self esteem get the best of me and I would despair away from writing, thinking myself to be not very good. It pains me often to think about where I would be in my writing today if I hadn’t let such nonsense force me to quit writing for long periods of time. The lack of confidence has kept me a beginner since the fifth grade.
Confidence is key. Confidence is sexy. Confidence is what is going to get that story or book of yours written even if there is some kind of lingering doubt deep down telling you that it won’t be. Write the story as best you can and be proud of it. That literally is all you can do. For everything else, there are professional editors. Sure, they might cost you a few pennies but they will kick the shit out of you until your doubt goes away. Or, more likely, they will help you find the diamonds in the rough.
I seriously could write post after post about all the advice, useful and not-so-useful, that I’ve found online pointed at new writers, but at the end of the day I found that the best advice has come from what I have learned myself as I struggle to get the buttload of stories out of my head and onto the screen. Do I still seek out famous authors and see what they’ve had to say? Hell yes! They know what it takes to be successful. At the same time, though, they know what works for themselves. It is up to me, with or without their guidance, to find out what works and what doesn’t work for myself.
Now, then. Back to my story!