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Let’s be honest: fame and fortune would be nice, but it’s not really the reason we write, is it?
We write because we need to. It should be enough but sometimes we want more. This post will lead you through three ways to get yourself closer to your image of ‘writing success’.
Why We Write
You write because:
- You have a driving need to express yourself
- You desperately want connect with other people through your words.
- You feel fulfilled when you are writing.
- You’re a better person on days when you do your creative work.(Tell me some other reasons why you write)
But even then, we don’t always get what we want.
Why Aren’t You Getting The Results You Want?
- Perhaps you start a lot of projects but never finish.
- Perhaps you can’t find time to write.
- Perhaps you find time, but inspiration doesn’t come.
- Perhaps life is busy and it’s hard to justify your writing time
- Perhaps your work was rejected and you stopped sending it out.
All these problems are understandable. Hey, life is busy and you have a lot to do.
Writing is probably not a source of income for you at the moment, so it’s hard to prioritize the time.
As a writer who is still working on the craft, it’s hard to know if you’re making the right moves to advance your skills.
And let’s face it, when you do finally get up the courage to finish a piece and send it out, it’s not a great feeling to receive that ‘thanks, but no thanks’ from an editor.
All of these things are part of what makes writing such a difficult calling.
But people still write. And people still publish.
How are they avoiding these obstacles that you and I still struggle with?
The Hard Truth About Writing
The hard truth is: there is no exemption from the struggle (Ecclesiastes 8:8. Wisdom from 2,500 years ago! Still valid today.)
Every writer struggles.
The key differences between you and more successful, more fulfilled writers are:
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Every interview I’ve ever read with a best-selling author contains some version of this exchange:
Interviewer: What’s the secret of your success?
Author: I just kept writing and sending it out. I know writers who are much, much better than I am, but who gave up, and that’s a real shame. But I didn’t give up. And here I am.
It’s true. Talent is worthless if you’re not willing to do the work, to finish the story, to face rejection and to keep coming. And hard work will take you far, even if your talent in minimal.
Finish The Story
If you’re tempted to give up when the writing gets hard, you must change that TODAY.
You must be willing to write badly. You have to be willing to go through the slog. You have to fight your way to the end of the story.
Only when you have finished a story, do you know what it is really about.
There is phenomenon known among knitters as ‘startitis’. It’s an affliction that hits every crafter, usually when a new pattern book or set of designs is released. Suddenly, the big sweater you’re slogging through loses its luster. You find yourself ordering yarn for the shiny new shawl that you just saw a photograph of. You will look so great staring moodily off into the sea, like that willowy model, if only you start that new project today. The sweater can wait. It’s almost summer after all, isn’t it? And you’re not very good at knitting collars, anyway…
The problem is, if you give in to ‘startitis’, you never learn how to work a collar. Soon you have a closet full of UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) and a guilt complex heavier than a wet aran sweater.
This affliction can hit writers just as hard.
Pushing Through The Mushy Middle
The middle of any story is notoriously hard to get through. All the pieces are in place. You’ve completed the fun part of character-invention and describing new settings. Now you have to complicate your characters’ lives and solve their problems for them.
This is hard. And complex. And confusing. And, at least in the first draft, the pacing is usually way off.
All of this is discouraging.
And your mind starts to wander.
What about that other, lovely, new, shiny idea you had for a story about something else? Maybe you should start that instead.
But we all know that when you reach the middle of THAT story, you’re still going to have to deal with complications, complexity and pacing issues. And another shiny new idea will beckon.
Listen very carefully:
The only way to learn how to write through the mushy middle, is to…write through the mushy middle and finish the story.
But it’s true. You must wrestle with the problems. You must write a less-than-stellar first draft. You must be willing to let it be bad, and to fix the problems in another draft.
The really GREAT news here is: if you DO write to the end, it suddenly become much easier to see what your story really needs in that middle section. Some of it may be there. Some of it may need to be added. Some of what you’ve written may need to be cut.
But by writing to the end, you reveal the real story.
Revision (believe it or not) becomes fun as you pare away the unnecessary and craft the missing essentials, to create the story you wanted to tell.
By ‘practice’ I mean the act of sitting down to write on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it does have to be frequently, and consistently.
Don’t Wait For Inspiration
Great writers will tell you that inspiration comes when you are already writing, and not before.
It’s easy to fall for the myth of the muses: some heavenly dollybirds, hanging around waiting to whisper ideas into your head. It’s a pervasive myth, advanced by those Romantic writers like Shelley and Byron. But it’s not helpful (and I have to wonder how many more works those guys would have produced if they’d been a little more workmanlike, like Shakespeare.)
The reality is, it is only when you are actually writing, that the best stuff comes up.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it.
Don’t ASK For Permission
You might be lucky enough to have people in your life (like my husband) who take one look at your crazy-eyes and say “you should probably go and write something for a while. We’ll be fine without you for a couple of hours.”
The experienced writer-spouse/friend knows that we are much nicer to be around if we’re getting our regular dose of creativity out of our system.
But we need to teach the people in our lives to recognize this.
And if, like me, you’re a people-pleaser, it can be hard to demand the time and space, But it is a kindness to the people around you, to demonstrate to them the upside of sending you away for a little creative work.
The first few times you say ‘no’ to something else and ‘yes’ to locking-yourself-away-under-your-headphones-with-your-imaginary-friends, they may not understand.
After a few exposures to the giddy-post-writing version of you, they will get it.
And if they don’t: you still have to fight for your writing time. YOU know, it makes you a better person, even if they’re not willing to admit it.
The World Needs Your Stories
You deserve to exercise your desire to write. In fact, I demand that you write if you feel you should be writing.
Turn off the TV. Block social media. Carve out time to write.
Make writing a priority, and resist the urge to apologize for doing so. This is your calling. This is important.
Writers change the world, for good and for ill. We need your voice.
The world needs your story.
3. Patience Is A Virtue (Most Of Can’t Wait To Dismiss!)
You need time to practice your writing. And by ‘time’ I mean ‘hours in the day’ and ‘years of your life’.
The practice of writing is the work of a lifetime. You begin by learning how to craft stories. You continue by learning how to push through the difficult parts. You progress towards mastery when you can work on good days and bad.
The longer and more consistently you work, the more you will learn about your best practices.
Sticking at it, day after day, month after month, will teach you practical skills for riding out the storms of:
- Disruptive life events
- Mood swings
- Different seasons (of the year and of life)
Change comes incrementally.
Success and fulfillment come with persistent, small steps towards your goal.
Whether you goal is to become a best-selling commercial writer who can support their family on writing income, or to be a more productive, fulfilled and happy writer regardless of extrinsic validation, the only way to get there is to keep writing. Regularly. Consistently. Joyfully.
The only way to make progress towards that goal is to keep writing.
- Write on days when you feel inspired.
- Write on days when you’d rather be having your teeth drilled than pick up a pen.
- Write on days when it feels like slog.
- Write on days when it’s going ok. (And for the purposes of this argument, ‘write’ also means ‘think’, ‘brainstorm’, ‘make notes’, ’gather Story Sparks’, ‘outline’, ‘free write’. But at some point it has to mean ‘work on the manuscript in progress’, too.)
Change Your Beliefs, Change Your Outcomes
Once you believe that sticking with your stories until the end will make you a better writer, you will start to find ways to push through that mushy middle and get to the heart of the story.
Once you believe that your writing deserves priority, you will find yourself discovering things about your writing practice that help you advance towards your goals.
When you truly believe that time, and incremental, hard work are more valuable than any ‘quick fix’ offered by another writing ‘system’ or internet huckster, you are positioning yourself to enjoy a long and fulfilling lifetime of creativity.
Take Action Today
Start a ‘mood journal’ to track your emotions before and after every writing session (not during!). This can be as simple as drawing smiley/grumpy faces in the margins of a notebook or putting emoticons in your online calendar. Do this for a month and see if you can spot a trend.
Think of ways to make more time for writing, and get your crew on board with the idea.
Dig out an old story that you never finished but still love. Brainstorm some ways to push through to the end of the story. (If you’re really stuck, look at the last scene and write ‘and because of that…’ and write a new scene. Repeat until you know the most important decisions your character must face.
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Leave a comment, to start discussing what you struggle with the most: Persistence, Practice or Time?