So the other day I was talking with a good friend of mine, and we were discussing career stuff, and she was explaining how she simply couldn't decide on a career path and stick to it. As a bit of a serial abandoner-of-projects, I could readily sympathize. Seriously. Just in this past month I've decided I would start doing yoga more, train for a 5k, learn how to paint, learn Spanish…the list goes on and on and…well, embarrassing as it is to admit, said list remains mostly unchecked off. I tend to be overly ambitious sometimes, I think, and I'm also easily distracted.
But enough about me. The point of this post is a particular thing that she said to me during this conversation, which I've been thinking on for a few days now--partly because it's not the first time I've heard it. Essentially, she said that I was lucky, of course, because I love writing so much, so it's not really work. And she wished she could find something like that and make a career out of it.
First things first: she's right about much of that. I'm incredibly fortunate to be where I am. Some of it's because I've been lucky, yes, and then some of it's because I've worked my ass off. She's also right about the fact that I LOVE writing. On good days, it consumes me, fills me with a passion that gives me purpose, and makes me feel like I could take on the entire world. And I wouldn't give up that feeling--or those days-- for anything.
What I don't think most people on the outside looking in realize, though, is that there are also bad days.
And sometimes those days stretch into weeks. Sometimes, like say, when you've gutted your entire manuscript and are knee-deep in a revision that's going nowhere fast, those weeks stretch into months. That's when this becomes work. Still a dream career, yes. But still very much work, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Because writing for a living means meeting deadlines--whether self-imposed, agent-imposed, or publisher-imposed--which sometimes means writing even on days you don't feel like it.
I'm not saying I never take days off. But if I had never forced myself to write during at least some of those times I didn't want to, there's no way I'd be where I am right now. So how do I make that happen?
I wish I had a secret, surefire formula to get the muse going that I could share with you guys. But sadly, I don't. Heather talked about what gets her writing here, and below are some of the things I do that usually help me:
- "Just one more sentence". That's my mantra on tough days; that, and "word by word". I actually have the latter written in sharpie along the top of my laptop. It's a lot less overwhelming to think about just writing one more sentence than it is to consider how much further you have to go in an entire manuscript. One sentence more, and then one more after that…and you can make it all the way to the end like that. It's like magic.
- New music, new surroundings--anything to change up the writing atmosphere. This might be just me, but I'm a bit of a gypsy writer; I've written in bars, on roofs, on park benches, in my closet--anywhere and everywhere I happen to wander. New places and new music are especially helpful to me when I reach the point where it feels like I've been working on a particular manuscript foreverrrrrrrr. (like my current WIP).
- Go back and look at old writing. Every time I read my old writing, it's a nice reminder that I don't suck as much as I used to. Woohoo!
- Keep a document full of your writing achievements. In it, copy and paste gushing comments from betas, positive replies from agents/editors, that sort of thing--and when you need an ego-stroke to get things moving, pull that baby out and don't be ashamed to read it. You always read about people keeping their rejections and wallpapering their room with them and all that jazz. Why? Don't be that miserable writer. Keep those rejections if you must (as badges of honor, if you will), but remember to celebrate every little success, too--especially on days when you don't feel like doing this, if only to remind yourself that you can do it, and that it feels amazing to get it right and read those comments. Is it cheesy? Sort of. Egotistical? Most definitely yes. I do it anyway. So there.
- Get off the internet. Yes, even your pinterest board that serves as inspiration for your WIP. Yes, I have one too. But no, pinning stuff to it doesn't count as writing time.
- Drink a glass of wine. Or several. I'm not judging. (I'm also just kidding on this one) ((sort of)) (((okay I'm not really kidding at all. Drink up!)))
And lastly, imprint this quote from Stephen King deeply into your writerly brains:
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
~ STEPHEN KING
Right, so I'm off to go shovel some shi--er, to go finish my FANTASTIC BOOK YAY (no but seriously I'm going to finish this bottle of wine first).
Happy writing, secret lifers! Oh, and feel free to share your tips and tricks for getting the words flowing in the comments. I'm always looking for more!
Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!
You can find her on Twitter @: https://twitter.com/stefaniegaither
Or drop her an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org