Welcome back to one of my favorite editors, Christine Pride. Today Christine is going to encourage us to write, and KEEP writing!
Writing is hard. So very hard. There’s just no way around it. In fact, though helping writers has been my life’s work the last ten years, I am still sometimes amazed by just how many people embark on this hair-pulling, hand-wringing, anxiety-producing endeavor. I really admire writers, the same way I admire concert musicians, dancers and elite athletes—anyone who has to spend so much time, energy and discipline to perfect a craft, to purse a dream. Good on you!
As an editor my job is, first and foremost, to strengthen material on the page and help writers execute their vision in a way that is rich, satisfying and engaging to readers. But another big part of my job is often the critical role of coach, offering feedback, advice and pep talks.
We spend so much time thinking about craft and technique and all of that is important, oh so very important, but it’s also vital to remember to cheer each other on and to keep going when the going gets tough, which it inevitably will.
I’m hoping this is a blog you can return to time and time again for encouragement when you’re having one of those rough days. So that you remember:
You can do this. You can. Really. Some days, like maybe today, it will feel impossible, but I promise, if you really and truly want it, you can do it. It’s a simple, but profound idea: believe it, achieve it. So I want you to take a deep breath and remind yourself over and over, “I’ve got this!” (Thumbs up optional). Having said that…
This book isn’t going to write itself. Oh if that were only the case, right? But it’s not going to happen. You can imagine the book and think through the characters and have a million great ideas. Likewise, you can fantasize about your life as a celebrity author and your book being the next Today show book club pick. But nothing matters (right now) but the work itself, actually putting fingers to keys. Every writer has a different process, but the one common thread is… Discipline. Capital D. That’s what separates actual writers from those who have thought about writing a book…one day. Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, you have to have your butt in the chair, day after day putting out output. Some days it may not be great (more on that in a bit), but the point is to get words on the page. You can bet Michael Phelps doesn’t want to dive in the pool every day, but he does it because he knows he has to, because his performance counts on it. Missing days of training, means set backs, loss of focus and the potential for injuries. Okay, so you may not get physically hurt if you don’t write for a few days or weeks, but your work will suffer. You must keep the flow going by using those writing muscles everyday. Maybe you need to put a particular project aside for a bit and work on something else, but the key is to write.
I recently heard a story from an author about how she set about writing her debut novel. She had her idea and knew she was going to have to be disciplined to get it done. She also knew she had two small children who were going to need her attention during the day, so that her only option would be to write late into the night. So she started doing Sudoku puzzles into the wee hours of the night to train her brain to be alert. After a few months of that, she started writing from 12am to 2 or 3am every single night for more than a year. That’s dedication, folks.
It can’t be rushed. I know, I know, you just want to be done already and it feels like this is taking forever. But writing takes time. Some writers are faster than others, for sure, but still the process takes time. It just does. Many writers have unreasonable expectations of themselves for how fast they can complete a book. They give themselves an unreasonable deadline and then become frustrated. Some writers do have to deal with very real deadlines, like if you’re under contract to a publisher, please be good to your editor and sales team and get your book in on time. But if your deadline is self-imposed, be realistic and reasonable. It’s better to have a good book, than a book that’s done by Christmas or your birthday. As with a lot of other things in life, ahem, quicker usually isn’t better. So allow yourself time to do it right. Give yourself a break if it takes a while, so long as you are making progress. That said…
Milestones and rewards do work. Do you like steak dinners? I do. You don’t want to be writing this book for the rest of your life…there are other books to write, so it’s important to give yourself some sort of motivation—like the aforementioned steak dinner—for completing key milestones. I suggest breaking it up into smaller goals, which feel more manageable and give you the satisfaction of celebrating progress along the way. So it’s: if I have my outline done by Labor Day, I’ll treat myself to Blizzard from Dairy Queen, or a pedicure or a binge TV marathon (you just got a window into my soul, folks). But rewards do work and you deserve one for all your hard work. Smaller, manageable milestones also make the stakes less high. If you miss a deadline, it’s not like, I didn’t write my book, I’m a failure. It’s more like, Okay, I’m going to need another week on the outline and I guess I don’t get an ice cream sundae until then. The goal is to think of rewarding, as opposed to punishing yourself and to avoid the whole self-loathing phase because that really stands in the way of progress. But speaking of self-loathing….
Everything you will write will suck…at first. We writers and creators are largely an insecure bunch, aren’t we? It’s so hard to pour your heart and soul into something and then have no idea if those words have any value. But you’ll never write if you listen to those voices, even when they are screaming so loud it’s all you can hear. The best way to shut them up is to say, I know, this draft is terrible, but that’s okay, I know I can make it better. Then what are they going to say? Don’t expect to knock it out of the park each time. Do a decent enough job getting something on paper and then focus on how you can make that better.
Be inspired, not intimidated. You know how you read a line of gorgeous prose or a scene that stays with you for months and you think, Wow, why do I even bother, I’ll never write like that. Stop that! The truth is, and I hate to tell you this, but it’s because I want the best for you: there is always going to be someone that’s a better writer than you. Just like there is always going to be someone thinner, prettier and funnier than you are. It’s just the stupid reality of life so why bother getting hung up on comparing yourself. If nobody played basketball because they weren’t as good as Michael Jordan, well, how would tall guys become millionaires? Rather than feeling less than, feel inspired by. Look to these accomplished authors not with envy, but with an eye toward learning what you can from them. The best writers are the best readers. Period. So read widely and you’ll absorb so many different ideas and inspirations. In fact, if you’re feeling stuck today, go right now and read a writer you love, or pick up a well-reviewed best-seller so you can connect with why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. Then sit back down at the keyboard and channel that inspiration.
A coach can help. When things are hard, we ask for help. Writing is no different. Find someone that can help cheer you on and bring out your best work. This doesn’t have to be someone you pay for, like me, by any means. It can be a trusted friend, or your spouse, or someone in your writer’s group. This is just a person with whom you can be open and honest about your goals. To say out loud those very scary words: I am writing a book. And this special someone can hold you accountable to that goal and can check in on you to ask how it’s going and maybe, if you’re lucky, be a good, critical reader for you at every stage of the process. A really keen dose of constructive criticism at the right juncture or sincere words of praise for a scene or chapter you thought you would never get right, can really help you keep you energized and on track. It takes a village.
We’re the village—all the people who live, love and breath the written word and we have to cheer each other on. Thus, this pep talk. I know you can do it (and do it again and again) and I’m already so proud of you for fighting the despair, frustration and insecurity that rear up every step of the way. Words win. And soon you’ll be able to say those two magical ones: “I’m done.”
Now back to work, my friend, back to work!
RU writers, how do YOU keep on keeping on? Advice?
Join us on Friday for Handsome Hansel!
Bio: Christine Pride is a ten year publishing veteran, holding positions at Random House, and most recently, at Hyperion Books, where she was a Senior Editor. In fall of 2012, she decided to leave the corporate side to become an editorial consultant, working with publishers, agents and aspiring writers. In her career she has published a diverse range of critically acclaimed and bestselling projects, including nine New York Timesbestsellers. Please visit her website www.christinepride.com to learn more.
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