You Don’t Have to Write Every Day to Be a Real Writer

9257327086_9a1279d73cIt’s been a few months since my last post. To be completely honest, I’ve been taking a break. Not just from blogging, but from writing too. From early October until the end of November, all of my time and focus went into rewriting my YA novel. Once I finished the book, I shut down. Aside from a short essay here and there, I haven’t done any significant work since.

This is pretty typical for me. My words and inspirations tend to come in big, dramatic bursts. I’ll write every day for a few months, sometimes completing an entire novel or a series of essays, then there will be nothing at all for a month or two.

Every time I find myself on one of these breaks, I don’t wonder if I’ll ever write again. I know that I still want to write. I know that I still have the motivation. I know that I’m simply burnt out at the moment, and when I reach inside to create something new, I come out empty handed.

There is a common philosophy about writing perpetuated by craft books and famous authors on the importance of strict routines and writing every day. I used to hold myself to those standards, chiding myself whenever I fell short, beating myself up and questioning my commitment as a writer. It took me a few years to realize that I was producing about as much or more as any of these every day writers because when I do write, it comes in floods and intense, unrelenting focus.

It’s just the way I am. It’s the way my creative mind functions.

Forcing myself to write something each day never felt natural. If anything, it only made me feel stifled. Allowing the flood gates to open when they will and occasionally nudging myself back in when the break is dragging on too long seems to work for me.

Just like every human being is unique, so is every writer. Our work thrives in different ways. I do best when I completely immerse myself in a project for a couple of months and then allow my brain to rest and restart for a while. Maybe some people would never go back to writing if they allowed themselves to stop for as long as I do. But I have the comfort and confidence of knowing that writing has always been a part of me. No matter what happens, I know I’ll come back to it when I’m ready.

Pushing myself has only hurt my work in the past. Giving myself the time and space to focus on other aspects of my life is what I need right now. I truly believe that the only writing philosophy you need when it comes to producing work is to do what feels right and natural for you. Don’t get hung up on rules or expectations. Don’t beat yourself up for not following someone else’s schedule and routine. Create your own and feel free to deviate.

There’s no such thing as a “real writer” anyway. We’re all just creative people trying to create when, where, and however we can.

 

photo credit: [Void Of Time] via photopin (license)

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Surviving The Waiting Game

These days, so much of my life revolves around waiting. I spend hours, sometimes days, working on an essay, query, or cover letter before I send it out, excited and hopeful and scared all at the same time.

medium_6236143793I watch my inbox, eagerly awaiting some kind of response. Days go by, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. I want to hear something, some kind of news about whether my essay will be published, an agent wants to see my manuscript, a job wants to schedule an interview. I start to worry more about what the silence means. I’m scared it means rejection. I soon convince myself that no one likes me and I’ll never hear from anyone about anything again. I’m a failure and a loser and I’ll never get anywhere in life. I’ll never be successful.

Then, an email comes in. Some kind of response. A blog wants my essay, an agent requests the manuscript, a job would like to schedule a phone interview. I’m happy and relieved…for a few minutes. Then I’m back to worrying about all the other things I haven’t heard back about yet. Sometimes, I get the response that I dread: I’ve been rejected. In that case, I indulge myself in some self-pity before eventually getting back to work.

This is the plight of creative people, of course. I’m lucky to live in a time where I can just email stuff out instead of printing and mailing and waiting even longer for a response. But email has a downside – it gives the illusion of efficiency, the misconception that a fast response should be expected. My essays, queries, cover letters are only one in so many. I have to wait my turn.

The only way I get through it is to keep busy. I write new essays, research agents, look for more jobs. The more I send out, the more likely it is I’ll hear something from someone. The nervous energy drives me. The desire for reassurance, for accomplishment, for validation is underneath everything I do. I try to take breaks, stay calm. I go for walks, spend time with people I care about, watch something on Netflix. But I can’t help worrying about the uncertainty.

I know this is what a creative life looks like. I can’t let any one thing get me down or derail me, and I can’t live my life around responses from others. But in many ways, I don’t have a choice. I need those responses to be a successful writer. That’s why waiting for them is so hard. That’s why rejection hurts so much.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. As an anxious person, that’s what tears me apart. I have to learn to live with my uncertainty better. I have to keep things in perspective, acknowledge the accomplishments, and let go of the rejections. That’s the only way to survive the waiting game. I just wish those things were easier to do.

 

(photo credit: Jukie Bot via photopin cc)

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My Only New Year’s Resolution

2014 was a tough year. It was a year of loss for myself and many of my loved ones. It was the year that many celebrities we admired passed away. It was a year of cultural unrest, protests, and senseless tragedies.

Thinking of all of this has gotten me down. Depressed. Especially since I’ve just reached a turning point in my own life: my graduation from graduate school. Being done with my MFA means that I no longer have the shelter and safety of school to protect me. It’s time for me to get out there, work, and truly make a name for myself as a writer. And that scares me.

medium_15543621263I’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. It’s a nice concept, that each year we reexamine what we want from life and what we’d like to be different. Goals are good, and they can be very helpful. But the goals that people make for New Years are often superficial:

It’s time to finally lose that extra weight. It’s time to figure out a new career path, go back to school, be a more accomplished person. It’s time to finally be a “real” creative person, writing, or practicing music, or making new art a certain amount every day.

Hours, word counts, production, successes.

Right now, I’m not sure that 2015 is going to be a better year than last year. If I were to make New Year’s Resolutions, they would be numerous. Like others, they would involve my weight, my career path, and my creative accomplishments. They would involve hours, word counts, production, successes. But I’m not going to make a list.

Instead, I’m going to try to be a little more positive. That’s it. That’s the goal, the resolution, that I truly need to focus on. Because focusing on what’s wrong, what’s problematic, where I’m failing, is only getting me down. That’s the problem with many of our New Year’s Resolutions: they get us down.

I’m not a big “positive thinking” person. I’m actually the opposite. Despite knowing better, I believe that thinking negatively will protect me from bad things, or at least prepare me for them. And I certainly don’t subscribe to the belief that positive thinking works miracles or magically pulls good things into your life.

However, I do believe that thinking more positively can make you feel better. It can make you feel happier and more hopeful. It’s hard to hang onto that knowledge when I feel really negative and depressed, when life seems hopeless and ridiculous and unfair. It’s hard to fight those negative thoughts, the ones that inspire our resolutions.

Still, I want to try. I resolve to try.

I hope that you’ll all join me on my quest to have a more positive year, amidst any new tragedies, frustrations, struggles, and losses. My resolution is to try not to lose hope, even when things get bad. It’s to stop going right to sadness and hopelessness when I think of the future. I want to be in good moments, see all the possibilities, and move forward in my life with just a little bit of optimism. If I can do that, I’ll definitely have a happier new year.

   

(photo credit: BeeFortyTwo via photopin cc)

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What NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me About the Writing Process

nanoprepConfession time: I’ve attempted to win National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) four times, and I’ve only met the 50,000 word goal once.

The first year, I was still feeling NaNo out. About two weeks in, I got stuck on my project and decided not to finish it, or NaNo. The second year was the one that I won. The third year, I was busy with grad school and used it to get a little writing done on my memoir, but ultimately decided editing was where I needed to focus. This year, I’ve been derailed by getting sick and then having to help, deal, and cope with a death in my extended family.

What made the year I won different from the others? Two things: focus and a lack of distraction.

The year I won, I had a novel idea I gelled with from the start that didn’t give me too much trouble. I was also single at the time, on a hiatus from grad school, and was going through a freelance dry spell, so I had absolutely no distractions. I wrote every day. I went to tons of in-person write-ins and was active on the forums. It was a perfect NaNoWriMo.

Unfortunately, life isn’t usually distraction-free, and writing projects rarely go smoothly. We often hit road bumps and blocks in our lives and our creative work. While it’s nice to think that at least once a year, for just one month, we can power through and reach that finish line, things don’t always work out that way.

So how do we maintain a productive and distraction-proof writing routine no matter what happens, all year long? By applying the principals of NaNo in smaller, more manageable degrees:

1. Motivation. Having a daily goal, like writing 1,000 words every day, can help. But you need more than that. NaNoWriMo creates an external pressure through the contest. Most writers will tell you that setting self-imposed deadlines is necessary in getting themselves to write; otherwise, it’s so easy to put it off. Just make sure those goals and deadlines are realistic, and that you keep your end game in mind. What motivates me to write is knowing how important it is to me to get my ideas out into the world as soon as I can. I have specific projects I’m very passionate about. That drives me to push through and finish them, and inspires me to create deadlines and routines around them.

2. Community. Writing with others is great. Word wars (when everyone writes for a short period of time, usually around 30 minutes, to see who can do the most words in that time) are particularly helpful. My natural competitiveness kicks in, and I’m also forced to focus because everyone else around me is focusing. I wasn’t able to take advantage of the community and write-ins much this year because of external factors that couldn’t be helped. But the NaNo community isn’t only a once a year opportunity. There is a NaNoWriMo group near me that meets year round, and I’m thinking of starting up a local writing group again.

3. Distractions. I came up against some unexpected and difficult things this month that knocked me off course when I was already lagging behind. This can happen at any time, and sometimes you need to honor those distractions and take care of business. But it’s good to figure out when you’re ready to write again and be sure not to let your goals and routine slide for too long.

4. Determination. Ultimately, you need passion, drive, and long term goals to be a productive and successful writer year-round. Some people only write during NaNoWriMo, and that’s fine. However, as someone who wants to be a professional writer, I need to do some form of NaNoWriMo every month. I want to produce words and works regularly so I can meet the goals and dreams I’ve had for many years now. That determination helps me get back up after I falter, and keeps me writing even without a NaNo to push me. I do that by focusing on what I want, what I care about, and where I want to be.

Overall, I think NaNoWriMo is a wonderful thing, but it’s important to figure out how to establish a lower-key NaNoWriMo routine year round. The frenzy and stress that accompanies NaNo is good for a quick burst, but it’s too overwhelming to be sustainable. And sometimes, NaNo comes at an inconvenient, or impossible, time.

I’m going to continue attending writing groups whenever I can and create new deadlines for my writing so I can push past the fear and procrastination to produce work on a regular basis.

To all of those who won, or will win, NaNoWriMo this year, congratulations! Now go write some more.

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How to be a NaNoWriMo Rebel

nano_poster_2014November marks the beginning of another National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). This is my fourth year taking up the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days along with thousands of other writers around the world. But this year, I’m doing something a little different.

I’m being a NaNo rebel.

A NaNo rebel is someone who doesn’t follow the NaNoWriMo guidelines in some way. Whether it’s continuing a work in progress instead of starting something new or writing a work that isn’t a novel, there are many ways to be a rebel. This year, I’m attempting to write 50,000 words worth of personal essays instead of a novel. It’s kind of a crazy undertaking, but I’m giving it a shot. So far, I’ve already written six new essays that I plan to edit and submit in December.

One of the things I love about NaNoWriMo is that you can be part of the fun without being locked into doing any particular thing. I’m using NaNo in the way that best suits my writerly needs right now. Some people use it to get a kickstart on an old project. Others only participate for part of the month. Many are writing memoirs, short story collections, or graphic novels. NaNoWriMo can be anything you want it to be.

For me, NaNo has always been about the motivation and, most importantly, the community. Going to write-ins, meeting like-minded creative types, and working toward a crazy shared goal is very encouraging and helps break up the solitary writer life I lead at least 30 days out of the year.

So, if you’ve heard rumblings about NaNoWriMo, or you’ve checked it out but got frightened away by the specifics or the word count, I still highly recommend being part of it. It’s not to late to join in. You can participate online and/or find local meetups in your area. No one will judge you for being a rebel—there’s even a whole forum on the website devoted to us.

To all of those participating in NaNoWriMo this year, best of luck hitting your 50K! I also want to extend a special thank you to the region of Los Angeles and our fantastic Municipal Liaisons who put together all of our events and many of the write-ins.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, what are you writing?

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