Want to know what the hardest thing about writing is? For me it isn’t a lack of ideas. I have more stories knocking around in my head than time. In fact, when they bury me I will ask that they toss in the dog-eared notebook with all the unfulfilled dreams I had hoped to get down on paper. Is it a clean well-lighted place? No. I work in a dungeon of sorts. I do have access to coffee and a bathroom, though, so it’s not so bad. Honestly, the hardest thing about writing is not writing. Why? Because it’s 2016, people, and there are just TOO MANY DAMNED DISTRACTIONS!
Finding a Balance
Now, I am not suggesting that just because I am a writer I shouldn’t get to enjoy a little R&R. But bingeing on ‘Nurse Jackie’? I literally spent the summer getting caught up on ‘Supernatural’—which is a great show, BTW. I even bought Season 11 on Amazon Prime. But it’s these kinds of stupid interruptions that kill the writing process.
Want some more? How about Facebook? Yeah, that. Okay, I love staying in touch with family and friends, but do I really need to watch another hoverboard catch fire? And Twitter—don’t get me started. I mainly use that to curate and share content I am interested in. I also do a little marketing. But the thing is a huge time sink, let me tell you. What about reading? That is not a distraction. To write better, you need to read more. The truth is, I don’t read nearly enough either.
Okay, time for a resolution. I need to dial down on Netflix and amp up on actual writing. The only reason I’m baring my soul like this is because I am confident there are hundreds—if not thousands—of writers out there suffering from the same condition. Look, it’s easy not to write. All you have to do is pretend you’ll do it tomorrow. And let me tell you, streaming and social media were godsends for the born procrastinator. Hooray, ‘Orphan Black’! Nevertheless, the next book isn’t going to write itself.
So, say it with me …
I will write first and goof off later.
I will ignore cute pet videos, raging political debates and recipes from the New York Times.
But above all, I will spend more time with my family, because writing will never be as important.
Photo Courtesy of kr3st0 via Creative Commons So where have I been the past few months? Off-world? In a way, yes. I’ve been holed up in my basement finishing the sequel to my zombie novel, Tell Me When I’m Dead. And let me tell you, there is no better feeling than typing that final word and calling it done. Much better than the funk I found myself in last November after NaNoWriMo when I only managed to bang out 25,000 words. Whew! So yesterday I sent a draft to my beta readers—whoo-hoo! After one more revision, I will send the book to my editor. By the time the cover, the editing and the formatting are complete, the book will be published in late summer—just like the last one. Cannot wait, my friends. I think I’ll celebrate by tearing into that Milky Way I’ve been saving.
So here’s the thing. Not only did I finish but I learned some lessons along the way. And I wanted to share those with you. Take them or leave them. I hope they help other writers out there.
Lesson 1—The Book Doesn’t Write Itself
Believe me, I’ve tested that theory. I have gone days without writing. When I get back to my computer, I am still at the same spot. No Microsoft Word fairy is clickety-clacking away while I watch old ‘Fringe’ episodes. This lesson is obvious to most people, but it wasn’t to me. Often, I think I fool myself. “Plenty of time,” I say. Well, guess what, there isn’t plenty of time. Time is finite, and we need to write. Also, I find that when I haven’t been writing for a while, I become irritable. Not good when you have a family.
So here’s a confession. I’ve been writing a long time and, for me, cranking out the words is hard. It’s not writer’s block, mind you. I have more ideas for books than I could ever execute on. No, it’s the actual sitting down and getting the words on paper. It takes me a long time to work things out. In reality, I am writing in my brain. I’ve covered this before—I don’t really outline. I have a general idea of where I need to go. I typically have a beginning, a middle and an end. But the twists and turns that make the story fun are what take me the longest to work out. And that takes time.
Lesson 2—Burst of Creativity Is a Myth
At least for me. It’s not the sprint to the finish line that gets the book written. It’s the slow and steady thing. Sitting down every day and writing something. Even if I haven’t worked it all out, I’ve found that if I just get on with it, sooner or later it comes together. Now, I can hear some of you chortling out there. “Well, if you had written an outline, you wouldn’t have this problem.” Guess what. I tried outlining years ago and here is what I found—I don’t stick to it. The thing seems so rote to me. When I get to actually writing scenes based on it, I find I hate it and I veer off in completely different directions. So, I might as well do that to begin with. Why waste weeks—or months—writing an outline when I could just write the damned novel?
There is a downside. Sometimes when I write forward to get to the next part of the story, I find that things have indeed taken a different turn—or have become more clear in my mind, necessitating a visit to earlier chapters where I must revise in order to match what happens later. But that’s okay. I’ll take that small inconvenience any day. Unless I’ve gone completely off the rails later in the book, I’ve found that the revisions are usually very minor and only require rewriting a paragraph or two, or adding a scene.
Lesson 3—Social Media Is a Sinkhole
There, I said it. If I had kept up with my normal schedule of blog posts and tweets, I would still be sitting here staring at my unfinished book, instead of writing this happy post. And I really felt guilty about it—at first. But somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion that I must finish the book. Nothing stood in my way. Okay, let me amend that. For me, there is nothing more important than family. There are lots of stories about famous writers who had horrible home lives because of their devotion to “the craft.” I don’t roll that way. Yes, I need to write but not at the expense of my family. My girls are growing up fast, and I don’t want to be lying in some retirement home someday with a bagful of regrets.
So, there you go. I’ll leave you with one small data point. Although I was virtually absent from the social media scene, the number of people following me has grown. Go figure. This makes me wonder if people even noticed I was gone! Actually, I don’t want to think too much about that, or I will start getting self-conscious. Then I’ll bring on a monster case of writer’s block for reals.
Now, check out Jerry Seinfeld. This, folks, is the writing process.