It’s just writing

It’s just writing

It’s nearly November and therefore nearly time for Nanowrimo. Every year in October I start wondering how to best utilize the upcoming month and end up reading and re-reading my many (many) books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

This can be inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming. I think, for many years, I’d pore over books by successful authors in search of The Secret. I’d think to myself if I could discover their writing process or set up a similar schedule, I’d unlock the mystery of writing something others might want to read. (And that I might actually dare publish).

Over time, I’ve slowly grown to realize (I can be a bit thick) that at the very core of every how-to or ‘on writing’ type book out there, the advice is the same: Just Write. Authors will detail their writing process almost reluctantly with a caveat for readers like me: ‘This is my writing process. What works for me may not work for you. There is no secret, just write.’

Still, with Nanowrimo looming once more, I’m turning to my old (and maybe just fine) habits of reading awesome books on craft. A friend loaned me this book: Complete Writing For Children Course.

Guys, it’s so good. I devoured it in a matter of days. This is going to sound nuts, but all those books on writing I re-read every year? Not a single one is specific to writing for children. Not to say I haven’t learned things from the other books I regularly read, but this was a game changer.

One book I turn to every year is called The Fire in Fiction. It’s a respected book with loads of good advice, but it is geared very much to the Detective and Thriller adult fiction genres — genres I rarely read and am generally not much interested in. I haven’t read a single book Donald Maass quotes or sites as examples. I told myself it didn’t matter, that I could still learn and apply the principles and tips to my own work. And I have done, and I could continue doing so… but it is drastically different to read a book on writing that actually applied specifically to writing for children.

The Complete Writing For Children Course even has entire sections (and corresponding workshops) on picture book writing and poetry, but I mostly spent my time studying the YA and MG sections. If that’s not enough, it was published just last year, so many of the references and works quoted are current books I am not only familiar with, but have read cover to cover.

I found it very inspiring, and only let myself be intimidated briefly when I went to the author’s website (she looks so young, yet is utterly brilliant and incredibly accomplished!).

Here are my favorite quotes:

Personally, I don’t keep to a schedule — not in any rigorous definition of the word ‘schedule;’ certainly not as many authors do. This is partly because I have a full-time job, as you probably do, and it’s difficult to stick to an unbending daily schedule when the job gets in the way.

[…] There’s huge pressure among writers, professional or not, to stick to a daily schedule. Blog after blog, you’ll find similar requests: write 500 words a day. Write 1,000 words a day. Write in the morning, from five to seven, before the kids are awake. Write when you’re driving by talking into a Dictaphone; write on your commute, by typing on your Blackberry. Some people do that, it’s true. I know a few. But I think the pressure is mostly unhealthy, and guilt-trips would-be writers into thinking they should get less sleep.

[T]he […] common misconception that writing is some mystical process which occurs only following flashes of inspiration. Stephen King famously says that amateurs wait for the muse, while real writers just get up and go to work. There’s a lot of truth in that statement.

But there’s also a lot of truth in the fact that not all days are the same; that, generally speaking, we tend to have more time at weekends and on holidays; that some days are just already too full. Some days we’re also tired, ill, grumpy, not in the mood. Writing one thousand words every day […] is an excellent idea in theory. But there’s no point in producing a thousand bad words every Monday morning because you’re stressed by the weekly meeting with your boss, [or] stopping exactly at one thousand excellent words on Sunday afternoon when you’re alone in the house and the kids are away for three hours playing rugby.

There is something worryingly obsessive-compulsive about blogs emitting orders to would-be writers about time management.

As a result, writers often feel unreasonably guilty for not writing. This guilt crops up even in titles of blogs and podcasts about writing — see the very popular ‘I should Be Writing’ and ‘Writing Excuses’ podcasts. But seriously, be kind to yourself. It’s not that important. It’s not as if you’re not doing your job as a firefighter and dozens are dying while you twiddle your thumbs. It’s just writing.

I mean, RIGHT? She’s amazing. I love her. I had to turn that into a print for my cork board. It’s brilliant.

There’s more.

Write, maybe not every day, but perhaps two or three times a week. Or once a week, but seriously and keenly, for a relatively long time. Word targets can be good and bad; writing a thousand words can feel good, but if you have to delete them all tomorrow because they were sloppy, there’s not much point. […] [D]on’t force another tired five hundred words out at the ‘scheduled time.’ Don’t listen to the muse, but do listen to yourself.

Worth repeating:

Don’t listen to the muse, but do listen to yourself.

It was just what I needed to hear. I’m not really one to obsess about word counts, but I have been one to feel down if I’m not writing a good amount every day. After discussing the pitfalls of getting caught up in Twitter or Facebook and getting too obsessed with posting wordcounts and #amwriting hashtags, she adds:

[O]nline ‘procrastination’ can be hugely interesting, motivational, enriching, essential.

Validation! And really, if I’m being honest (and not unreasonably hard on myself) the professional procrastination I was writing about was exactly that. The map I spent two days making has continued to be an enormous help in plotting and writing. It’s not like I wasted six hours on Tumblr or something! (Confession: I don’t really know what Tumblr even IS).

So. Here’s to reading encouraging, inspiring, genre-specific things, writing in my own way and on my own schedule, and debunking the myth of The Secret. Onward!

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