on writing

I says to myself, “Self!” | an open letter to writers, WriMos, and other creative self-doubters

Dear Self,

So you have a story idea. Maybe even a good story idea.

You have scrawled ideas in cheap notebooks, collected scattered thoughts in Word, and begun an Official Outline, which–you hope–you will follow like the Code of the Elves for the next month. You’ve prepared yourself in every physical way — gathered inspiration — forged anti-music-whiplash playlists.

So… resistance.

You know it will happen. When you set yourself up for anything epic, it’s asking for a fight. Mostly from yourself.

Any or all of these thoughts may occur to you while leveling up, eyeball to eyeball, with Your Monster.

You can’t write a novel. You have a full-time job!

You can’t write a novel. You can’t even finish ________.

You can’t write a novel. You have to clean…everything.

You can’t write THIS novel. You won’t do it justice.

So I’m writing this ahead of time, for you to come back to when your old friend Fear and/or his best pal Laziness come knock on your door. Because they will.

Problem #1 | You have a full-time job!

You’ve been out with people all day long. You’ve been focused utterly on another plane of existence, usually a non-creative one. You might have even worked out this morning.

Your body is tired and so is your brain. But you still have words to spin like gold out of the weary straw of your being. 1,6667 words to be exact.

Is this impossible? No.

It only feels that way.

Solution(s) to Problem #1 | Do what you have to do to stay inspired (e.g., working) and to stay on task (e.g., working).

  1. Take out your contacts. Dry eyes don’t help.
  2. Move to another spot in the house.
  3. Disconnect from the internet and get your housemate to change the password.
  4. Promise yourself snacks if you write for one hour.
  5. Run around the room, flailing your arms.
  6. 2-minute planks if you get on Facebook.
  7. COFFEE. You can sleep December 1.

Problem #2 | You can’t even finish __________.

What’s the bigger problem here? Time management, yes. But also, that thing that kills your motivation: creative slumps, discouragement, that plain old “but I don’t feeeeeeel like writing.”

Well, first of all, go watch this video.

Secondly, you realize that, if you dissect the circumstantial and the things outside your control, there’s still quite a bit of you-power in there. You just don’t wanna.

Solution(s) to Problem #2 | Get your mind in the right place.

  1. But you do wanna. Your feelings are lying to you (per usual) because Fear uses such dirty tactics as peer pressure on his friends.
  2. This is too important to NOT write.
  3. Will you remember what you “liked” or “pinned” instead of writing? Um, I bet you no.  Will you remember that you used this time wisely and produced a functioning draft? Yes.

….and now to address your not-so-closet OCD self.

Problem #3 | But you have to clean EVERYTHING.

For many people, this love of clean surfaces and dust-free zones is a lifestyle.

But who among the rest of us looks at Netflix and thinks, But if only I could clean right now….?

You’re not just looking at a blank page. You’re looking at a gymnasium of mental effort, and you’re the Hercules working the machines.

Solutions to Problem #3 | Prioritize.

  1. The house can get clean in time for Christmas. It helps if your housemate is naturally messy too (love you, Erin).
  2. Stick your laziness in the back and leave it there to die.

Problem #4 | You won’t do it justice

This hits where it hurts. It questions the very heart of what you are doing. Wonderful story idea? Beautiful lively characters? Compelling needs that breathe on the page? Great! But not you. Maybe someone else with an MFA or less influence from white people, but not you.

You can’t do this.

Solution to Problem #4 | Let’s rethink for a sec…

  1. In reference to people, Donald Miller writes, “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” This so readily applies to your written people. Or your written words! It.will.not.be.perfect. So erase that expectation.
  2. Okay, so it’s MORE than just a fear of imperfection. You think you’re not qualified? I get that. It’s all right to feel that way: unqualified because you don’t know enough, because you’ve not experienced enough, because you’re not fantastic enough. Here’s the thing: it’s true. But the beauty of the system is A) this is a work of fiction B) the longer you live, the more you know C) no one else is qualified enough either.
  3. You would have to be magic to have lived all the sorts of lives you hope to depict in your novel. But you’re imaginative, which is it’s own kind of magic. So let the realist go eat his un-sugary cereal someplace else, kapish?
  4. And where things clunk about or fall through the cracks, we have this fab fruity spritz called revision that you sorta spray all over your work after you’re done and voila! JK it’s SO HARD. But it would be hard even if you knew what you were talking about, so…

Any other problems you may have, it’s likely you’ve been sitting in one place for too long. Go for a walk.

For realsies, though. Give yourself the freedom to be wrong and goodness, to have fun. Address your creative anxieties like an adult; look them in the eye and say, “Limit commentary until December please.” Because if you know yourself at all, you won’t be capable of reasoning with them on four hours of sleep. They’ll start to make sense. They’ll start to fiddle with the dials and, OH NO, edit. So don’t.

I’m so glad we’ve had this talk.

Now get back to it.




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