Writers. We don’t choose the calling, it chooses us. We process our world with words. We are people watchers. We find wonder in ordinary, every day things and turn them into stories. We create entire worlds with our minds.
But there are a lot of things that keep us from staying committed to the craft. These are the most annoying ones that happen to me. And I’m going to tell you how I deal with them.
Keep readin’, honey.
Comparing Instead of Creating
There it is. The big ‘C’ word. No, not that one. This one: comparing. If you’re serious about being a writer you have to read lots of books in all different genres. Every craft has its own set of tools. For writers, other people’s books are one of many instruments in our toolbox. In fact, according to Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
But when you read other books, no matter who the author is, you might find yourself saying “I can never write like that,” or “my writing is crap compared to this,” or any variation of that line of thought. Well, my writing comrades, that’s stinkin’ thinkin’. Stop it. Now.
Comparison is thief of joy and will keep you from sitting down to write every single time. Let me tell you a secret. One that will free you to be the best writer you can be. You can’t write like Stephen King, or Nora Roberts, or Maya Angelou, or Octavia Butler, or Mary Higgins Clark, or…or…or.
Because you’re not them, you’re YOU.
So stop trying to be like all those other authors and write your own damn stories. You have a unique voice and the world is waiting to hear it!
Persistence not Perfection
This brings me to the next thing that is a wet blanket on the fire of creativity: perfection. You sit down to the blank page, your fingers poised on the keyboard, and nothing happens. Either that, or you spend two hours trying to write the perfect first sentence.
Or maybe you constantly edit your writing as you go. Okay, you need to stop this now. And I’m not just talking to you. I’ve done this myself too many times to count. There’s a quote that says good writing is rewriting.
Your first draft of anything is going to be crap. Accept it. If you’re like me you think that all the great writers sit down to the computer, write these perfect books the first time out, the gates of heaven open, angels sing hallelujah, and the money starts rolling in.
Yeah. Not quite.
All the famous authors we love write crap the first time around. But they revise, revise, revise. And they have great editors. When all else fails remember this quote: “easy reading is damn hard writing.” So sit down and write. Let the words flow and don’t stop for grammar, sentence structure, spelling errors, or anything.
The first draft is you telling the story to yourself. The only purpose of this draft is to get the story down on paper. Don’t worry about flow or thoughts connecting just write the dang story. The second (and third and fourth and seventh) drafts are where you move paragraphs, fix mechanical issues, and all the other stuff. But in order to get to all that stuff, you have finish the story first. And you’ll never finish it if you’re editing as you go.
So. Just. Write. I know it’s hard. But when you find yourself wanting to hit that backspace key or go back and rework something, just do what I do: tell that pesky perfectionist editor in your head to shut her trap and keep writing.
Another thing I found helpful is to set a timer. You can find free ones online or use the timer on your microwave, or a stopwatch app on your phone. Whatever works. Then set a time limit and see how many words you can get down before the alarm sounds. It’s like a race to beat the clock. When I do that, I am pushing to see how many words I can get down so I don’t want to stop to fix anything.
Think of it like this: if you were put in a booth with a million dollars – you know the ones where they turn on some fan and all the money starts blowing around and you have to catch as much as you can before your time is up – would you grab as much money as you can, or would you stop and fold every dollar neatly and put it in your pocket?
Think of your writing like that money booth. You want to grab as many ideas as you can and put them down on paper before your brain screams uncle. You can always go back later and fix things.
Read Books on the Craft of Writing
Here’s a simple assignment for you: read some books about writing. If you’ve already read some, read some more. I set a goal to read an hour a week on the writing craft and it continues to help my writing immensely.
Some of my favorites are: On Writing by Stephen King; Steering the Craft by Ursula K LeGuin; and Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. I have personal copies of all of these books sitting on my writing desk and I refer back to them often, but especially when I hear that little critic in my head telling me my stories aren’t good enough.
When you read these, or any other books about the writing life, you’ll see that other writers struggle just like we do. You’ll see the unglamorous side of writing. The human side. The humble beginnings. But it isn’t depressing, I promise. It’s actually very inspiring. Nothing is more encouraging than seeing that people like Octavia Butler and Mary Higgins Clark and Nora Roberts started out just like you. If they can do it, you can, too!
Writing is hard work. But we don’t do it because it’s hard, we do it because we love it. So keep studying and learning about the craft, just remember to keep writing! Every expert was once a beginner. The only way to become great at this game is to write every day.
What do you do to improve your writing skills? How do you stay committed to the craft? Share your tips in the comments.