More than three thousand words written today, whoop whoop! It was a good writing day. L had taken the children camping so yesterday afternoon and most of today it was just me and the baby. I had the option to clean the house, while the baby slept but, after thinking about it better, I realised it would be a wasted opportunity. I could, instead, sit and write. And so I did. I’d only had one thousand words on Friday and yesterday, with the dog debacle, I didn’t have the energy to do any writing. So today I managed a big chunk. It was good and satisfactory to do.
Of course, the kids came home exhausted so it’s been hit and miss up to the time they went to bed.
It has occurred to me that a lot of the things that I am learning regarding loving myself apply to the new (and not so new writer) and the self-love itself is one of those things. After all, lack of confidence, self-loathing, that deep belief that most writers have that their work is rubbish, is just hindering our progress and that’s why a lot of us might never finish a short story, let alone a novel. So here are some tips on how to become confident enough that you can successfully finish your work.
Forget About What it is to be a Writer
There are as many theories as there are writers and this is just another, but I like to believe mine is a more basic one, since I am stripping the term of all glamour. Ready?
You’re a writer if you write.
Yes, when people asks what we do we say things like ‘I’m trying to be a writer’ or ‘I’d like to publish a novel’. Stop saying any of that. You’re a writer. You don’t need to be published to be a writer any more than you need to sell a painting to be an artists. Artists make art, writers write.
Now, you might be an unpublished writer, but that’s a story for another day.
And you might say, ‘well, if that’s the case, anybody who writes an e-mail a day can say they’re a writer.’ Theoretically. But if you say to anybody you’re a writer, they’re not imagining you’re sending June’s profit report to your manager by e-mail. They imagine you’re telling a story, at the very least, or writing essays on the meaning of life or the fifteen meanings of that one sentence in Hamlet.
Set Realistic Goals
In my previous job as a call centre Team Leader we used an acronym for goals for improvement. If you’ve worked in customer services before, you will recognize this. Goals needed to be SMART, meaning: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
No point on saying: I’m going to write a bit some times. That’s not specific, nor measurable, it’s probably achievable though, but unrealistic, because you’re unlikely to ever finish something, hence not time-bound.
I’m going to write a thousand words a day is better.
There is also no point on setting a six thousand words a day target if you only get a couple of hours free time. A good test is to write at your normal pace during half an hour and see how many words you get. Then you can figure out how much you realistically have time to write in any given day, based on your schedule. I try for two thousand a day, which would take me two hours, was I undisturbed by, well, life.
If you are starting, though, set yourself a minimum. It can be a hundred words, it can be fifty words, but make it small. It’s hard to set a habit and it takes about twenty one days of doing that everyday. Yet some days are crap, so it’s hard to go for a high number. You’re more likely to keep the habit going if that day you’re dying with the flu you know you only need a handful of words.
It might also be useful to form a group with some fellow writers. Years ago, my friend Gabriella Campbell set up a group to create the writing habit. In this group we all shared our progress. It was fun and it helped everybody get into a writing routine.
Don’t Overthink It
Don’t re-write as you go. Don’t dwell on a word, looking for thirty minutes for a synonym. Don’t even go back to the last chapter / page / scene to add something you’ve just thought about. Keep a pad, make a note of it, and keep going. There is nothing worse for your progress than reading your first draft half way through. You know your first draft will be crap. If you read it too soon, you’ll might get discouraged.
Stephen King advises, in On Writing, to write your draft in one go and then don’t look at it for a few weeks. Once those weeks have gone, pick it up again, and go to work on it.
There is one thing that helps not overthinking things and it’s spending some time outlining your story. I’ve never been a big advocate for planning, because the story comes out naturally for me, but for The Detective and The Ghost, it’s working out well. I have the major story outlined, the investigation as such, though the rest is coming along nicely, but that way I can’t get stuck because I know what comes next so all I have to do is move on to the next part as planned. There is little opportunity to go back on my text while I’m waiting for inspiration to make an appearance this way.
I know it’s only three tips, but I often read articles that have so many bullet points that you don’t know where to start. I thought I’d keep it simple, for those of you who are starting or might be having writer blues, also known as I-can’t-write-for-shit syndrome (I just made that up). This are things that might seem common sense but that I’ve had to discover by myself or that, rather, work for me and might also work for you.