Posts Tagged ‘dedication’

Call It What It Is

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. There’s a brilliant idea that you just have to get out and it’s scratching and clawing at your brain. You sit down to your computer and you pound out five thousand words without blinking an eye. Maybe this happens two or three times in the same week. You’re excited, thrilled even. All those idle fancies you’ve had over the years of being an actual writer are starting to come together in your head and in your hands as your fingers fly across the keyboard and word after word flashes up on the screen. The world will know your literary brilliance. They will come to love your snarky dialogue and your eloquent prose.

But then it happens. First, you realized that you thought the word ‘snarky’ would look good on paper. Second, your steam runs out. The coal shoveler inside your brain is taking a semi-permanent hiatus, and whenever you sit down to write, all you get is feelings of ‘it will never be good enough.’ You’re wrapped up in how wonderful something else was that you wrote two, three or ten years ago, and you wonder how you will ever live up to that insanely high standard you set for yourself. You switch windows from Word to Facebook to MSNBC.

The next day you hardly think about writing at all, except for maybe a minute or two. You might even open up your word processor, but then close it, without really thinking about writing anything. Or you might scratch out a sentence or two, decide that it’s not worth it and go for a jog. By the end of the week, your hopes and dreams of publishing are squashed beneath your endless complaining about your ‘dead-end’ job and your finances and how it’s just not fair that you got stuck here. You’re too talented to be stuck here. Always, always stuck.

Woman asleep at her desk

My favorite way not to write.

That will last for maybe two months, and then it will come back. The flash of creative genius and the work and the energy and then the crash and the agonizing torture of wondering if the cycle is ever, ever going to end.

Psychologists have a term for that particular kind of behavior. It’s called bipolar disorder and it’s generally associated with long periods of inactivity followed by a short burst of excessive energy, a huge mood crash and a rapid descent into another long stretch of depression and inactivity.

I have my own term for it, when it comes to writing at least.


Before you get all bent out of shape and start telling me that I have no right to judge you and that I can’t possibly understand the torment you’re going through and that your struggles with writing and writing well are your own, let me remind you that I’ve been there. I’ve spent months and months not writing. Months. Most of the time, I’ve been able to justify it, calling it fear or writer’s block or some other name that I invent to disguise the plain and simple truth.

When I write, it’s because I want to. When I don’t want to write, I don’t write. It’s that simple. The problem that we all face (or at least most of us) is that most of the time, we don’t want to write. We want to dream. We want to fantasize and marvel at the wonderful worlds we’ve imagined in our minds. And, quite often, whether it’s because we think that words can’t do the image justice or it’s because we feel inadequate, or because writing just takes too darn long, we put up our ‘Gone Fishin’ signs and close up shop.

If there’s anything I’ve learned during the process of writing a novel, it’s that there is no room in a serious writer’s life for laziness. Your muse and your stories and poems are perfectly willing to show up to work and do their parts. And their part is easy. They just have to be there. And guess what, that’s all you have to do, too. You have to show up to work. You have to turn your computer on, maybe turn your internet off, open up a word processor and force yourself to write. Write ten words, then fifty, then a hundred. Write for an hour and then quit. But the next day, when you’re already bored and you’re wondering if it’s worth it, shut your brain off, sit down, and do it again.

Maybe all you can do, consistently, is to write five hundred words a day. If that’s the case, then do it. While five hundred words may not seem like much, consider this. At five hundred words per day, you will produce about 180,000 words, which means that you’ve written the equivalent of roughly two 250 page novels or twenty (That’s right. Two. Zero.) decent short stories of publishable length. In a year. The numbers add up.

Discipline is the line that divides bumbling amateurs from the professionals. It isn’t talent or luck, it’s dedication to the work. If you aren’t where you want to be as a writer, then there’s only one thing to do for it, and that’s to write more. Write every day. After a few weeks, it will be as natural as breathing. After a few more, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to spend your time doing anything else. Put in the time and the effort, and believe me, you will see the results.


First Snow and Another Milestone

Snow is falling as I type this, for the first time this year.  It’s odd for the first snowfall to come so late in the autumn here in Colorado, but I welcome it.  There’s something to be said for the serenity and innocence that comes with writing while the snow settles onto the ground.  I shut the lights off in my office while I wrote, and opened the blinds, so that I could see it coming down.

I don’t know if it was the snow falling or just sheer determination that pushed me over the hump today, but I got myself motivated enough this afternoon to finally crawl, bleeding and gasping for breath, over the halfway mark, at least for this month’s writing challenge.  As far as National Novel Writing Month is concerned, I’m now 50% through.

With respect to the finished product, though, the number is not quite so high, but I would place it at a respectable 20%, which I still find encouraging.  I expect to cross over the fifty thousand mark sometime during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and really, I think that’s a good thing to finish NaNo so early, because it gets the monkey off of my back, and it lets me gently escort the elephant from the room.  At fifty thousand words, I will still be less than half finished, but I will be so far into the story, that I’m sure there won’t be any turning back.  I may still use the NaNoWordSprints twitter account as a motivation for me to write every day, but the contest will be over.

One of the things I’m starting to see now, as I get deeper and deeper into my main character’s background and into the story itself, is how many loose ends there will be to tie up as I come tumbling toward the end of the novel.  It’s almost as if the novel writing process is one that pays you back as you put effort and time into it.  I don’t want to call it literary karma, but the principle seems to be the same.  What I do for the story in character creation, situation development and sheer determination looks like it will come back and write the last third of my story for me, provided I’m willing to spend the requisite time in front of the keyboard.

The novel I’m writing, I think, is going to be the first in a series, either three or four books long, and I know that some of those loose ends are going to need to be left untied, and more will need to be unraveled as I get further along in the story, but I’ve got to tell you, until you get this far into your novel, you’re not going to be able to see how fulfilling it will be.

I love writing.  I can’t say that enough.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally, really, sit down and just do everything it takes to press forward with my goals and my dreams.  It could not be more appropriate right now for me to see the snow falling.  It brings with it a sense of renewal and carefree persistence that I could not possibly frame into words.

Cool Million

From time to time, I hear any number of reasons from people about why they don’t write (or sing or draw or play the piano or some other equally demanding task).  Most often, the cited excuse is a lack of talent. “I just don’t have enough natural ability,” they say.  That answer has always puzzled me.

For years, people described my younger brother as ‘tone deaf.’ He just didn’t have an ear for music, I guess. Or at least, that’s what everyone seemed to think.  Turns out, though, that idea is completely bogus.  See, while there may be some measure of ‘talent’ involved with singing, what it really involves is practice.  And practicing involves shaping the rest of your life around whatever it is you’re trying to improve.

Personally, I encounter the same challenges with staying healthy and working out.  I could stand to lose a few pounds, gain some energy, and so on, but I only spend an hour or two a week at the gym.  Certainly, that’s better than nothing, but it’s not likely to help me reach my goals.  Dedication and persistence are necessary parts of accomplishing any major goal, whether it’s losing 30 pounds, learning to play the cello (my wife and I very much want to do this) or writing a novel.

I read somewhere once that in order to reach ‘expert’ proficiency in any activity, you need to spend about 1000 hours doing it.  One thousand.  That means, if you spent a solid hour writing every single day, you would become an expert in about three years.  One hour a week? It will take you closer to twenty.

It gets better.  A reasonable pace for someone typing on their computer is about 1000 words per hour, which works out to about 17 words a minute.  Do the math.  1000 words per hour. 1000 hours of work.  That comes out to a nice, clean, even million.

That’s right. One million words.  That’s what it takes to become an expert writer.  There’s no other way to get better at it than actually doing it.

So, I guess we’d better get cracking.