Tag: amwriting

Patience, Writing, & the Long Game

Patience, Writing, & the Long Game

writing patience old typewriter
This was brand new when I started writing.

Writing takes time. We all know that. We do know we need patience. It’s not like we can sit down and whip off 70,000 words in an afternoon (or however many your particular genre’s asking for). Well, okay, maybe some of you can, but I’m deliberately not talking to you, because you scare me with your efficiency.

And then there’s the editing. Probably some rewriting. Which is all good – we were ready for this, we were prepared, we knew it’d take time.
But no one mentioned the waiting.

It starts quite reasonably, with the setting aside of the masterpiece that is our first draft (snort), so that we can come back to it with clearer eyes. Common wisdom says we need to ignore the wailings of our abandoned book baby for at least a month before we start playing with it again, preferably more.

So we wait.

And it’s hard at first, but we have a date in our diary that we can count down towards, and finally, finally we get to throw ourselves back into it, half terrified that it’s going to be about as enticing as a seagull’s leftovers, half certain that it’ll be immaculate and perfect and the bestseller of its generation.

Patience is hard.

Of course, it’s neither. It’s a work in progress, so back in we go for more editing, and more rewriting, and re-rewriting, and re-editing, and agonising over the placement of commas, and should the rain gleam or glisten, and holy cow, who put all these adverbs in? But at last, when we can’t stand the sight of the thing, we get to send it off to beta readers.

And then we wait.

This is the beginning of the really agonising waiting, the waiting we can’t control. Once again we entertain fantasies of beta readers coming back gushing about the perfection of our prose and the depth of our description, while at the same time expecting to receive an email that just says, “please stop.” It’s scary, having other people reading our work. I like to send one copy to my dad, because he’ll say good things even if he had to purge the manuscript from his Kindle to stop it infecting his other books with purple prose. The rest I send to people who I trust to tell me if it should be buried in an unmarked grave.

And then I wait.

No one ever reads fast enough for a waiting author. You could get it back to us in the same afternoon and we’ll huff and ask why you didn’t finish it before lunch. We’re impatient. We want to know you loved it, right now.

Of course, if you didn’t love it, we want to know that too. Sort of. As long as you’re nice about it.

And eventually the notes do come back, and we love every suggestion and correction, whether we agree with them or not, because beta readers aren’t just telling us where we’ve missed the mark – they’re giving us a road-map to find those bits. They may not be able to tell us how, but they absolutely tell us where the repairs need to go, and it’s the most amazing thing ever. Because by this point we could’ve written a couple of chapters in ancient Greek and never noticed, because we’re far too immersed in our own story. So if you have beta readers, go tell them they’re amazing. I’ll wait.

Come ON.

Then the next stint begins – adjusting and correcting, maybe even some pretty major rewriting again. And editing after that, of course. And if the rewrites were really big, well – we’re going to need more beta readers.

Out the book goes.

We wait once more, wondering how long it’s going to take and remembering every mistake we made with perfect clarity, and only just resisting emailing the beta readers a new version every Tuesday.

Finally, back it comes.

And now, if we’re really, really lucky, and have listened to our beta readers, and used our judgement, and been brutal with what we carved out of the story (kill your darlings also means being pretty free and easy with major book surgery), and maybe replaced them or not, and stitched the edges up again, tighter and shorter than before, then maybe we’ll have something that looks like a book at the end.

Amazing! We’ve done it!

Well, almost.

Because if we thought that that waiting was bad, we’re on to the big stuff now. Maybe you’re trying the traditional route, in which case you have the fun of wrestling with a synopsis (often squeezed onto one page, and holy cow, does my story sound dull when stripped down to that) and a query letter, which get sent off either alone or with a few chapters trailing after them. After which you wait, and you know it’s going to be months, but you’re still checking your email obsessively just in case, because you never know, right?

Unfortunately, when you do know, the odds are good that it’s a polite note saying your query doesn’t suit their needs. So you send out some more lonely little letters and keep on waiting.

But even if you’re going self-published, you don’t get to skip the waiting. Now you’ve got cover designers to wait on, and editors, and the back and forth of emails as changes are made and details are tweaked, and maybe you’re waiting to hear from book bloggers too, or marketers, or…

Yeah. I’m getting more and more convinced that we’re waiters as much as we’re writers. That the actual act of creation is only a very small part of one very big whole. And unfortunately we don’t even get to control all our waiting – a lot of it is waiting on other very busy people to get to our one small book.

But, honestly? If I take nothing else from my experience of writing than the understanding that creativity is as much patience as it is anything else, I’ll be okay with that. Patience is a wonderfully underrated thing in these days of instant downloads and same day delivery. And it makes for a different perspective, the realisation that for every day the writing just won’t work, or there’s no time to sit long enough to find the words, there are more days to come. And plenty of those will be spent in waiting that I can’t control, so what’s one day where I don’t get a scene down? There’s time. Writing has no age limit, no best before. We’re playing the long game, lovely people. Settle in and make yourselves comfortable.

I’ll put the kettle on.

 

This is a stock photo for ‘patience’. Yeah. I’d like to know what’s in their tea, too…

 

How do you find the waiting part of writing? Are you patient about it, or do you find it frustrating? Let me know in the comments!

 

You Do Write Every Day

You Do Write Every Day

The second bit, anyway.

Write Every Day.

You Should Be Writing.

Why Aren’t You writing?

It’s one of those things that gets shouted at us from all corners of the web, from writing books and podcasts and blogs and collective wisdom.

Write every day, because you’re not really a writer if you don’t.

Jack London wrote 1000 words a day.

Stephen King writes on his birthday, and on Christmas.

Anthony Trollope required 250 words of himself every half hour.

Leo Tolstoy, John Updike, Alice Munro, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou… the list goes on.

And, fair enough. It’s good advice. Writing every day is something to aspire to.

If your schedule allows it.

Well, it’s a nice thing to work towards.

If your home situation allows it.

If your work allows it.

If you’re in the right place to do it, physically, mentally, emotionally.

And – most importantly in my mind, although I’m neither published author nor writing guru – if it works for you.

It’s one of those odd pieces of advice that makes sense but doesn’t at the same time. Because, yes, if you want to be good at something you need to practise. You need to work at it. You need to put the hard slog in at the beginning (and, to be honest, all the way through) so that you can get where you’re going. No argument here. We’re not going to get anywhere through crossing our fingers and wishing on fairy dust.

But it also ignores the fact that we’re all different. That for some of us, life is in too much upheaval to be able to set aside writing time every single day. We might be lucky to get a good weekend in. Maybe it’s so hard to get into that writing mindset, that even if we do get up two hours early, we’re only going to be feeling ready to write when we need to shut the computer down and go walk the dog. Maybe we have so much going on that, this month, there’s no writing going to be done at all, because we don’t have the headspace for it. We can’t. And feeling guilty over that only exacerbates the situation.

This makes me almost irrationally angry. I should be PANICKING? What on earth for?

With one thing and another, I haven’t written for a couple of weeks. Then on the weekend I sat down and wrote a short story. It had been percolating for a while, so it came out pretty much how I wanted it, and quicker than it might have done otherwise (sometimes I start stories too soon, because I know I Should Be Writing, but they’re not ready and run all over the place before they get to the point). It was nice. It was fun. I enjoyed it, and when I was finished I wanted to do more.

But there were no other ideas ready to go yet, so I left it and went on with other things, both disappointed and hearing that admonitory voice reminding me that I should be Writing Every Day echoing in my head.

But then I realised something that, while it hasn’t shut Admonitory Voice up completely, has certainly made him a little less strident (yes, it’s a he – a shouty, mechanical voice like something off a high school PA system. Or occasionally more like the screaming alarms that go through spaceships under attack in low budget movies).

I do write every day.

You do, too.

I write blogs.

I write shopping lists.

I write emails.

I write Twitter posts.

I write texts.

I write to-do lists (so, so many to-do lists).

I write newsletters.

I write Facebook posts.

I write schedules and reminders.

I write Instagram stuff (#prettypicturesareworthmorewithhashtags).

And, every now and then, I write and rewrite and edit short stories and bigger stuff.

But, wow, do I write a lot every day.

Well, it does SOUND like a very pleasant career.

And that’s not even mentioning the very long and complicated stories going on in my head, some of which make it onto paper and others of which I have no intention of allowing out.

So maybe it’s not a case of totally disagreeing with this advice, prescriptive and shouty though it is. Maybe it’s a good thing to actually look and see how much writing we’re really doing when we think we’re getting nothing done. We write all of these things to get a message across (okay, the shopping and to-do lists might be stretching the point a little), to share our point of view with others, sometimes to persuade or inform. We use the same skills (minus emoticons) when we’re writing our masterpiece. Don’t look down on your little bits of writing. They all add up to big bits. It’s like doing short runs in between marathons, or making easy meals as you build towards a twelve-course sit-down dinner. It’s training.

Take writing advice with a hefty dose of salt – after all, we’re the only ones that can work out what works for us.

But if writing daily is how you want to measure being a writer, go for. We’re already there, each and every one of us.

And please, please stop guilting yourself with these silly things. Or just ignore the text bits and look at the (mostly) pretty pictures.
An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I haven’t run out of blog ideas. It’s only the end of January. This is important stuff!

Okay, important might be stretching it, but this was actually really fun. So, without further ado:

The A-Z of the Writer’s Life

(Because you always wanted to know, right?)

This is fine. This is absolutely fine…

A: Authors. That’s us. Even if we don’t feel like that’s what we are an awful lot, and need constant reassurance and regular infusions of chocolate to believe it.

B: Blogs. First because we think we should, later because it gives us an excuse to inflict our thoughts on unsuspecting internet readers.

C: Caffeine. Lots of it. Lots.

D: Drafts. So many drafts. Why are there so many? Why is there never really a final draft?

E: Editing. The word we don’t like to talk about, because there’s even more of it than there are drafts.

F: Fans. What we want. The kind that read our books, not the kind that move air around. Although in summer they’re nice, too.

G: Goals. Those things that shift a lot.

How we hope it works.

H: Headaches. Because our characters do things that we didn’t say they could do, and very rarely do what we want them to do. Also grammar, and real life interfering with our Work.

I: Insecurity. Lots of it. Will I finish this horrible draft? Will I make it less horrible? Will other people think it’s horrible? Will they think I’m horrible? Am I a horrible writer, or a horrible person, or both?

J: Jokes. Things we’re sure we tell badly, or else something that we suspect we may actually be. Not sure.

K: Kettle. Vital writer equipment. Enables us to fuel our caffeine habit, make pot noodles, and serves as a fantastic procrastination tool.

L: Laughter. Used as deflection when someone asks us how our little book is coming on. Often has a slightly desperate edge.

M: Murder. What we research more than is probably healthy, and said searches are probably why we’re on FBI watch lists.

N: Nightmares. In which we find ourselves at a writers’ conference, pitching an erotic comedy to an agent who represents only literary fiction.

Yep.

O: Oh. As in oh my god, oh help me, oh hell, oh no what have I done, and other things I can’t print here.

P: Proofreading. Because editing wasn’t enough. Editing is never enough.

Q: Quiet. What we insist we need, then get a little uneasy about when we actually get it. Is there a tap dripping? I think the fridge is coming on too often. I did not know the cat snored that loudly. Wow. All this quiet is distracting. How am I meant to work like this?

R: Research. Where we find out about interesting ways to kill people, untraceable poisons, how to dismember a body, and other titbits that don’t really help us in small talk situations.

S: Sighs. Many, and escalating as the drafts mount up.

T: Twitter. Where we ‘connect with readers’ and ‘build our audience’. Also known as hanging out with other writers, sharing bad jokes and pretending to work.

U: Unclear. Our characters’ motives, the plot, and our own memories of where we were going when we started this piece. Also our motivations for ever getting into this madness.

No, no. We just think it is. Hopefully.

V: Vague. Our behaviour when forced to leave the computer and socialise. Also known as ‘unsociable’, ‘awkward’, and sometimes ‘weird’.

W: Wikipedia. Where we fall down rabbit holes of unrelated research and emerge days later knowing the exact breeding cycle of the lesser red-spotted yak fly, but nothing more about the historical relevance of penny whistles, which is what we went in for.

X: X. Usually written large, in red, across vast swathes of manuscript while editing.

Y: Yowl. The sound the cat makes when we step on her in the dark while going to write down an amazing idea that’s just occurred to us at 3 am. Alternatively: Yelp, the sound the dogs makes, and also the sound we make when we walk into the bathroom door.

Z: Zero. The amount of regret we have about any of this. Most of the time, anyway.

 

 

So let me know, lovely people – any additions to this alphabet? Any substitutions? Tell me your thoughts!

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