If only writing were just about writing. If only the time we could dedicate to delicious production would fall into our laps and procreate making oodles of more writing time that we could carry around like a jar of marbles. But barriers to our own prolificacy are real, and grotesque, and numerous. They’re sneaky buggers, shutting us down even when we’ve established a groove, or are in mad love with our story, or if this is the only day of the week where we can carve a new canal into the manuscript. There be monsters here, in the world, with the best of intentions of a writer’s project their preferred fare. To defend oneself I have cobbled a list of such wickedness in the hopes that we all can identify them more quickly and banish them back to their lairs.
General self-doubt–Ah, the pernicious beast, this one! It loves to creep up at the worst hours, especially as writers are sitting down to their keyboards. You can’t do this, it whispers. You’re not good enough. Leave the writing to the “real” writers. What a mean message, because it has the power to unravel confidence in many areas beyond writing talent itself. The best defense against this monster is to find distractions, a.k.a. do something that makes you feel good. Your favorite music to set the writing mood, enough sleep each night, a quick walk to generate endorphins, anything. In the case of last defense, tell the monster to go away. Seriously. I am evidence that this can work. I suggested a long, around-the-world vacation for my inner critic, and it really did go away.
Procrastination–I’m sure you’ve got other things to do beyond banging through 1,500 words in the next hour. Procrastination is sticky like that, giving writers all kinds of reasons to defer actual writing. It sounds reasonable to do another load of laundry or spend an afternoon running errands, but in aggregate these concerns trample over momentum because they break up one’s focus until all one has left is a scattershot strategy for writing. And trying to remember who is whom, where the last scene in the diner happened, or which plot twist was introduced 30 pages earlier is a real draft-killer, because they all take away from being in the story and getting more words into the text. Procrastination also lends itself to increasingly dire consequences: put off writing long enough and you’ll stop caring about those characters and their tales. And that is a horrible fate for a story. To defend against this species of awful, get organized. Pull out your calendar and a machete and hack away until you have reserved writing time and opportunities to get all of your other tasks managed. If that means making a huge dinner on Sunday that frees up time on Monday or Tuesday, great. If the kids need to go to soccer practice, set up a carpool so that you have writing time when it’s not your turn to play ferrymaster. If you’re easily interrupted at home, write somewhere else. I’m a fan of public libraries and coffee houses, but that’s just me.
Overextension–So many projects, so little room in the schedule. If you sit down and don’t know whether to work on your humor book about Reno, the ghost story featuring Alexander Hamilton, or the six short stories in some stage of edit, then your lack of focus may be hurting your productivity. Agents and editors will eventually have to vouch for your project above others if they decide to pick it up, so it helps your manuscript if you can identify a priority right now. Sure, you love them all. This isn’t the animal shelter, though–they’ll all be here waiting for you, patiently, when it’s their turn. It can be healthy, writing-wise, to have a few projects going on at once, yes. Some weekends I set aside just for short work, or blog articles. But when you’re staring at the computer not sure what to work on next, and wind up playing Gems with Friends for 90 minutes, then it’s a red flag to shorten your short list of projects. To defend yourself, write up everything you have in draft form that you could conceivably prioritize in the next 6 months, and winnow it down to 3 items. That’s it. Six months isn’t long to wait on the other things, really. But you need to get serious with one manuscript that you can push forward, and the others will come. It may also help to set aside some notebooking/back story time so that you can continue thinking about other ideas even if they’re not on the “write now” list. Creative juices what they are, sketching out ideas is always fun, often inspiring, and usually leads to more creativity in the future.
Jealousy of other writers/books/success stories–We like to think we’re terrific people, what with our interesting takes on the world and our talented ability with words, but most if not all of us suffer from jealousy or envy at some point. Those people out there writing and publishing books that are worse than your manuscript? They struggled with the industry, too. They built their platforms, received rejection letters, or possibly cried over their insecurities. What do you know of it? Jealousy is particularly evil because it takes away your own autonomy if you let it hang around long enough. The evil creature of jealousy will convince you that your autonomy is just a figment of your imagination. It’s the publishing industry that doesn’t care about you. It’s the awfulness of literary agents who ignore your value. It’s the poverty of readership in the US that keeps you from success. These are all lies. Write well enough, find an idea good enough, tell the story interestingly enough, be different and professional enough, and you will get published. I’ve heard stories about people rejected for ten years or more, 14 manuscripts written or more, before anyone deigned to publish them. If they were envious of every other writer out there, well, let’s just say that most successful writers focus on their work and not the merits of the other 1.5 million books that come onto the market each year. So to keep this monster away, get off the Internet and keep the Poets & Writers magazine in the next room from where you’re writing. Give yourself isolated writing time and you’ll feel good about your progress instead of miserable that some spin off of a bad novel series is getting fantastic press.
Be aware of your emotions around writing. If you’re starting to sound like a ranting lunatic, find a hobby to master. Yodeling. Fishing. Kickboxing. Nothing hinders us more than a lack of perspective, which in a way, is what spawns all of these monsters. It was love that brought you to writing, so do your best to keep your affection for writing as your main motivator. It’s the best defense out there.