Monday, December 30, 2013

YMMV? No, Your Mileage Will Vary

I giggled when I saw that one of my writer friends had updated her FaceBook cover photo to show a desk with the keyboard all but buried in papers and clutter.  Because although in theory I prefer my desk looking like this:

In real life, it more often looks like this:

Maybe, like me and my friend, you go on writing jags so fast and furious you don't have time or energy to clean your desk. Maybe you cannot write unless your desk is clean and perfectly arranged and you have two sharpened #2 pencils handy (although you don't actually use pencils for anything).

As writers, we often read books and blogs and talk to other writers and seek frantically for That Thing that will allow us to write smoothly, beautifully, and effortlessly, churning out one brilliant bestseller after another. What could make the difference for me? Is it getting up at 4:00 am to write uninterrupted in total quiet for an hour or two? Learning to write in ten minute snippets throughout the day, while the world howls around me? Yoga? Going to conferences and networking with other authors? Going to a remote cabin for a writers' retreat? Could the right software program make the difference? Plotting? Pantsing? NaNoWriMo-ing?


"There is no one, true way."

Even though, as writers, we are all on the same journey, nobody else's journey is exactly like mine, or yours, or Stephen King's, or Mercedes Lackey's (from whose Valdemar series I am borrowing that quote). It's what makes writing so hard, and so beautiful.

Your path may come to rival Nora Roberts (200+ novels published and counting) in prolific story output. Mine may be more along the lines of Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee - one bestselling book published in a lifetime (in my dreams, anyway). Or my path might be a lot of work and high hopes and perhaps no books published.

And that, too, is okay.

It's helpful to check out what other authors are doing, and try it on for size. 

But it's also okay, when it's not a good fit for us, to discard it.

You may have heard (I know I have) that THE way to success as an author is creating a big backlist. That pressure (write faster, write faster, think series, not stand-alones) which I put on myself did not result in more words; it actually blocked me. It spiraled into a nagging and negative internal tape where I began avoiding my WIP because if I couldn't put down at least XX many words every time I sat down to write, I was a failure and shouldn't even bother trying. And every time I did try, I put fewer and fewer words in a row, and the voices berated me for procrastinating/being an uncreative loser.

See how that worked?

YMMV. Having word goals may be exactly what keeps you on track. It may even work for me, at another point in my journey. It doesn't work for me right now.

When I was working on one of my first novels, I went to hear Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones) speak. She talked about not writing in a linear fashion, instead doing a kind of spiderweb thingie, with bits here, there, and elsewhere, then pulling them all together in the end.

I can completely admire the beauty and toil that goes into a spiderweb like this.
As long as the inhabitant is not all hairy fangs in my face.

I thought Ms. Sebold was sweet, perhaps even brilliant, but absolutely deranged. I couldn't imagine writing a story that made any sense, without starting at the beginning and carrying it through to the end. Lately, I have tried writing chapters out of sequence... and it seems to work for me now, at least with a couple of my stories.

Try New Things. Retry Old Things. Take a Break. Keep Pressing On.

Whatever works for you at the moment, do that thing. Don't believe the people who tell you that you write too fast to be any good, or those who say that you write too slowly to ever make a living as an author. Don't give those negative voices room to live, rent-free, in your head.

Nobody's journey is the same as yours or mine; nobody else has had our childhoods or families of origin (for good and for bad). Nobody else faces exactly the same family and health and financial challenges, or enjoys the benefits we do.

Wouldn't it be sad and boring if everything and everyone were exactly the same?
Sweet Studded Cupcakes by LARA member Alicia Reynolds

Every writer has his/her own flavor and flair, and though we can help each other with tips along the way, we don't have to be each other's clones. (Not that we could if we tried.)

My New Year's resolution, such as it is, is to evict those invidious and insidious internal voices that are not helping me along this journey. So what if I don't write as fast as La Nora? Or am not as succinctly evocative as Harper Lee? So what?! If I just keep writing, and trying new things, in the end I'll have a finished book, maybe more than one, that don't make me feel totally ashamed.

Actually, I already do.

Your thoughts?
What tips and tricks have worked for you?
What things have you tried that backfired?