I labored under a delusion for years that writing was precious, unique, and important. That my worlds were somehow glimpses into something Great and Beyond, and that my abilities as a writer would someday inspire awe and adoration. In those years, I didn’t write very well, and I didn’t write very much; I also never considered all that went in to actually getting a book published. I had a kind of distant understanding that eventually I’d have to actually share what I did, and that likely to get something to the masses, that would require, you know, time and publicity and all that (something I’m just starting to consider now).
But, like most newbies, writing was what took up most of my time and brain power. It was the intoxication of creation, and certainly the rather astounding power of storytelling and escape that did it for me. And though it was far from the most productive time, it was an important time to have, because it taught me what I loved to write.
And though I’d written thousands upon thousands of words, I didn’t finish writing an actual book until I was in Graduate School. And that book, like I’ve mentioned before, is not yet ready for publication; I’m not sure it will be for a long time. But the problem was output. It took me three years to write that first book; more, if you consider I’d actually started the initial idea much earlier on, right out of high-school.
I forget what led me to it, but sometime after my son Liam was born, I had an epiphany. Yes, one of those. And it really came down to this: either I was going to be a writer, or I wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong here, it wasn’t that the transformation happened over night. But over the course of the last year, I’ve slowly been making writing a part of my day–not counting the blogs, or Twitter, etc. It’s not a matter of being special, it’s being stubborn. NaNoWriMo definitely helped me realize that I have a great work ethic if I have a goal in mind. So I restructured the way I write.
This, of course, was a version of what Cory Doctorow wrote in the January issue of Locus, “Writing in the Age of Distraction“. But I figured it out the month before. I’m not as spartan as Mr. Doctorow, nor as busy I don’t think, but the premise is this: whenever I sit down at the keyboard, I’m going to write 1,000 words. In that space of time, there’s no Twitter, no Facebook, no “research” distractions. No Gmail. No blog posts. No blog post stat checking. And if I don’t feel like writing? It probably means that I should.
As a result, I’ve turned writing into a habit. My son naps for 1-2 hours a day, and sometimes that’s the only time I have to write. But instead of surfing the web, or spending the time lost on Hulu, I write. Period. I’ve found that not only am I more prolific, but that the resulting work is much better than when I have a whole day to do nothing but write (and as a result, don’t). Some days, I don’t get any more writing in than during his naptime; anything else, and I consider it icing on the cake.
I also have learned to let go of some of my self-consciousness. This is hard for me, and there are still days I cringe at the idea that anything I’ve written it out there, that people are listening and reading. But I love what I do, and a quick trip to any fiction section always reassures me: you don’t have to be Joyce to publish. And in fact, if you write like Joyce, most people aren’t going to get it anyway.
Let’s face it: very few of us are savants. We’re storytellers. And words are malleable, editable, changeable. We can always write better. The thing is, writers who write are just stubborn. They’re not happy waiting around for someone to “discover” their half-written masterpiece. They’ve got to see it through.
I guess I’ll call this the Frank O’Hara approach. Sure, it won’t work for everyone. But use your time as you have it, and be stubborn. Laugh when a scene goes wrong, but press through. Cringe at that dialogue, but know–hey, that’s what edits are for. Keep moving forward. Knowing that you’re not special means you open up a world of other writers going through exactly what you are. Meet them, reach out to them, become a part of a community. You have to live inspired before you can inspire.