Category Archives: For Writers
Last week, my son went to visit his dad in Phoenix. For the WHOLE week. In order to distract myself (and keep from getting dehydrated with all the tears), I challenged myself to write a book in a week. 50,000 words in 7 days. I was fairly confident I could do it, providing I didn’t get bogged down in “where the heck does this go next?” It would be hard, especially physically, but I was determined to do my best.
I didn’t actually make it.
43,083 words. SO CLOSE. I’m really bummed I didn’t make it, but I also know exactly why it didn’t happen.
- I started on the wrong day. Ideally, I would have started shortly after they left on Sunday and gotten a full day of writing in. Instead, I let myself miss him and ended up playing Don’t Starve Together with my brother half the day. Good for my mental health, but it meant that my seventh writing day was the following Sunday…when he was home all day.
- I took a day off in the middle. My brain was verging on burnout, so I took a day to play Fallout 76, watch Cheers, and generally futz around. I should have taken a half day, not a whole day.
- My sixth day, Saturday, was also a half day. I didn’t realize they would be back as soon as they were, so I didn’t schedule my time accordingly.
For reference, here are my numbers:
Had those last two days been full days, or had I not taken Thursday off, I’d have made it.
And, honestly? Who am I kidding?
I wrote 43,000 words in 6 days!!
Even though I didn’t actually hit 50k, I still kind of feel like I did. Here’s my takeaway:
- With the right setup, I can write for 6 hours without any pain. Friday was an 8-hour day, and made my shoulder ache something fierce.
- 6 hours is a perfect amount of work, providing #1 is true. I felt excited, refreshed, and downright jubilant when I was done. As opposed to Friday, when I ended with a stressed-out brain buzz and only wanted to sleep for two days to recuperate.
- Short books make it easier to maintain writing momentum. Longer books have longer arcs, meaning one has to hold a bigger picture in one’s head. This series is somewhat actiony and plot-driven, so it moves from one scene to the next without a lot of subtext. Godmother would not have been nearly so easy.
- Knowing the plot – at least major and minor guideposts along the way – is imperative. Part of the reason I took Thursday off was to figure out a way forward (I ended up using most of my notes in the first three days). Deep plotting isn’t necessarily required (but I know from writing Eternals that it helps even more).
- Mental breaks are necessity. During previous long slogs (usually around the climax of each book when everything gets really moving and I don’t want to stop), I needed days to recover. I can get away with less time if I know where I’m going when I get back, or have #6.
- Habit is insanely important to the creative process. At the end of Wednesday, I had no idea where I was going or what came next…like, at all. I told myself I was going to ponder the problem while playing games (ha ha – I know better, and I still tell myself this lie all the time). When Friday started, I still no had idea where I was going, but I used my breakfast to figure it out and I was at the keys on time and obviously full of verve.
- Deadlines that mean something actually matter. I suck at deadlines and due dates. They are my Achilles Heel. Not because I’m lazy or have poor time management skills, but because I have no emotional connection to getting it done. You can dangle all the rewards or punishments you want, but if I’m not emotionally invested in what I’m doing, it doesn’t happen. So I need to find ways to challenge myself consistently that matter to me in order to be my most productive. (Which I already knew, but finding out there are things that matter enough is huge.)
- Since I’m a broke work-at-home mom, I don’t get 6 hours of uninterrupted writing time 5 days a week. But if I did, and if I figured out how to maintain it, I could theoretically crank out even a Godmother book in a little over a month. And isn’t that just a lovely goal framework, right there?
So, I didn’t make my goal but I learned a lot of really important things about myself and my process. And I’m almost done with my Top Secret Project #2. In a week. Those are some huge wins!
The most important thing I’m walking away from this challenge with, though? The knowledge that if I ever manage to make money from my books, I really can make it work full-time.
And honestly? I don’t know that there’s anything more important to a writer than having faith in ourselves. Some have it in spades; others of us have to work at it. But if you’re like me, rest assured it’ll come. It’s a practice, not a finite resource. Keep moving forward, keep trying new things, and eventually we’ll get there!
Recently, I’ve heard a lot of indie authors touting the notion that writing should be fun…and if it’s not, get out, because you’re in the wrong business.
Every time I hear it, it’s like a fairy falling lifeless to the ground when someone doesn’t believe. Before I go any further, let me say this:
If you want to be a writer, never let anyone tell you to stop.
I majored in Anthropology in college with the intent of becoming an archaeologist. I had my whole life mapped out around that core career. And then junior year, I had a professor advise us all to get out and find something new to do because technology was going to make us obsolete within ten years. I trusted his experience, relied on his authority in the field, and took his advice. It’s been eleven years, and archaeologists still exist. They still dig, still study, still catalogue. The field didn’t fail because of technology, it diversified. Had I gotten into it back then, I’d have been ahead of the curve. As it was, I left school for a while to figure out what else to do with my life and didn’t get my degree for another six years. I gave up my chance to do what I loved because I listened to someone who was supposed to know what he was talking about, and I kick myself every time I see a new archaeological discovery in the news. Because there are things I can’t do at 35 nearly as well as I could have done them at 25, not least because I have a family to care for.
If you want something for yourself, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t doubt that you can do it, that you have the right personality or interest base. Make it work for you. Find what you bring to it and diversify. Because what they’re really saying is, “You can’t do what I think you want to do/what I do.” But chances are pretty good that you don’t want to do whatever it is they see ahead of you; you probably want to do what YOU see, and that’s almost never the same thing. That goes doubly for creative pursuits.
Okay. Important message out of the way.
This particular bit of bad advice has been driving me crazy for months, largely because I’m not the kind of author who always has fun when she’s writing. ‘Cause you know what? I don’t write a lot of “fun” stories. The first novel I started with the intent to finish, back in high school, was about a half-elf who lost his family and became reliant upon a strong mentor figure who was secretly using him for his own dark ends. The first novel I actually finished was about a teenager whose siblings essentially sold her to a sadist to finance a revolution. Heck, the book I’m working on right now is amazingly fun to write, full of awkward moments and sexual innuendo, but it still has painful elements that have made writing it an emotionally unfun experience.
Writing doesn’t have to be fun. Even fun books don’t have to be fun all the time.
At least once during every book I’ve ever written, I get so angry at it that I want to tear it into tiny bits with my bare hands, chuck it in a fire to watch it sizzle and burn, and then gather up the ashes to craft something else I can destroy. It’s part of my writing process. I used to follow a traditionally published author who said whenever she hit that moment, her family would respond with, “So you’re on the right track, then!” Because it was also part of her process, and she only ever hit it when the book was coming together well.
Personally, the best fun I have with a story is if it’s challenging. If it makes me work, makes me question how I’m writing it or why I’m writing it; if it makes me realize something about myself or the ideas I want to convey; if it’s hard, that’s when I love it most. I think a lot of writers equate “fun” with “easy,” like it can only be fun if you’re blowing through scenes like Bonnie and Clyde blew through banks and emerging from most sessions with an adrenaline high. Frankly, if that’s the only part of writing you experience, I think you’re missing out. But that’s just me; I’m in it because it’s who I am, not just what I do. YMMV (and should).
Basically, it all boils down to this: All writers are different. All books are different. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another. Find your niche, find your passion, find your process, and then cheer on everyone else.
And if you’re the one giving advice, don’t be the reason someone looks back ten years from now and regrets the choices they made. Uplift each other. Change up your perspective.