Trade mistakes is a topic I do not feel entirely qualified to write about. Nonetheless whatever insight I have managed to procure over my years of writing may prove useful to you. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, some of which I only discovered in the last month. I’m always learning something new and I hope I will help you along too. I always think of mistakes as a personal trainer at the gym, employed to cut the bad habits and whip you up to shape with better habits. And this is what my PT told me to cut out of my diet. Bear with me… it’s quite long.
“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.” ~ John Irving
Bad Habit #1 – Laziness: The buttered toast that could have been a proper meal.
I’ve experienced it sometimes; I’m so hungry I could eat a horse but it’s so much easier to prepare toast than to prepare an entire horse. Not that I eat horses but… ahem. Sometimes just the idea of turning on the laptop/computer can be a drag, especially when you think of what it entails. Or you go as far as turning it on and end up browsing the internet because it is easier than opening that WIP. Writing is work. It can be fun but it’s fun work. Don’t be lazy. Just write!
Solution: Make a meal.
The hunger will not abate. Trust me I know. Similarly your writing will never happen. You will always experience the depressing, discouraging, frustrating pangs of not writing. So take the time to make a small meal first. Write a word a day. A paragraph a week. A chapter a month. Get out of the “making toast” habit and start making meals; you’ll enjoy them more and be far more satisfied.
Bad Habit #2 – Procrastination: The “one more thing…” before the exercise.
There will always be one more thing to do or see or try or or or. Those things may seem more important or more doable than writing, but they do nothing more than delay the inevitable – writing. You can’t turn around and complain about not getting any writing done if you continue to put it off for other “important” things. Writing is like exercise, the more you do it, the better you get at it. It’s still work but you’ll be better in the end for it.
Solution: Just do it
Nike has it right. Just do it. Don’t put it off. Don’t talk yourself out of doing it. If it starts slow then go slow but go. Write. Do it. That one more thing will be there when you are done. Rachel Poli had a great idea for overcoming procrastination: If there’s a movie or a game or a TV series you want to watch, reward yourself with it after doing a certain word count or reaching a specific goal. Rewards are a great motivation for anything but in the end you must just do it.
Bad Habit #3 – Self-Demotivation/Fear: The “I can’t do it coach.”
I’ve stared at my screen and uttered these words to myself plenty of times. I just can’t do it. This story is too big. This story is boring. I don’t have time. I’m not motivated. I have the writing skills of a cat. My niece who is eight wrote an expository memoir on her snail and I just can’t compete with that kind of talent. I’ll never be a published author.
Solution: Just do it.
Sometimes that’s just what you must do over and over again. Just do it. Get over yourself and whatever fears are preventing you from writing and just do it. If you continue to put yourself down you won’t ever get up. You won’t ever do anything. Do you want to be a failure without even trying because you didn’t think you could succeed? No one is waking the athlete up at 5am and singing words of praise to them as they jog through the cold morning before another day at the office. No one is going to utter words of encouragement in your ear as you sit and write. And discouraging yourself isn’t going to help either.
Ask yourself “why do you want to write”
Bad Habit #4 – Time: The “I don’t have time to do this.”
Isn’t that a fact of life. In fact, we don’t have time for half the things we do but guess what… we make the time. Sometimes we make the time because we know we won’t have a job, or clients, or money at the end of the day if we don’t. So we consciously make the time. At other times the entertainment value of what we are doing allows us to willingly make time. If you have time to watch one more episode or play one more game etc, then you have time to say no and write instead.
Solution: Time Management + Discipline = Writing
Plan your time out. What time do you get home? What are you doing between getting home and going to bed? How many of those activities are a must or necessity? How can you fit in your writing around these necessary activities. And by necessary I’m talking about cooking (or you won’t eat), a previous engagement you made which you must attend, and so on. If you have six hours of “free” time when you get home, set aside just an hour to writing and stick to it. If you only manage to write 50 words, then that’s fifty more words than you had before. If you’re cruising and have written 3000 words in that hour, stop. Jot down the ideas but stop because…
Discipline is the next step of time management. If you can’t manage your time, you will always be too far behind or too far ahead. How is being ahead bad? You’ve just used up time for something else in place of your writing, taking everything else out of schedule. Now perhaps your’re sleeping later, making you tired the next day and when you get home you don’t feel like keeping your schedule. And everything is out of wack again. Discipline goes a long way.
“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.”
Bad Habit #5 – Comparisons: “I’m not as good as (insert author here)”
It can be a writer’s default demotivating statement before, during and even after writing. You suddenly compare yourself to the greats in your particular genre or field, or even worse, a fellow writer you personally know. Suddenly your writing seems inadequate and . You feel it was a waste of time and energy and effort to ever think you could write something decent. Perhaps it is better to quit now while behind.
Solution: Perfect your craft.
“Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.” ~ William Zinsser
There it is. The truth. Writing is an act of ego and it will either be lifted or dropped; anything you do falls into this category. Also, let’s not confuse the ego with egotism. Ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance while egotism is the fact of being excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself. I think William Zinsser makes this distinction as well in his “On Writing Well” book (yes, yes I know I refer to it a lot okay!).
Being an act of ego, it means you are fragile to its criticism and shortfalling, you are blaring aware of it’s inadequacy; but you are also aware of its strength, its potential and above all else, you are aware that it is your writing. You are not J.K Rowling nor have you experienced her life so why try to be her? What you should do is see what it is about her writing that you like and enjoy. And then read others and read more and just read read read.
Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what has been written before. Writing is learned by imitation.
Nobody becomes Tom Wolfe overnight, not even Tom Wolfe.
~ William Zinsser
Following that, perfect your craft by writing often. Your own writing voice will flow eventually as you write. You will grow in confidence as you write because, as Angela Meadon always tells me, your next piece of writing is always better than your last because you have learned more by writing. As you read more and write more, you improve. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone except yourself. Don’t let other writer’s fame and fortune deter you from becoming the writer you are and have potential to be.
“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
~ Stephen King,