Over the years I’d read several books about how to be a writer. There are podcasts I listen to, websites to get lost in and classes to take. I’ve always used them when I was struggling, trying to find reasons why I was failing.
When I started this blog as a final attempt to put writing at the forefront of my life (after my wife and son of course) I promised myself that I would be honest, not just with those around me but with myself. I’d say most importantly with myself.
Upon deciding this I realised that there was nothing else in the universe stopping me except me. Sure, there were other things making it difficult but I knew that I needed to go around these obstacles, to smash through these walls. I could no longer point at excuses and shout “CAN’T!”
Although there are many excuses out there these are the five that have crippled me over the years.
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This one happens all the time, not just for writers but for everyone wanting to do almost anything. There is always a TV show to catch up on or a movie to watch. And when that fails and you’re anything like me, there are video games to suck your attention dry. Video games beg you to caress the ergonomically designed controller and become lost in a thousand alternate worlds.
During my first year of NaNoWriMo I was surprising myself by maintaining a steady rate of writing and keeping ahead of target. I would come in from work, have dinner and then retire to the spare bedroom to type, type, type away. My PS2 barely got switched on.
But then, in the middle of November, I bought an Xbox 360 and the shit hit the fan. I couldn’t stop playing the next generation of gaming and I wasn’t even online yet (Jan the next year blew my mind). Needless to say, my word count dropped dramatically.
Thankfully, with four days to go, I somehow managed to snap out of it and wrote like I’d never written before. I pulled off two 3am write-a-thons in a row and finished the story.
I got lucky. I won that battle but I realise now that I lost the war. Gaming took over more and more and writing almost became a ghost; something I used to do. The heart rate dropped and dropped and nearly flat lined on several occasions.
Sometimes I think about how I wasted that time and it makes me sick. How much could I have written instead wasting time playing games? I’ll never know.
Half a life a go I was in college writing screenplays in my spare time. Something happened back then that would carry on for years; endings began to elude me because I was always restarting. I’d come back to something after a week and think it was the worst thing I’d ever written. I’d come up with a better way of opening the story and start from scratch; new sheet of paper, title at the top and off we go.
As I’ve mentioned before and will definitely mention again, NaNoWriMo saved me by teaching me to ignore the muck you wrote yesterday and just get to the end. You can edit it all when you’ve finished.
Which leads me to . . .
Similar to the above in that it can slow you down in getting to the ending if you edit as you write, it’s also a problem even after you finish. I have four first drafts saved on my computer (with hard copies clipped in ring binders somewhere). Each and every one of them needs editing and that’s something that scares the crap out of me. It’s so daunting to look at a hundred pages of A4 and even start thinking about chopping it up and rewriting it.
So I should just focus on short stories, right? Wrong. These have the opposite effect where I can’t stop editing them. I’m like George Lucas on ecstasy. I can’t stop changing things and adding scenes.
I realise now that I have to just sign off when others think its right to and say goodbye to my words, get busy working on the next thing.
I know a lot of readers suffer from this. If there’s one thing that scares me more than editing a novel it’s sharing my work with real live people. What if they think it’s no better than toilet paper? What if they kill me and keep it as their own? Or what if, horror of horrors, they like it? Arrggghh.
Friend: “Can I read some of your writing?”
Me: “It’s not finished. It still needs work. I don’t think it’s very good. STOP SMOTHERING ME!”
Unfortunately if no one reads it then you’re writing for an audience of one. If you’re okay with that then its fine. Me? I want to walk into Waterstones one day and see my book on a shelf. People will need to read my work before it gets there so I guess I’m going to have to let go.
That’s not to say I’m going to give it out to just anyone. In the early stages a writer needs people he or she can trust to help fix the work. They need to find a nice mix of people who like several genres, some close to what they’ve written and others not so much. And they need to make it clear to the readers that, while telling an author that you like their work makes them smile inside, telling them why you like it or why you don’t helps to make the work better.
I’ve been alright so far. While my friends aren’t calling me the next King, Tolkien or Dickens I can at least count my blessings that no one has called me crap.
As a side note, I’d like to thank all of you who have read my work and given me feedback, especially those of you out there who keep asking me for more. I promise it’s on its way.
5) NOT WRITING
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it but a writer can’t afford to put it off, not even for a second. None of this “I’ll do twice as much tomorrow” or “I’ve only got ten minutes, it’s not worth starting now”. A writer must pick up a pen or switch on that computer and put words down to tell the story.
Sometimes time seems to evade us and we let writing drop way, way down the list of things to get done before bedtime. Well that’s crap. You want to write? Then write.
I want to write.
No one can tell you you’re not a writer but, if you don’t write then how can you call yourself one.
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I have faced these five demons and now laugh in their collective faces. I turn away from distractions, I get to the end first and I let go when it is done, not when I’m done. I use people to help me and, most importantly, I write.
They say there’s a book in everyone. If that sentence speaks just a faint whisper to you then I urge you to have a go. Try to find out what’s stopping you and kindly ask it to move aside. If it won’t move then pick up a cold, wet fish and slap it across the face.
Maybe one day we can share a book shelf together.
See you in seven.