Kat: Go Write (Right!)

I Wouldn't Start From HereNot too long ago, I wrote about overcoming a bout of writer’s block. While I’m glad to have that hell behind me, since then it’s become apparent that I have a much bigger problem. My story isn’t working anymore. That’s a painful thing to confront, but a necessary first step toward fixing the problem.  It’s time to re-evaluate what I’m doing, and start over.

To that end, I’m working on a new protagonist’s goal. When I listen to the girls, her goal comes through loud and clear, but when I put my new girl into action she goes rogue. Instead of pursing the goal I’ve set for her, she wanders aimlessly about like a child chasing butterflies. My protag is unfocused, undisciplined, and whines a lot about the barriers she faces, and the impossibility of obtaining her goal.

No, I’m not talking about a fictional heroine; I’m talking about me.

For some time now, my writing life “story” has been to get published and pursue a writing career. It’s a goal many of us have, but unless I finish my WIP (i.e. have a product to sell), the career thing is moot. Not only that, but I’ve recently realized that establishing a writing career is not for the weak-kneed or the faint-hearted. It requires grit and determination, dedication, commitment, courage, and sacrifices—lots of sacrifices. Something I didn’t fully comprehend when I was swept off my feet by the glamorous facade of “The Dream”.

Now I know better. Writing is not glamourous. Oh, it’s not without its rewards, but let’s face it—writing is a tough road to hoe. So when I saw no obvious progress toward a writing career, I did what many people do when eye-to-eye with failure. I plopped the blame at someone else’s feet. I told myself if only I had more time, I could make some headway on my WIP. If only I didn’t have to work full-time, I could really devote myself to a writing career. If only…

My self delusion went on for a while, and then Nationals brought a halt to it. While the other ladies were looking at their writing goals and strategizing on the best use of their time, I was dreaming of ditching the conference workshops to go off and have some fun. While the other ladies were thinking about their stories, brainstorming ideas over a quick lunch, I was thinking about ice cream.

No, I’m not kidding.

Needless to say, I didn’t accomplish very much at the conference. I returned home empty and guilty and disappointed in myself. I couldn’t focus on a computer screen, much less write. For a time I even considered hanging it up (writing that is).  Thankfully, I had enough brain-power left to consult a wise friend for advice. He listened patiently as I whined about my life, nodding as I described how my day job was sucking the creative energy out of me, yabba, dabba, do. When I finished, he asked me what I wanted.

“To write,” said I.

He leaned in close, looked me in the eye, and said:  “So, what’s stopping you? Go write. Plenty of people work full-time and still managed to get published.”

Yeah, but…well dang…that was too hard! And exhausting. And besides I couldn’t work full-time and write part-time and still do the house stuff and the family stuff, and never mind about the fun stuff. Didn’t he get that, damnity-damn it?!

Turns out he got it alright. The confusion was all mine.

We talked some more and he set me straight in more ways than one, and I realized that the only thing stopping me from pursuing a writing career, was me. I’d been so focused on the fantasy that I failed to see what a career in writing truly requires. So how could I know if my desire for it outweighed the necessary sacrifices?

So, I’m taking a few steps back and considering my options. I’m not giving up on pursing a writing career. I’m just setting it aside for further exploration. I need to give some thought to what I want and need, what I’m willing to give up to make a career of writing. That means quiet time to look at where I am and where I’d like to go. Talk to people I respect and brainstorm. Re-evaluate.

In the meantime, I’ll do the thing I love best. The thing I know I want to do.

I’ll go write. Because really, there’s nothing stopping me.

What’s stopping you from writing today?

17 thoughts on “Kat: Go Write (Right!)

  1. Oh, yeah. The big dream is stopping me a little. The “rules” that I think I have to follow (I think I’m trying to put too many craft rules into effect at one time) are a bigger issue. And all of the other things I find easier to do (and do pretty satisfactorily) compared to writing with my fumbling skills. I get this post, and I feel like I’ve been dancing around a lot of the same issues. Am I cut out to be a real writer?

    There are three things I try to remind myself when I despair: 1) Chaucer was a civil servant, and yet he managed to write some stuff that is still living, hundreds of years later. 2) Margaret Mitchell only wrote one book. And while I would like to have that skill, I would rather write lots of books and run up to writing something really good. 3) Lois McMaster Bujold wrote during her lunch breaks when she started out. She didn’t need a three-hour block of time — she just got on with things in the 20 or 30 minutes that she had.

    And of course, I wouldn’t despair unless I really did want it. Time to get back to work for me, too.

    • I hear you, Michaeline. Focusing on craft and “rules” and contests and all of that great stuff is not first draft stuff. It robs us of focus, i.e. the girls wander off because no one is listening anyway.

      I’m beginning to see that the biggest lesson Jenny C taught me was to get it on paper first, and worry about everything else after that. That’s not easy to do (I find) when “everything else” is external–rules can be comforting. I do a and then b and then c and viola! I have a book.

      I think the first draft is so hard because it requires a boatload of creative energy, and if we don’t give everything we have to it, the sheer madness of all of this stuff hitting you at once can be crippling (sort of like trying to sift through 125 messages a day in Blackboard!)

      • Yes, yes, yes! It is so comforting to think, “well, if I only do a, then b, then c, I’ll have a book that everyone will adore.” That’s the way I tend to think, and it’s so false. First of all, everyone has their own cup of tea. Nothing is universally adored. Second, while doing a, b and c are probably good ideas, I don’t prioritize. I want to do them all at once. “Do all the things!!” It goes back to that post you did on layering — the “then” is so important, and can’t be rushed.

        (-: Before I took the class, I always wondered why it took my favorite authors a whole year (or more!) to come out with a good book. If nothing else, the class really taught me why.

  2. I think the dream of being a writer, for many of us, is a picture of us holding up a beautiful book with a glossy cover, for our friends and family, or a crowd of thousands, to cheer at. And maybe there’s a big check in the other hand. But the reality of being a writer is that you sit alone and terrified in a room for years and nobody cares. The dream is to have written. The reality is to write. They are oceans and worlds apart.

    Writing a book is hard and scary, and it makes you vulnerable in many ways. Confronting your fears and prioritizing conflicting commitments the way we do—the way you are—takes courage and dedication. Congratulations for getting a handle on what you want!

  3. I hear you, Kat! Did you see Beth Cato’s excellent post on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds blog yesterday (www.terribleminds.com)? It begins “When you’re a writer, it’s all about trading up to a better set of problems.” I think that’s where you (we) are – learning what it takes to turn the dream into a reality. That’s measurable progress, right there.

    So congratulations to you for facing the reality check and figuring out what you really want.

    • There must be something in the air. My thoughts keep drifting a little bit to NaNo, which is about six weeks away. I would love to get most of my current WIP cleared up by Halloween so I could dive into the furious fun of NaNo with a clear conscious. Kat’s got a great post, I’m nodding at every single comment, and I’m on my way to see what Beth Cato said.

      Feeling very inspired.

      • OMG, just read the Beth Cato piece. She had so many of the Very Same Thoughts I do . . . and she still managed to pull a unicorn out of the deal! My take-away morals: keep working, there’s no One Work, and maybe indulging in a NaNo isn’t really that much of an indulgence, and more of a good idea. Note: she abandoned two novels and two worlds (well, when I say abandoned, she may come back to them later). She worked on what was juicy . . . .

        My private writing word for next month might be “juicy”!

  4. Some of the Eight Ladies are published, many of you have written a book already (although it may be safely stashed with your emergency ration of Oreos), but I’m literally writing (and trying to perfect) the first book in my life…ever. I think there’s a lot of fear (in the form of “How do I finish this thing? Will it ever be good enough? Will this book, that I’ve slaved over for two years, be my ‘throw-away, never-to-be-published book?’ That’s a very painful thought). It’s terrifying, in fact. What happens if I finish it and no one likes it? Or if someone does like it? Then what?

    Despite all the uncertainty, I’m doing what you’re doing, and that’s writing. Almost every day. I carve out time on my calendar as writing time and I don’t do anything else — run errands, laundry, clean — it’s sacred, and I think making time for it and treating it like it’s gold is part of the realization of what you want.

    As Jilly said, kudos for figuring out you want to write and for just doing it. That’s half the battle, IMHO. You’ll get there. It seems that after taking a writing break (pre-RWA) and the conference, I’m more jazzed than ever to write. Perhaps that bug will bite you soon, too.

  5. This is a really honest and unflinching self-appraisal, Kat. It requires the exact same kind of emotional transparency that underpins killer fiction. And that’s why I know you’ll get there.

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