April 4, 2019
Writing is work.
Now, I'm not one of those who think writing is suffering or agony. Honestly, if it were agony, I'd do something else with my time to make money for my family. But it is work. And if you look at your writing and think, that's not work, well, you're probably doing it wrong.
Writing is work.
Work to improve.
Work to learn.
Work at research.
Work at painstakingly building a story that reads true.
Work at revision and more revision and more revision.
So if you really want success in writing, you need to be ready to work. That means pushing through until you don't flinch at the bits that are uncomfortable or even a bit painful. I say that, even though I do a lot of flinching when it comes to submission and rejection, so this pep talk is for me as much as you.
One of the traps we can fall into with a creative activity like writing is to focus on the parts we like and skim lightly over the parts we don't. I have been guilty of that. Some people love revision. I do not.
But revision is essential to writing publishable material. So I had to develop a system that kept me to the task until I actually got it done. I did that by making a "revision procedure" for myself. It involved numbered passes through the manuscript during which I do only one thing to make the piece better.
- I look for words I tend to overuse.
- I look for consistency in spelling character and place names.
- I read through scenes, asking myself why each person is doing what they are doing, what is their motivation?
- I watch for "convenient" moments when a character "just happens" to have the item that saved the day. And if I find such a thing, I go back and begin revising from the beginning to make it logical to the story.
Each of these happens in its own revision pass. For me, they have to. Otherwise I will skimp and skim because it's only human to resist unpleasantness, and I find revision to be unpleasant.
The way to make sure you're doing all the work of a writer is to create a procedure of your own. So what actually makes up the work of a writer?
I make research of some sort part of every day. Sometimes I'm researching information for a book. Sometimes I'm researching new markets. Sometimes I'm researching news in the industry. But I'm always researching. I do that because making research a part of my work day will keep me from seeing it as something I can skimp on for the sake of speed, or because it's not fun. (Though, for me, it is fun. I love research.)
I make improvement of my skills part of every single day as well. I read grammar books because the better I understand how our language works, the more effortlessly I can use it. I read writing books because then I'm seeing how other writers approach a problem. This gives me a chance to evaluate my own process. And I'm always learning. However, having said that, I try to read wisely. What works for someone else, may not work for me. And someone else's viewpoint may not be mine. But I try to stay open to thinking about these things and not dismissing them out of hand. Think, evaluate, embrace what works for you. Do that and this kind of study will make you a better writer.
I wish I were better at this. I love to read, but it is one of the things I most often push to the back of the queue. Mostly that's because I grew up in a family that did not really value reading. So I was often scolded for reading too much. I think I internalized some of that so I do tend to rank reading as something that I can do after I'm done working. Reading is a lot more than that. It's part of working. And it's really worth making time to do it. This is especially true if you're trying a new format or trying to be published in a tough-to-break-into format like picture books. Read piles of books in that format. Study how they work. This will help you evaluate and improve your own work and increase your chance of publication.
This really should be obvious but there are an astounding number of people who make time for everything except the actual writing. The blank page (or blank screen) can be really intimidating. This is why I do a lot of pre-writing to plan the book, especially at the beginning. I'm writing in my head while I shower or clean or draw because I find my creativity flows better when I'm not at the computer. But when I strike a rich vein where I can practically hear the voice of all the characters as they work through the scene, I do stop what I'm doing and run to the computer to tap into the writing sap while it's flowing. Now, I will admit that I don’t write every day. I do write nearly every day, but when I have other things that I need to do or when I’m off with my family or I’m leading a workshop, I don’t write on those days, and I don’t let it bother me. I write often, and I consider that enough.
As I said before, this one is my Achilles heel, and it's taken me a lot of tinkering to find the best way to force myself to do it well. It's possible this one is already your favorite so you don’t need a procedure because you just dive and stay there forever. In fact, you may need to come up with a procedure for determining when to stop. Revision is the favorite of many people. If that’s true of you, I salute you. If not, consider coming up with your own multi-pass procedure so you can work the tasks and get the most you can from the revision step.
Here's where I balk most, even more than through revision. I hate sending things out and waiting and then getting a response that may not be what I’d hoped for. But it's part of the process. Mostly people do not come to you checking to see if you have a book you’d like them to publish. So I work on how I will submit while I am still actively writing. I'll make up a plan for what I will do AFTER I have completed the revision process. I'll be working on my synopsis and my query during the writing process. I do this so that I won't give in to the urge to rush through this part in order to get it over with.
It's good to connect with other writers. And when you're published, it's good to connect with readers. But this is one area where I strongly recommend you don't push yourself too hard. Social networking is valuable and it's important, but avoid the hard sell. Do only those things you actually enjoy and be sure you're enjoying the process. Otherwise, it's unlikely to help you and may actually do you real harm. But if you're enjoying yourself, people will be more likely to enjoy it with you. True joy and genuine sharing will always be more successful in social networking efforts.
So look at all the tasks of writing and give yourself a little inner quiz. Are there any of these that you're avoiding? If so, consider creating a procedure of your own to get the job done. In the end, you'll be glad you did when your writing career shows the benefits of the hard work.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.