I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Much like I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t read voraciously. Any class that required writing – Reading, English, any humanities class – I did well in. I can structure an argument, I can write a story, I used to think my poems were deep and meaningful (those junior high school poems, ouch!). I was taking a class in how retirement IRAs work and I joked that my earnings would be royalties from my books. I got a bachelor’s degree in English and swore I’d write the defining thesis of the 21st century. I’ve written book reviews for (very little) money. I’ve edited several (self-published) books. I’ve written some short stories and 12,000 words on a middle-grade novel I haven’t finished. I write (very irregularly) on this blog.
So when I quit my job and ran away, one of the things I meant to do was get on that whole writing thing. I’d have all that free time – I’d totally finish that novel, write up all those cool ideas for feminist magazines and pop-culture websites. At a minimum, I’d make hardly any money generating crappy content for the endless machine that is the internet. I bought a Writers Almanac and planned to pitch and write stories for various outlets until someone accepted one.
Maybe y’all didn’t notice, but… none of that happened. I wrote almost nothing on the novel. I wrote in my journal a lot, and a few blog posts, but not much else. I applied and tested for a few writing/editing jobs and got none of them. I didn’t pitch a single essay to a single website.
I have a million reasons/ excuses for why that is – some more valid than others – but ultimately I just… didn’t.
So the real question is: Do I want to write, or do I just want to think of myself as a writer?
Well, I really can’t stand the idea that my whole life I’ve basically been a fraud, pretending to be someone who would be a writer “if only I had the time.” So I guess I better get on that shit.
After being called on my bullshit excuses by my best friend (whose job it is to do that for me), I’ve decided that what I have to do – if I want to make this fantasy of writing a reality – is hack my writing process. I follow dozens of writers and editors on Twitter and they are constantly talking about the processes that work for them, with lots of options for me to choose from. So the next step is PUTTING SOME OF THOSE IN PLACE! Trying them out, see what works. Recognize the excuses for what they are and not allowing them to stand unchallenged. My biggest (mental, self-imposed) hurdles are as follows.
Problem 1: I am lazy. Please don’t try to tell me I’m not. Y’all have no idea how much free time I spend doing stupid shit – in addition to all the free time I spend doing good things like reading and crocheting and stuff. I.AM. LAZY. Not up for discussion.
Rule to Solve Problem 1: Stare that bitch right in the face. Stop accepting my own lame excuses. Let my friends hold me accountable. I’m usually opposed to people hassling me about stuff, but I’m putting this out there for all of you (if you’re interested). Go ahead and ask me if I’ve done any writing lately. I’m officially committing to writing frequently and regularly, and I may need help sticking to it.
Problem 2: Focusing the brain on writing. Writing requires that I harness most/ all of the simultaneous trains of thought in my head to focus on this one thing with a minimum of tangents. I don’t know if everyone else’s brain works like this, but there are at least four things happening in my head every minute I’m awake. This is why I insist on listening to music while at work, because it keeps one of them happy. Chatting with people while working is also good, so two tracks are occupied and work is likely to go well. In order for the serious writing to happen – and for me to stick to it – I can’t be distracted by looking up that book I wanted to reference, or thinking about how I first heard this song on vacation, or getting angry at the current state of the world.
Rule to Solve Problem 2: I made a playlist with mostly instrumentals and songs in languages I do not speak. Turn off the internet if I’m using my laptop. Make notes on research TO BE DONE LATER. Put phone out of reach with all social media notifications turned off. Stay off Twitter until after the writing is done.
Problem 3: I get lots of ideas (those fucking trains never stop running, people) but don’t do anything with them.
Rule to Solve Problem 3: WRITE THEM DOWN IMMEDIATELY. The kernel of a new idea is tough to hold onto, even if you aren’t past 40 and losing the sharpness of your memory. They won’t all be winners, but I’ll never know if I can’t remember any of them. Jot down those ideas when they come. Develop them – soon – instead of just thinking about them while watching TV.
Problem 4: Editing brain and writing brain are very different. Editing is much easier, it actually benefits from all those tracks in my head. And it’s basically just reading and getting to feel like I’m smart because I can see the mistakes and fix them, so that’s two things that make me happy. But I can’t edit a blank page (that is one of those things writers and editors are always saying). So as soon as I do have something written, I’m quite happy to jump to the editing process, which derails the writing process. The idea that all writing needs to be published/ posted goes right along with this, and so I prioritize editing the words instead of making the words. But I know I can edit and post blogs, that is not a skill I need to work on or a process I need to improve.
Rule to Solve Problem 4: FOCUS ON THE WRITING. Don’t fix the typos. Ignore the editing and posting – at least for now. Of course as I write this current thing here – clearly intended to be posted on my blog – I realize I have to ignore it in order for anyone to read this. The world is full of contradictions.
Last weekend I tried all of these rules. I made a writing playlist. I stopped getting on Twitter at breakfast. I re-read books that inspired me. And I wrote more than 2000 words, made three or four notes on other ideas I wanted to explore, even dictated notes into my phone while I was out walking. It’s clear that I can do this. Whether or not anyone but my friends wants to read any of it IS NOT THE POINT OF WRITING IT. That is publishing.
But first, the writing must happen.