On Writing: Three Secret Ingredients for Writing Regularly
What makes somebody a writer?
There is but one thing that makes you a writer: writing.
One cannot write ALL the time, of course, though some get close (see this article for proof) so how often then does one have to write in order to still fulfill that all important criteria.
At first I thought that someone who sits down every day and writes - and by this I don't mean cheques, I mean words which come from a creative place within for whatever purpose be it profit or passion - is a writer. By that definition, I am therefore NOT a writer.
I do not write every day. Yesterday was an example of that. We spent eight hours (EIGHT!) in furniture shops sourcing things to sit and lie on for a new apartment we are moving to next month (still in Amsterdam - more on this soon). I woke up, got dressed, cycled 7km to the "Woonmall" and then lost eight hours of my life in countless furniture stores, though regular coffee and food breaks eased me through the day relatively unscathed. We returned home, too tired to cook, so we went out for dinner and I nearly fell asleep in my udon soup. I went to bed within minutes of walking through the front door and only as I read the words of another author in bed did I realise that I hadn't written anything yesterday. I sighed, audibly, and may have even pouted a little. It gave me the same feeling of not brushing my teeth. But I was too tired to do anything about it. I was asleep in seconds.
I aim, try, hope, wish, pray, endeavour, do my flipping best to write every day, but sometimes I don't. But it is still my intention, and there are more days when I do write, then there are days when I don't. In my mind THAT is what makes me a writer.
But getting to a point where I write regularly (and feel a bit icky when I miss a day) wasn't an easy A to B journey. It has taken many years of refining routines, coming up against obstacles - literal and metaphorical and understanding the things I must do and be in order to maintain the pace without too much of a struggle. It's the latter that I want to talk about today for I have learned that there are three main things that have fueled my writing regularly and they continue to aid this habit.
The three secret ingredients for writing regularly
There is a reason weight loss groups are so successful. That public accountability to a group of strangers or soon-to-be friends makes you commit to something much easier than if you were doing it alone. Likewise, fitness professionals maintain those who get a personal trainer or a fitness buddy are more likely to achieve their goals or see improvements quicker, than those who choose to train alone.
Accountability works the same way in writing, just with slightly less sweat.
As someone who was only finally able to finish the first draft of a book thanks to NaNoWriMo, I will always maintain that accountability is possibly my biggest motivator in forcing me to keep on writing.
During my first year of doing NaNoWriMo I was only accountable to the handful of fellow NaNo-ers I befriended who could potentially check my daily word count, and to my boyfriend who knew I was doing the challenge, and to myself. It was being accountable to myself that really mattered. Those online friends and my boyfriend would get over me not finishing my first draft in a few heartbeats. It would have taken me much longer. I therefore had to do this for myself and no-one else, because I had to prove to myself that I could.
When I approached doing NaNoWriMo for the second time I knew that I could do it. But so did my boyfriend who was so proud of me when I told him what I'd achieved and then eight months later turned it into a published book.
"Do it again!" He seemed to be saying to me with those proud smiles.
So I did NaNoWriMo for the second time to show him I could do it again.
Come my third year of NaNoWriMo, I knew I needed to step up and make myself accountable in a completely different way. As more of you, my dear readers, emailed or messaged me to tell me you were thinking about doing NaNoWriMo too, I realised that was how I held myself accountable. By creating the daily NaNoWriMo Inspiration posts I had to really think deeply about the NaNoWriMo/first draft writing process and then not only do it myself but help many of you do it too, or got as close to your goals as you could. It was the hardest one yet, but arguably the most rewarding when I received emails from readers saying they too had written 50,000 words in one month.
It's a little embarrassing that it took my three years to question why I didn't hold myself accountable at other times of the year. Although I continued to write, I did so more sporadically than I would like and with less direction and focus than I knew I was capable of. At the end of last year off the back of NaNoWriMo #3 (which I completed despite an incredibly busy month of work and travel) I knew I had to do something to change this.
So I did. I now have a brilliant accountability partner who I check in with once a month and share my goals for the month ahead (word counts, stages to complete etc.) and we also discuss the results of the previous month's work and what we achieved, or didn't and consider reasons why. We only began at the beginning of January but alredy I am reaping the benefits (30,000+ words in January and it didn't even feel like a stretch).
I still hold myself personally accountable and one of the ways I do this is by using a daily tracker to tick off days when I write more than 500 new words of fiction or I edit 1000 "old" words of a work in progress. (I also use this to tick off days when I do exercise). It's incredible how effective this has been in holding myself accountable. (It's also interesting to note that although my daily word target is 500 words more often than not I exceed this but if I set myself 1000+ words a day, I don't think I'd be so eager to sit down and try to achieve it. Keeping the target word count lower has definitely benefitted me.)
Fear (or Perseverance, if you're lucky)
If holding myself accountable is the motivating factor in writing regularly, perseverance is the fuel I think you need in order to achieve it. Regardless of how many people are waiting or watching you to do something, you still need that inner grit and gumption to take you from A to B, or Zero to Hero, or perhaps in our case, 0 words to 100,000 words.
I am fascinated by perseverance. I find those who are full of it are the most inspiring, most fascinating and often most intimidating people.
I do not count myself in their number.
A lot of people tell me I'm "very disciplined", that I'm "so focused" and that I must be "incredibly efficient with my time". Hand on heart, I'm none of these things. I can waste hours in Internet blackholes just as quickly as the next person, but when I do this I eventually come up for air and find myself feeling anxious and uncertain about a lot of things, not just because it was an ineffective way to spend my time. I start to doubt what I'm doing with my hours, my days, my weeks etc. I start to doubt that I have what it takes to achieve what I want to achieve. I start to question whether I really am a writer at all.
That, my friends, is my frequently visiting friend, Fear, the second secret ingredient which helps me to keep writing regularly.
I let Fear hang around with me for a long time. Fear was the reason I didn't publish my first book until I was 31 although I'd been writing stories since my childhood. Fear was the guy who in the past has made writing feel like walking through quick mud in high heels... worn backwards. Fear is the girl who is currently telling me the still-in-progress first draft of my first novel is a piece of poo. But I no longer cater to Fear. Fear will never get a cup of tea from me. Even if I do listen to him or her for a while, Fear no longer has my direct number. Fear doesn't use me, I now use Fear.
Because Fear is now my energy.
The fear of not publishing my first novel is enough to pull me out of those Internet blackholes and to keep them a weekly not a daily occurrence.
The fear of having 70,000+ words of a first draft and NEVER turning that into something worth reading is enough to keep me focused on editing those words.
The fear of never tackling the three, four, five more ideas for novels I have is enough to convince me that I have to finish this novel in order to start and finish the others.
And so somewhere along the way that fear morphs itself into something inspiring, fascinating and intimidating, even to me as it courses through my body and out of my finger tips onto a keyboard. I'm not sure if it's perseverance, but sometimes it feels like it.
Of course, there's a thin line between perseverance and pursuing something blindly. But when it comes to writing, I will never, ever EVER tell you to stop. EVER.
Let's cut away some of the crap and get honest, shall we?
I love writing. I adore turning a notion that floats around my head and into something that exists on a page by stringing words together (and then prodding and poking those words into a completely different order, or culling them completely because something better came along).
To use a less abstract and utterly self-indulgent turn of phrase, I love making things up. I love using my imagination. I love freeing my wildest thoughts and ideas. I believe we all do in some form or another. Some people do this through painting, singing, dancing or taking photos. I do this by writing.
If this still sounds foreign to you, the best way I can describe this joy is to ask you to think about what you see when you watch a child play. Notice how they create worlds out of their toys. Watch how they build lives, buildings and homes from nothing more than blocks or even a cardboard box. Study them as you see how completely involved in their play they are. Marvel at how content it makes them.
That's what I experience when I write my stories. Every day. Or as I've just admitted, almost every day.
The fact that I make a little money (very little!) doing this is like a dream to me.
It's this love and the way it creates a product also loved by others that helps me to keep writing regularly.
While I've always loved writing/making stuff up, the fact that I am now exposed to the love and support of readers is a new phenomenon to me and is one that I'm still adjusting to. But already I know that it's the BEST reason to write as regularly and as efficiently as I can. It's why I'm trying to deliver more books this year than before. It's why I'm publishing a new short story every month and sending them directly to my newsletter readers.
However, if some evil spirit came along and he wiped away all the names on my email list and he all the love out of all my readers and left me a reader-less author, I would keep writing. Because I enjoy that much. I'm talking laugh-out-loud-point-at-the-screen-and-shake-your-head-with-tears-in-your-eyes kind of enjoyment.
If you think you could get that much pleasure out of writing, I urge you to open up a blank Word document or find an empty notebook and start writing RIGHT NOW.
Then slowly through the powers of accountability - even if it's just a daily word count noted in your diary - and peserverance or fear, whichever you are (un)lucky enough to possess an abundance of, you will nuture your love so that it becomes something that is so undeniably important to you and too valuable a part of your life that not writing regularly becomes not only easy but impossible.
Because you are a writer. An accountable, fearful, perservering, deliriously in love writer.
Photos of edits of Together, Apart my next short story to be published as part of Twelve and shared with newsletter readers on Valentine's Day. Sign up to make sure you get a copy!
Frances M. Thompson
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