The almighty “they” say you are supposed to “write every damn day” and “shovel sand, you can build the castles later,” and all this other crap about how you need to just sit down and type, type type, and even it’s total shite, you can go back and edit later. But I just can’t seem to do that.
What’s wrong with me? Why do I go through these phases where I don’t write for days or even weeks on end. Is it like working out and I just get totally lazy? It is my perfectionist side? Am I “blocked?” Is it because I need what I write to be good, and if it doesn’t seem exactly right in my head, rather than pushing myself I just don’t write anything at all? Am I just making excuses and need to be more dedicated? Some would even say it’s because I’m not a real writer. That makes me sad though and I don’t want to believe it.
I figure, if I am forcing words out of my fingers and pretty much bypassing the creative part of my brain to get something down on paper, then I will need to go back and erase it all later anyway because it won’t be anything I actually wanted to write. The critics in my head, and on social media, and the big badass NaNoWriMo, say I am making excuses and that forcing myself to write will eventually create the habit of writing and soon all will be “write” with the world. (yes, I know)
Now, I can understand the possibility that writing each day can train your brain to think in a certain way. No problem, that makes sense. But I still can’t figure out how the work I produce through that tactic will one day make the leap from habitual writing to decent, on track writing. Just because I am spewing forth words, it does not mean the words are meaningful or connect in anyway to the novel I want to produce.
Example – When I am working on my novel, which is a sailing adventure, to put it simply, and I am having a creative day, I can sit and in about 60 seconds throw down a thousand words like “reveling in the joy of a perfect sunset, I sat in my deck chair 3 days before we set sail, vaguely daydreaming about tropical ports, warm mangoes streaming juice down my fingers, and steel drums echoing happiness from nearby taxicabs bouncing across the potholed streets..”
But when I’m not the mood to write and I force myself to work on the next scene (in which I am supposed to add depth and concern to the male main character), here is what comes out. “the man he looked *pause* annoyed when I said *pause* something. he ordered for me anyway *pause* fish? I don’t know, I said *pause* interrupted *pause* his neck gets red, nostrils flare *pause* orders anyway *pause, wiggle back and forth in annoyed trying to think weird gesture*, I don’t know why he’s mad *pause*…” And then I delete the whole thing because it’s obviously crap and why leave it there just to go back and cut it when I do my first round of draft editing anyway?
Where did that “just sit down and write” exercise get me? Frustrated, annoyed, feeling like an illiterate moron, that’s where. So I just can’t get on board with the “write whether you want to or not” credo. NaNoWriMo and it’s Camps are all about this idea. And if it works for some people, and they someday have enough sand that they can build castles, that’s freakin fantastic for them. A couple people in my “cabin” this month spewed out close to, or over, 100,000 words in the first 2 weeks of the month. That’s approximately 267 book pages. I can only fathom they were following the “write anything, don’t care if it’s good, just write write and write more” system.
Is it wrong, or biased of me due to my perceived inadequacies, to think the majority of that work can’t possibly be either a)something they love and won’t cut at the first round of edits, or b)high quality writing? Because logically, if 80-90k words is an entire novel, and some people crank out over 100k in 2 weeks… then it follows even if 20,000 words of what they write will be dumped after edits, they will produce something like 24 novels a year. And I’m pretty sure the whole world would be hearing about authors who were writing 24 great novels a year.
This is why I can’t bring myself around to the value in just writing as fast and as much as you can. I also can’t bring myself around to keep signing up for NaNos and Camps for the constant base comparison to writers who are mass producing. It’s simply not my style to try to keep up with that. I will absolutely say I am glad I signed up for one of each, because both times my desire to not fail at anything I do has kicked my butt into gear and made me get started on a novel that just floated around in my head for years (and start again after having to take months off to focus on my wedding). I failed anyway, but at least the small amount of competitiveness I do have in me got me started.
This time around though, this “Camp” has taught me another thing about myself… When I have a couple ‘off days,” when I don’t have the motivation to write, then look at my stats and see how far behind I am, I berate myself for the perceived failure. I then simultaneously feel bad and get rebellious against my own guilt – “You can’t tell me what I’m doing wrong or how to act or who I should be! I do what I want!” I respond. I then turn on netflix and eat cheese for an entire day.
So, I am officially packing up my sleeping bag and my marshmallows and I’m going home. Home to where I have the support and encouragement of friends, manageable long term goals, an office space I adore, the time and flexibility to write whenever I want, and plenty of cheese. I have decided nothing is wrong with me at all. I should not try to change who I am as a writer any more than one should try to change who she is as a person. From now on, I am doing it my way, writing when I want to write, trying when I feel like I can, and taking time off when I damn well please to research, refuel, or simply go play outside. I will not cry over unshoveled sand, I’ll build my castles out of big heavy rocks, thank you very much.
(**I mean no offense Ms Hale, I’m glad the shoveling thing works for you and I appreciate you trying to encourage other writers, you are awesome. ““I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” – Shannon Hale)