Wonderful words from a wonderful writer. This is my friend and SWG fellow-member, Gwen Rockwood and she has most graciously agreed to be my very FIRST guest blogger! As you will read, she is a wife, mother, columnist and author. Her book, "Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile" is available on Amazon and you can click her link on the left side of this page to see more about her work. Writers, take heed from Gwen. She knows what she's talking about and I love her honesty. With no further adieu - I give you Gwen Rockwood. (Thank you, my friend!)
When Pam asked me to talk about something I’ve learned about writing, my first thought was this: “It’s scary.”
Even after more than two decades spent as a weekly newspaper columnist and blogger, writing is still WAY up there on the list of things that scare me to death.
It scares me, in part, because I have such a deep respect for it. When you love to read and you appreciate and admire great writing, the last thing you want to do is go and mess it up by writing something that… well… sucks. But the irony is, in order to create great writing, you have to be willing to suck. A lot. At least in the beginning drafts.
When I was a recent college graduate, I went to work in the newsroom of a daily newspaper where time was always short. We had deadlines to hit. On most days, there was just no time to sit and rearrange a sentence four or five times and wonder if it was good enough. You had to produce. You had to submit the story. The paper had to go to print.
I’m grateful now for that early training because it helped me develop a habit of “getting it done.” Once it’s done, you can always go back and polish it up, time permitting. And it’s so much easier to make a piece of writing better once you’re no longer wrangling with the fear of getting started on it.
So last November, I decided that what my fiction writing needed was a dose of “daily deadlines,” just like we have in the non-fiction newspaper world. November was “National Novel Writing Month” so I – along with thousands of other writers all over the world – accepted the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a single month.
During the first few days, I sat at my keyboard making a mental list of why this was possibly the dumbest thing I’d ever done. “It’s a month before Christmas! I have shopping to do. I should be wrapping presents right now. I need to learn how to make sweet potato casserole before Thanksgiving. There are four loads of laundry sitting by the washing machine. I have a day job. Why in the world am I doing this?”
But I kept on typing because the most fearful part of me knew that, if I didn’t just jump into the deep end and start writing, I might never do it at all. Wading into the scary water with baby steps wasn’t getting it done. So I figured out how many words I’d have to write each day in order to have 50,000 written by the end of November. (It’s 1,667, by the way.)
Some days, forcing myself to sit down and crank out those words was like a root canal. Other days, I blew right by the minimum word count and kept going because I was having fun. (That’s what we forget when we’re busy procrastinating and hiding from our writing – that once we get past that awful hurdle of the first few lines, the fun part starts.)
By the end of November, I had written 50,000 words. Some were good. But truthfully, a lot of them sucked. And that’s okay because now I’m going back through the book to make it better. The raw material is already on the page.
What this process taught me is that you don’t have to have a million ideas to write 50,000 words. You don’t have to have a month of free time. You don’t have to know everything and have it all figured out. You don’t have to be “in the mood” to write. You don’t need a lightning strike of inspiration.
All you need is to care enough about yourself and your dream to sit down and write a certain number of words on that particular day. (And then repeat, repeat, repeat.)
Be willing to let the words be rough, clunky, cheesy, stupid… whatever. Just get them down and go from there. The magic will happen while you’re in the trenches.
And remind yourself – often – that writing feels scary because you care about it, not because you’re bad at it. And because writing requires us to be honest with ourselves and with the world about how we see things, how we think and what we imagine. That takes guts.
I’ve begun to accept that I’ll never be unafraid of the next writing project. What works for me is writing fast enough to outrun the highly critical, fraidy-cat part of me who would shut me down way before the first sentence if I let her. I also stay in touch with my writer friends because they’re the only ones who truly understand what that fear feels like because they face it, too. We compassionately push each other back toward the page and say, “It’s okay. Keep going.”
So, there you have it. The advice I give myself and other writers is to be afraid, uneasy, doubtful, pessimistic, skeptical, nervous, and even terrified – and then do it anyway. Because when you’ve written your story in spite of all that baggage, it’s going to feel AMAZING. And you deserve all kinds of amazing.