Monday, 16 February 2015

4 Ways to Smack Your Writing Grinch Down

It aint easy, this whole writing-a-novel malarkey.

It's not supposed to be easy, obviously, otherwise everyone and Pavlov's dog would be doing it and MyFace and TwitterBook would be a whole lot emptier. Writing a novel that you hope someday will get published is definitely not an endeavour for softies or quitters, because with every novel you attempt to write you get a free gift. You didn't ask for it, and once you know you have it you certainly don't want it, but there's no shop to take it back to so you're stuck with it. I'm talking, of course, about your Writing Grinch.

You know that nagging voice in your head that tells you your writing sucks? That no-one's ever going to read your crappy novel anyway, even if you actually finish it, which you probably won't because it sucks so much? That's your Writing Grinch. Stephen King and many other writers talk about having your Writing Muse show up if you spend enough time putting in the graft - well, the bad news is your Writing Grinch does a pretty good impression of your Muse, and it can be hard to tell them apart sometimes (because even your Muse can be hard on you.) Tricksy little so-and-so, that Grinch. So what we need to do is arm ourselves against him; know his battle tactics and be ready to kick his butt like Buckaroo when he comes a-calling. (Note: I'm using 'he' throughout this because my Grinch happens to be a he. Yours might be a 'she' or even an 'it.' Adjust as necessary.)

My Grinch has been something of a regular companion during my draft two process ('bless' his little steel-capped bovver-boots.) So, because I'm the kind of person who cries at charity appeal adverts on the telly, I feel a need to encourage anyone out there who's thinking of abandoning their novel along with their writing dreams. I'm not quitting on mine, so I can't let you quit on yours without a fight!

So, without further ado, let's run down through the Grinch's most common mantras...

1 - "This novel is unpublishable. No agent/publisher is ever going to want it, because it's not what anyone would want to read."
...And so, what's the point of even finishing it, right? Give up, and start on something that has got a chance of seeing the light of published day. Except... didn't your Grinch say that about the last one you didn't finish as well - and the one before that, and the one before..? I think there's a pattern emerging here. Thing is... he might well be right. This novel you're currently slogging your guts out might not ever get published - in fact, if it's your first, the odds are pretty high that it won't. But the only way to even have a hope of ever getting the medal is to finish the race. Keeping your eye on the prize is a fantastic way to motivate yourself to keep on running towards that finish line, but if that's all you're in it for... well, it won't sustain you when that Grinch starts whispering in your ear and sapping your confidence. After all, nobody knocks themselves out to get a prize they no longer believe they'll win.

So at least for now, forget the prize. It's experiencing the whole journey, from the very beginning right to its end, that matters. Just keep putting one word in front of the other, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, chapter by chapter. Map out the journey and learn from each stage of it, so that you can take your experiences with you for the next one. And the next and the next. Because the best way to get to the Holy Grail of being published is to teach yourself to stay on the journey towards it - time after time after time...

2 - "You know, everybody laughs at you behind your back - you and your crazy dreams about getting your novel published. They all think you're wasting your time."
It's lovely when you have loyal friends, family and spouse around you, encouraging you and being totally supportive of your writing endeavours. Lots of writers have them in their lives - and, unfortunately, lots don't. If you're in the second category... well, there's not a lot you can do to remedy that situation, I'm afraid. Actually, finally get your work published? That'll hush their sniggering, disapproving mouths, right? Pfffft, no. Unless you can morph into the literary love-child of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King overnight (and flash the resultant wads of banknotes in the faces of your naysayers as proof) you can merely expect comments along the lines of "well, I think I might write a book as well then, if it's that easy to get published..." Seriously, I wish I was joking - but I'm not. Been there, heard it, and  - trust me, it's like a knife in the heart every time.

So you can't write for those people. You can't write to win them over, prove a point to them or to finally show them - finally - that you're not just a feckless dreamer who'll never amount to anything worth talking about. Harsh as it sounds, your best strategy is to teach yourself to not give a flying eff-word about what they think. Ever. You are a writer, and you don't need their approval - or anyone else's, for that matter - to do what you do. And if there's any part of you that's doing that, even if it's because you think it'll make even the tiniest difference in the long term, stop it. Stop that shizzle right now.

The only people that will ever matter when it comes to your writing is the people who want to read your writing. You won't know most of them - you'll probably never even meet most of them. But they're the people you write for. Not the unbelievers in your life. Screw them.

3 - "Okay, so you finish this novel - and then what? What if this is the only novel you have in you? What if, after this one, all your inspiration dries up and you can never write another one ever again?"
Because creativity, after all, is like a beautiful snowflake - unique and special and, once it's had its moment of glory melts away into nothing and disappears forever...

Mmmm... no, not really. You're not necessarily destined to 'use up' all the currency in your Bank of Imagination on just one novel, any more than you would eat the most delicious meal in the best restaurant in the world and then immediately say "Well that's it - nothing will ever come close to this experience and so from this moment on there is no point in eating anything else ever again. I can only hope it doesn't take too long to die of starvation." As long as you've got senses to engage and a brain to interpret them, your creativity is more like a well that fills up whenever you allow the rain to pour in (and let's face it, the only way for that not to happen is if you take steps to stop it getting in.)

Still not convinced? Okay then, let's imagine for a moment that you are one of those rarities that truly only does have one novel 'in you' and nothing more. Is that such a terrible thing? You'd certainly be in good company. Among other famous authors who only ever published one novel are; Harper Lee, with To Kill A Mockingbird, (although the world is currently aflame with rumours about a second one about to be published, some fifty-five years later) Emily Bronte with Wuthering Heights, Oscar Wilde with The Picture of Dorian Gray, Margaret Mitchell with Gone With The Wind, Boris Pasternak with Dr Zhivago, Anna Sewell with Black Beauty...

Would the literary world have been better off if they'd not bothered to finish those novels, just because they didn't go on to write any more after that?

4 - "It's taking too long! You're not writing fast enough for long enough! Your word count is pitiful! You'll be a-hundred-and-ninety-three before you ever finish this novel - hell, you'll probably die before you finish it!"
You've seen those books on Amazon too, admit it  - 'How to Write 2,000 Words an Hour and Pump Out a Book Every Thirty Days and be a Stinking Rich Kindle Millionaire Woohoo Bring on the Wonga!' And I'm not about to laugh in the faces of such books and say it's all a pack of lies. Some people do, in fact, write at least 2,000 words an hour and a book every thirty days (although in fairness, most of them are the authors of those types of books.) James Patterson seems to bring out a new novel roughly every two-and-half minutes, but that's because he has an entire army of ghostwriters in a magical fortress somewhere, who each take an outline he dashes off in a day or so and then beaver away at writing the books that he no doubt edits a bit before getting them published under his 'brand name.' (Harsh? Perhaps, but unless he actually went out and kidnapped those writers and keeps them manacled by their ankles to a desk, releasing them only for meals, sleep and toilet breaks I can't really diss him too much for having a factory-production-line approach to novel writing. I just hope he's paying them well for it and they genuinely don't mind not receiving much credit for their efforts... but even if that's not the case, I'm assuming they still have the choice to break away and strike out on their own.)

Some people can be full-time writers, some can only be part-time writers, and some have to squeeze in precious writing time between a gazillion other commitments. That will have some bearing on how quickly (or not) a writer can progress with their novels. Some writers are fantastically prolific: the mystery author John Creasey wrote six hundred novels in his lifetime, romance author Barbara Cartland wrote seven-hundred-and twenty-three and childrens' author Enid Blyton wrote over eight-hundred. (I'll let you have a moment for your mind to boggle.)

And then we have James Joyce, author of Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. His average wordcount was widely rumoured to be six words a day (I don't know about you, but that makes me feel like a writing machine by comparison.) George R.R. Martin has also been accused of being a slow writer (albeit mainly by fans desperate for the next instalment in his Game of Thrones series) along with J.R.R. Tolkien and Michael Crichton. All of which suggests that there's room for tortoises as well as hares in the writing world.

The point is, whether you write for eight hours a day or two hours a day (mine is the latter) you can only write what you write in that time. As long as that's what you do for at least the majority of your allotted time - as opposed to checking your emails, surfing the web or sneaking off to watch Bargain Hunt and claiming it was 'for research' - there's not much more you can do. No honestly, there really isn't. I know all those books claim everyone can write 2,000 words a day if they put their mind to it - but what those books don't tell you is that anything between 300-1800 of those words will be utter drivel that you'll end up deleting anyway. Some of us know that already, and simply don't allow the drivel to make it onto the page in the first place. That's what reduces the wordcount for us.

By all means measure your progress - I use an Excel spreadsheet to mark in how many hours a week I spent writing and my wordcount at the end of each 'session.' That's a brilliant thing to do to keep yourself on track and strengthen your commitment to finishing your novel, because it puts you in the mindset of treating your writing like a job that you 'clock in' for. It's also the best way to work out exactly how much you are capable of producing in the time you have available; a few months of  tracking your wordcount-per-time-allotted will give you an average that's realistic and achievable for you. This will help you when it comes to writing towards deadlines - whether self-imposed or set by external sources - because you'll know if you're likely to meet it, and how much more time to negotiate for if you're not.

If you can improve on your wordcount over time - fantastic! But if you can't... accept it and don't use it like a measuring stick to hold up against other writers and then beat yourself over the head with. Forget about what everyone else is doing - you are you. And if you're more James Joyce than Enid Blyton... that's okay, it really is.

Well, those are my big Grinch Moans... what are yours? Are there things I've missed? I'd love to know.

No comments:

Post a Comment