There’s a lot of writing advice out there, some good and some not so good. As writers, we have to pick and choose what works for us. Stephen King has a ton of great writing advice floating around out there, but this particular gem resonated with me this week and helped me overcome some serious barriers to getting my book finished.
“You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.” ~ Stephen King, Everything you need to know about writing successfully.
This advice might not mean much to some of you, but for me, it’s incredibly helpful. Here’s what happens when I break my train of thought:
Mr… Mr…. What did I name that drama teacher I mentioned back in chapter three? I’d better check my spreadsheet. Fredericks. That’s right. Mr. Fredericks. While I’m taking a break, I might as well check my email. Oh, look! Susan has a new blog post. That looks intriguing. I’d pop over and check it out. Better leave a comment too while I’m here. And Tweet. I should tweet this. Oh, it looks like I have some new followers on Twitter. That’s nice. I’d better check out their profiles. Well, this lady has a book that looks interesting. I’d better add it to my Goodreads shelf. Okay, now back to writing. But, while I’m already on the internet, I should go ahead and check Facebook. You know, so I don’t get distracted again. What an adorable picture of Grumpy Cat. I swear she gets cuter every day. Oh, there’s a message from Maegan. She says she sent me an email. I’d better go check…
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what one of my writing sessions looks like. I know some of you are wondering what the hell’s wrong with me. But for some of you, my writing session might look kind of familiar.
Today, I wrote 3600 words. When I got hung up on something, I made a note in parentheses and highlighted it. I can always go back later to find out how far L.A. is from the Mexican border. I can always go back and look up the name of that girl who sat next to my main character in History class. Or the name of the drama teacher (it’s Mr. Fredericks, by the way). If I’d stopped writing to look stuff up, well, I might never have written 3600 words today.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
As a wife and mom, I’ve spent the past many years putting others ahead of myself. Kids, of course, always take top priority especially when they’re young and depending on mom for everything. Siblings, parents, spouses, and friends – these are people who are important in our lives and who depend on us. There will always be times we have to put others ahead of ourselves. When it gets to the point where we’re putting everyone ahead of our own needs, we’ve got to make some tough decisions.
I’ve barely written anything all year, and now it’s time for me to take a good, hard look at myself and the way I manage my time.
So far this year, I’ve skipped my writing time on multiple occasions in order to beta read for friends. I also read and reviewed a book for a complete stranger, regardless of the fact that I am no longer doing reviews on Authors to Watch. I broke my own rules for a complete stranger who didn’t even have the decency to say thank you in return. Whose fault is this? It’s mine. I have a difficult time saying no. I put others ahead of myself, and in the case of beta reading for friends, that’s okay to do sometimes. We all need help. We all rely on others. But when it comes to breaking my own rules in order to accommodate someone who displayed a lack of regard for my time from the very beginning? That’s unacceptable.
Time and time again, I put my writing on hold to beta read. Or review books. Or help someone write a blurb. Maybe I’m too nice to say no. Or maybe I’m allowing other people derail me as an excuse to procrastinate. This is my fault. And it’s unacceptable.
It’s unacceptable for me to allow others to derail me, and it’s even more unacceptable for me to blame other people and things (other writers, my day job, my laundry, invitations to play Quiz Up) for my inability to prioritize.
The truth is, I waste time. I procrastinate. I don’t prioritize. I don’t put myself first – ever. I don’t write because I don’t make time to write.
It’s time to make some tough decisions. Am I a writer, or not? Am I in it for the long haul, or am I going to keep “playing writer” by changing backgrounds on my blog or making pretty banners? Writers write. Yes, we all have issues pop up from time to time, but if Facebook can distract me so easily, maybe I’m in the wrong business.
Where are my priorities? Reviewing books? (If so, that’s fine, but then I need to call myself a “reviewer” instead of an author.) Facebook quizzes? (I love Facebook quizzes.) Sharing Grumpy Cat pictures? (I love Grumpy Cat!) Website maintenance? (I can waste tons of time rearranging stuff on my website.) Or writing?
If you time to spend on Facebook, you have time to write. Even if it’s only for five minutes a day. Yes, social media is important to your author platform, but do you really need an author platform if you never finish writing your book? How important is that pretty banner on your author page if you’ve pushed back the deadline on publishing your book until no one believes there’s an actual story to go with that snazzy cover?
Making connections with other authors is important, and so is promoting and helping other writers. Without forging relationships with other writers, we go crazy. But take a look at these friendships. Are they give and take relationships, or are you doing all the giving? Are you sharing support and advice, or just complaining about the publishing industry and the evils of writer’s block?
Do you really have writer’s block? Or are you just using that as an excuse for slacking off?
No more excuses! I’m determined to finish a book (or two) this year. I’m determined to write every day, even if it means skipping Facebook and Quiz Up. I’m determined to kick procrastination in the rear. And I’m determined to find that elusive balance between helping others and making time for myself.
Saying “no” to other people is a way of saying “yes” to myself. It’s a way to tell myself (and others) that I have a job to do. I’ve made a commitment to myself. I would never dream of backing out on a commitment I’ve made to someone else, so why would I back out on a commitment I’ve made to myself? Aren’t I just as important?
You are important too. So is your writing. For some of us, there are REAL challenges to writing. Family problems, health issues, day jobs – we can’t control everything. If you have REAL challenges that prevent you from writing, that’s okay. Take all the time you need. But if you have time for television and computer games and Facebook quizzes, chances are your problem is you – not writer’s block. So get busy and write!
For those of you who have fallen into a pattern of procrastination, I challenge you to get to the heart of it. Is fear holding you back? Are you afraid to say no? Do you allow others to derail you, and if so, why? How do you plan to prioritize your writing?