I haven’t been very proactive on the blog lately, life has been getting in the way. It has a habit of getting in the way of my novel writing too. So I was very glad when Jennie Nash emailed me with some wonderful advice to help get me back on the Write path (excuse the pun). She’s also offering a free trial to This Craft Called Writing readers. Here’s what she has to say:
I’m a book coach who specializes is helping people who are serious about getting their books published, and one of the first things I do with new clients is ask them to fill out a Q&A. I ask, among other things, what is giving the writer joy and what is causing frustration. The answers about joy vary wildly from writer to writer. Some people love research and creating worlds, others love moving words around the page like a puzzle, and still others love the solitude of devoting themselves to their passion. What causes frustration, however, is almost always exactly the same two things: procrastination and doubt. As we head into the New Year, I thought I would share some strategies I’ve found that are effective for dealing with both.
The problem of procrastination.
One of the realities of being a writer is that writing is done alone in a room. There is no way to get around that fact – well, except for coffee shops, but even then, it is still you sitting there, alone with your thoughts. It is you, sitting there, knowing that there are dishes to be done, dinner to be made, the demands of a job, the responsibilities of a family, the stuff of life. Every moment you write is a moment you aren’t doing something you are “supposed to do.” It’s so easy to put off writing and chose more pressing concerns, because no asked you to write. And so you put off writing one day, then two, then a week, then a month until you are just someone who merely talks about wanting to write rather than someone who actually does it.
Accountability is a powerful antidote to procrastination.
One of the reasons writers under contract tend to finish their books is because they have an editor who is waiting for the manuscript, and deadlines are fantastic motivators. Until you get to that point in your career, it can be enormously helpful to develop some other method of accountability. This could be a friend, a writers’ group, a co-worker who is also secretly writing a novel, a paid editor, or a writing coach. Make a plan for when you will turn in your work, then put it in your calendar and consider it a binding a promise. Give the person permission to ask for your pages if you don’t turn them in – to nag you, to push you – and give yourself permission to take the work as seriously as anything else in your life. Accountability breeds action, and action defeats procrastination.
The problem of doubt.
Doubt eats at every writer, no matter how accomplished, no matter how seasoned, no matter how famous. It’s a central part of the creative process, and it’s not going to go away. It’s just not. You will wonder if your idea is any good, if you are worthy to speak your voice, if anyone will eventually care, and you will wonder if you should start your story on Page 9 or Page 39, if you should have gone with a first person narrator, if that scene you wrote packs the emotional punch you thought it did. Even if you hit the jackpot and write a book people adore, doubt will find you. You will wonder if it was a fluke and whether or not you can do it again.
Specific, detailed feedback is a powerful antidote to doubt.
Instead of free-form worry about your work, arm yourself with knowledge. You can start that process by simply reading the work of writers you admire, and studying how they did it. Are your scene endings that strong? Are your character descriptions that powerful? Are your character motivations that clear?
You can continue that discernment process by taking classes and workshop, or by following blogs that teach you how to build your writing muscle and your writing skills.
A big step for any writer is to seek feedback from the outside world. Try submitting work for review at writing conferences. It’s a one-off fairly low risk way to test your work. Make sure you really listen to what the editor is saying. If you get a lukewarm response, ask for one thing you can work on to improve your work. If you get an enthusiastic response, a bit of encouragement, or an invitation to submit, ask the editor to articulate exactly what they are responding to in your work.
I’m obviously biased, but I believe one of the best forms of feedback comes from a trained editor or book coach. Working with a coach for even a short period of time can help you learn exactly where your writing is strong, and where it is weak. You can gain a lot of knowledge in a short period of time – which not only improves your work, but helps to eradicate doubt. Instead of wondering about your work in vague and unproductive ways, you know. And if the news is not good, at least you know what to fix so you can get back to the joy of writing.
Jennie Nash is the creator of the Author Accelerator, a weekly accountability and feedback program designed to help writers complete a rough draft of their book in six months. She is offering a free weekly trial to all readers of This Craft Called Writing. Learn more at jennienash.com.