My friend is jumping into a new book project and is looking for motivation on how to actually get it underway. How do I concentrate? [speed]; should I join a book club? [no]; go to writing circles? [no], etc. I wrote her back with all of my advice. Some of it's practical, some of it is just a product of my bad attitude. I thought I'd share in case anyone who's reading this is writing and cared to hear my thoughts on it. Yes, I realize that my blog has turned into a self-help group for writers. Don't worry, though, realizing the problem is the first step. I'll be back to writing about poop and pee on toilet seats soon.
As you can imagine, I started off my email to her with a disclaimer:
I don't know if I'm any good at writing or if my novel will ever see the light of day, but I'm pretty certain that I can give good advice on how to write one. I'm like one of those people who sit in front of a football game yelling at a player for not catching the ball (as if I would have caught the ball). Or, yells at an ice skater for not adding a triple lutz into her routine. "You could've taken the gold, bitch..." So yeah, I can tell you how to win even if I'm not a great player myself. Some lame metaphor like that anyway. That said...
First off, you're at a good spot right now because it's hard to go straight into the writing process. You can't jump right in and start writing 10-12 hour days. It's impossible. At least it is for me. Everyone's different. I imagine that most people start off slow, especially when they're not sure where they're going with it. Maybe two hours a day--and even those two hours are full of distractions and a ton of self-doubt. Then they start getting the hang of it and seeing that the book has a common thread that ties it together.
At this point, you'll (yes, yes, I'm aware that I switched from the plural third person to the second person) start getting excited but there's still self-doubt (tons of it, as it turns out—and if you don't have self-doubt, then rest assured: your book sucks). Cocky writers write shitty books. I should know, I used to be one and everything I wrote was shitty. Once I was humbled, I was able to recognize the crap I was writing and improve upon it. You have to realize that you might have to rewrite your book quite a few times. I used to get so discouraged; now I just tell my sorry ass to stop sulking and keep going. It’s like I’m an army general AND a discouraged soldier. I get down, then I yell out myself to get up.
Anyway, getting to the advice part. This is all based on what works for me:
-Treat writing like a job. Casual writers = bloggers...which is fine, but novels and other long form projects are totally different beasts. When people say that they write for relaxation, I’m totally baffled. To me, writing is anything BUT relaxing. Apparently these people aren’t trying to bust out 300-400 pages of coherent material.
-Don't write at home. Too many distractions. Easy to give up. If you go to a cafe or bookstore that's somewhat far from your house, it's easier to not give up. I used to find it easiest to write at my house, but times have changed. I suggest finding that place that you really get work done, and continue to work there until you get sick of it. You know how they say that when you study for a test while you’re high that you should take the test high? It’s kind of the same thing. Environmental stimuli should remain consistent.
- Set a time goal for yourself.
-Don't give up because you're stressed (and if you're not stressed, there's something wrong with you).
-Make an outline of your various chapters. You probably won't stick to it, but at least it will give you something to go by.
-Turn into a hermit. You have to. Writing a book is a personal process and involves quite a bit of isolation. I interviewed at a magazine a million years ago and the editor there told me he wanted to write books, but he wasn't ready to go into hiding yet. He said that he liked talking to people, so now wasn't the time. I didn't really understand what he was talking about until I got into the process. I figured I could have it all: a life and writing. Turns out that this isn’t really true. The more I go out and drink and bla, bla, bla, the more clouded my mind is. I get distracted from my goal. Again, that's just me. Early to bed, early to rise and all that. Words to live by. Oh, but I do drink, even if it is under the covers with a flashlight. Keeps me sane.
-One of my personal favorite pieces of advice is: don't talk about your book a lot. There are a lot of different reasons people suggest not doing this. For one, the more you talk about it, the less you do it. People find so much satisfaction in getting positive feedback from others on the mere idea of their book that they never get to writing it. Also, when you talk about it, you put yourself in danger of listening to other peoples' advice on it. Everyone has to throw their two cents in. It's annoying. Especially when it's someone who has no idea what their talking about. Finally, there are so many writers in
-Attend readings, media panels, etc. This always motivates me for whatever reason. I like to surround myself with writers (so long as they resist speaking about their projects, we're good). I just like their general presence. I like to witness successful writers reading their work.
Anyway, writing will never fall into anyone's lap. It's a lot of work even for amazing writers. The fact that you have three agents interested in your book is good artificial motivation. It should get you started until you start building your own internal motivation (if that makes any sense).
Feel free to bug me any time. I think when you called last night I was promising the bartender that I could launch his modeling career for him. I do these things from time to time. That's why I really shouldn't go out.