January 15 Writing Prompt
Tuesday was a busy day juggling work and writing. With that said, a friend reached out to me asking about words of advice for her best friend who has writing dreams but hasn’t pursued them seriously. Writing my response and ideas was eye-opening for me about some things I’m missing in my own writing life, and offered up a look at the really honest corners of my writing brain. I’ll put some snippets below. Do any of these thoughts resonate with your own writing journey?
Meanwhile, today’s words are: square, sow, main, opinion, god, practice, breast.
Note: my friend said that her fledgling writer friend is incredibly high achieving and an amazing writer, but hesitant to share her work with others. She was looking for any encouragement or advice to keep her friend moving down the path of pursuing her dream. Here’s are some snippets from my note to her:
The following thoughts are completely my perspective, but here’s a glimpse into my brain, which may or may not give you even more of a glimpse into your friend’s brain:
- As you already know, high achievers can be perfectionists. This is paralyzing when it comes to writing. You’ve lived your life in an arena where you can study, prepare, take the test, get the gold star, and win the praise. Writing isn’t like that. You toil away—listening only to the snarky voice inside your head telling you your writing isn’t good enough. But every so often, you write one sentence or paragraph or even page and you allow yourself to say, “Holy cow, that’s really good.” That’s what keeps you coming back.
- Writing can feel fruitless—here we go again with the grades and the deadlines! You want me to write an A+ paper and deliver it by this date? I’m on it. I can do that with a measurable amount of effort. A whole book? Hours and hours of work writing and then rewriting so that you can send it to agents and MAYBE get some interest, but most likely not? I’d rather scrub my toilets every day for the rest of my life than invest that much time in something that may result in nothing. That’s SO dramatic, but you get my point. It’s hard to keep going when there isn’t an end goal in sight except for “The End.” But, you love the process, the storytelling, the putting words together…and you keep coming back to the idea that you want to be a writer even if it seems totally impractical.
- The hardest part is sharing your work—for three reasons.
- Most people say, “Oh that’s really cool,” when you tell them you’re a writer, but their eyes also glaze over within about five minutes when you start telling them about your stories (which are mostly in your head and very little of which are on paper yet). You feel hurt that they don’t take more of an interest in the pretend voices. Those pretend voices and stories are what get you really excited about writing, but they won’t make much sense to another person until that person can actually read your work.
- Then, you get brave enough to send your work to a friend/mom/spouse, but said person isn’t a writer, and might 1) never get around to reading it because even though they said they wanted to, lots of people just aren’t readers, or 2) say, “Wow, I loved it.” That feels good for a few minutes and then the snarky voice inside says, “What do they know? They *have* to tell me it’s good.”
- Writing is tough and most writers are quietly insecure even though they might be the highest-achieving people you know. Most writers crave some sort of validation in order to feel energized to keep going. Real validation of my writing (at least for me), comes from two places:
- Readers of my published work. Until I had a published book, I felt like a fraud even though lots of people had told me they thought I was a good writer. But the minute I started hearing from readers of my published book, I knew that I was doing something well. (i.e., I wrote a middle-grade book, and I heard from middle-grade readers how much they loved it. Parents sent me pictures of their kids lying on their beds reading my book. Kids drew me pictures of their favorite characters. One kid did a book report on my book.) But, it’s a Catch-22 because you can’t get that type of feedback if you haven’t been published.
- Other writers (and usually other writers who are at the same stage of writing). Critique partners are vital, but if you’re in a critique group with people who aren’t in the same place on their writing journey as you are, it can be a time suck that leaves you excited about the concept of writing, but not excited about wanting to produce more of your own work. It also takes a lot of practice sharing your work and receiving feedback until you are confident enough to process the feedback and tell yourself you’re still a good writer, but you may need to make some changes. No matter how many times you rewrite it, it’s never going to be perfect, but you still want it to be perfect before you share it with someone else.
That was a lot of psychobabble about the dark corners of my brain. Your friend may not experience any of these things. So, here are some concrete suggestions instead.
She might try locking in four things:
- An unconditional cheerleader (her husband, YOU, another friend, her mom)—someone who can just cheer for the idea that she wants to be a writer, be excited about that, and offer her regular, guilt-free questions about how it’s going. Beware of spouses, though! It doesn’t work for everyone. My husband is amazingly supportive of me in so many areas, but when I’m stewing because I couldn’t get the scene to work out exactly the way I wanted, his response is sometimes, “Why do you keep doing this if it makes you unhappy?” He also struggles with investing time to read something that I wrote when he feels like it might change in later versions. The very first book I wrote, he read (and really liked), and he was perplexed when I told him I was going to change the point of view and scrap 25% of the manuscript. He felt let down that something he really liked was going to be gutted. It took us a long time to realize that he needs to hold off on reading my books until they have been through several edits and I feel pretty confident they aren’t going to change much. Friends are usually the best for the cheerleader role because they don’t come loaded with other relationship baggage. (And I promised you I would stop with the psychoanalysis!)
- An accountability partner. This usually works best if it’s another writer. Someone with whom she has daily or weekly check-ins. Texting daily word counts. Emailing “Today’s writing really sucked!” or “I can’t believe what my main character did today!” notes. Setting deadlines. “I will send you one chapter a week for the next four weeks.” This person doesn’t even have to read or respond to the work. Just knowing that someone is counting on you to deliver on a deadline helps a ton—especially for a high achiever!
- A critique partner or critique group in a similar genre. My current critique group has five people. We all write Middle Grade or Young Adult. I also critique women’s fiction for another writer friend of mine, but I find it’s much easier for most people to critique within their own genres. If someone writes sci-fi and you can’t stand sci-fi, it’s harder to be interested in their work.
- A goal or deadline that gives her a reason to write.
What about all of you? Does any of this jive with your experience? Any other suggestions for my friend’s friend? Thanks for your ideas and happy writing!