If sitting down and writing is what makes a writer, I’m a fairly poor one. I don’t make it a point to sit and write daily in my novel, and to some that would constitute blasphemy. In trying to understand why this very simple Golden Rule is so difficult for me to follow, I’ve run the gamut of conclusions.
“I’m not really a writer.”
“I don’t really like my novel.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“My story left me to go be with another writer.” (I have Liz Gilbert to thank for that new fear. It wasn’t even an idea until I read Big Magic.)
You know how, when you have a heavy realization, you feel a weight lift off your shoulders? The weight of unknowing is an insidious one. You don’t really realize how much the questions press down on you until one day you just buckle, or the weight comes off when you get your answer. Well, nothing like that has happened. I’m inclined to believe that means my Problem hasn’t been Solved yet. I still don’t understand why I can’t behave like a proper writer.
What I didn’t ever stop to consider was that there was nothing at all wrong with me, as a writer, in the first place. Somewhere in the process, I started asking myself completely different questions.
“Who said I have to write a first draft at warp-speed?”
“Who said I can’t edit as I go?”
“Who said I have to write 2000 words EVERY DAY to be a serious writer?”
With each question, a new face popped into my mind as an answer. Finally, a new realization hit me, a new line of questioning pushed its way to the tip of my tongue:
“What does Nicole say?”
Why, why, why is it so hard for creative types to let ourselves off the hook from the arbitrary rules someone else set down for us? Isn’t the very reason creative living is so appealing because we can be our own bosses? There’s no one to answer to; we just follow where we’re led by our muses. Yet, still, we beat ourselves up, drive ourselves to the point of insanity, and then have to talk ourselves down from ledges when we feel we’ve let some invisible “Them” down.
It’s a snake swallowing its own tail, is what it is. We romanticize we’re our own worst enemies, but I’m just going to say it plainly: Everyone else’s opinions have screwed us up. The truly rebellious nature of creative living is having the bravery to slough off what we’ve been told we’re supposed to do and do what we feel called to do in our creative little, paint-covered, coffee-soaked hearts.
In coming to terms with the way I’ve been conditioned to frame my experience as a writer, I was able to crawl out from under the “shoulds” and “musts” I allowed myself to be buried by. I could finally answer the newest question. What does Nicole say?
I say that writing a novel is a bold and brave endeavor for anyone, and just as the story is as unique as a fingerprint, the methods each writer uses to get the story out into the world is one-of-a-kind. To try to follow someone else’s rules for being a writer is a quick way to stifle your own best asset: autonomy.
I’ve known for many moons that I am, in nearly all areas of my life, a sprinter, not a marathoner. I do things in quick bursts, covering as much ground as possible in small amounts of time. Writing, for me, is no different. I will sit down and hash out several thousand words at once, and then walk away for weeks without giving a second thought to the work in progress. Perhaps in the break I will cook some great meals, or read a book, or paint, or blog, or go for a walk, or all of the above. That doesn’t make me any less devoted to what I’m writing. I would argue that it makes me a better writer to understand and respect my needs as a human with a brain. I need to step away for long periods of time to be able to come back with the necessary rest and clarity to go for another sprint.
Applying this to my current novel-in-progress, Uprooted, I am still in love with this story. I still believe it’ll be a hit. I still believe I am the only person on Earth who can write this book. I also believe that having shelved it since the middle of November was a necessary step to my process. It’s not a lapse in my dedication; I’m resting up to be able to come at it again for another quick burst of words.
As mentioned in my January goals post, I want to take time to edit the pages I have already written. I literally print out every page I write, punch holes in it, and stuff it in a binder, so it has been sitting in my desk waiting for a red pen for months. NaNoWriMo drills into your head not to edit while you write your first draft, but that’s fooey for me. Taking my time to make sure I’m not writing my characters into a left-field they can’t recover from (I’m looking at you, Stephenie Meyer…) isn’t a weakness or procrastination. It’s respect, and perhaps patience.
That means I am still writing Uprooted, yet also still working on a weekly short story. I would love to have a fully formed rough draft by the end of the year, but I recognize that is my goal, not one some other writer decreed from Mount Olympus. I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t make it, as long as I was true to myself, as a writer, along the way.