Friday, January 18, 2013

Sit Down, Shut up, and WRITE!

It seems like such a simple idea when you first think of it:

"I'm going to write a book!"

There is so much hope and energy when you pop open Word and type the first few words. Those words turn into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and before you know it you have half a page done! You click save, you exit out the file, and then you go to the bathroom, grab some tea (or in my case, a beer), thinking about how the next day it going to be even better than the first, that how on that second day "I'm going to get some real work done."

Then reality sets in.

"It sucks."
"I don't know what to write."
"Where am I going?"
"I don't know what to write."
"This really sucks!"
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE!"

And you don't. You don't re-open that Word document, you never stop to really look at your monstrosity, and the days go on with you not writing.

You're not alone.

I was 19 when I decided I want to be a professional author who made his bones writing. I am 26 now and while I am not making my living at it, I am closer now then where I was when I was 19, and much of that it to do with the fact that I sit down EVERY DAY and write. And there is a story behind that.

I was attending UNC Charlotte for undergrad, and I had the great privilege of having my girlfriend, Margo, living in the same dorm I was. We were in summer school, and one night I was telling her this story idea I had come up with, and how I was going to write and how it was going to be awesome. At the time, I had the very bad habit of starting an story and never finishing it, mostly because I would use the excuse of "how bad it was so it must be a bad idea." So as we are driving back from a day in Charlotte, Margo hears my idea, my boasting, and the best thing that ever happened in my life (besides her, of course) occurred.

ENTER CAR

JAY: This idea is going to work!
MARGO: Shut up.
JAY looks over at Margo, bewildered by her perceived lack of enthusiasm: What?
MARGO: You always talk about these great ideas, but have you ever finished one?

Now, if you're an idiot, you're going to say "how dare she!" or "my girlfriend would *never* talk to me like that", probably because your girlfriend absolutely sucks!


The Rock said so.

Margo was right. She was dead right, and because of her calling me out, I forced myself to sit down and finish what would later become my first manuscript, The Night, which we may talk about at a later time.

The aim of this blog (beyond my own promotion) is to give beginning writers who are just starting out ways and means to stay in the chair and in front of their laptop. These methods worked very well for me, but please note, they may not work for you. All writers need to find their own way doing things. So here are six things that I do to really make sure I sit down and get the writing done, plus my mystical rule to truly getting your work done *ooooo, ahhhhh*:

1. Make it a daily goal, not a routine- Now, there are some authors out there that will tell you that you need to set aside a specific amount of time during the day to get your writing done and that you need to work on a schedule, but those people are professional who do their work for a living and have already made some sort of money. They don't have your job, they probably don't have your kids (call the cops if they do), and sometimes life gets in the way. However, what I try to do is not set time aside for writing, but set a goal of how many words (or pages, if you are so inclined to think of them that way) I want to put down before I go to sleep. It doesn't matter if it is 300 to 3000, I make sure that throughout the day I am chipping away at that word count. Writing has to become your daily goal, not a chore.

2. Work on more than one thing - As the new Head Organizer of Charlotte Writers and as a member for the past two years, I often see beginning writers who are so wrapped up on one idea that they spend more days not writing than they do honing their craft. Please understand, this is a hard business where perfection, while in the eye of the beholder, is often elusive because many don't want to listen to criticism and come to terms that their idea might not be the greatest in the world. One of the ways to make it great is by having the perspective of writing other things. To be in this business you always need to have more than one idea, and working on multiple stories/projects will help you develop your voice, style, and teach you think like plotting, pacing, and the technical stuff.

3. Clear out all distractions - Now this one is iffy because the definition of distraction varies from person to person. However, you do want to make sure your attention is focused on your writing, and sometimes that means setting up your writing area in such a way that you feel comfortable to write. For me, that place at my desk, sitting in my slowly-deteriorating arm chair. Yes, I have the internet, but when I am in that chair with my work-in-progress on the screen, there might be music on, but I definitely have my research tabbed and ready to go, and I am getting it done. I can also get work done when I am at a Charlotte Writers' functions specifically geared toward getting the words down. Beginning writers need a place where they can close off the world.

4. Make sure to take short breaks - While you should be free of distraction, some writers like myself think faster than they can write, which forces a sudden overload where the words are there but they just won't come out. At those times I check my email, check this blog and try to get some business done for SWB or Charlotte Writers, or I call home to make sure my parental guardians who both birthed and raised me are still alive for the time being. This lasts anywhere from five to ten minutes, but it gives me enough time to calm down and get back to work.

5. READ OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE - I cannot tell you how many beginning writers I meet who don't do this, and sometimes I really wonder at how they honestly think they will be successful. It is even worse when I meet a writer who doesn't read at all (yes, those exist.) You have to read outside of what you write, period. I read voraciously, and I always learn something from the books I devour, be it a method to help my writing or a pattern to avoid. Even bad books can teach writers a lot about their craft. It is important to read often and read outside of what you write because of the opportunities it affords. I write epic fantasy, high fantasy, but mostly Sword and Sorcery, but beyond reading novels and short stories in the genres I love, I actually read more history, more religious texts, and more science than I do fiction. I still read a lot of fiction, but having those outside works to dive into not only keeps me from being bored with my genre, but it helps refresh me with new ideas I can bring into it. I didn't come up with Jishnu the Srijati reading fantasy novels alone-- I came up with the character reading Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, The Black Company by Glen Cook, but without the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important Hindu religious texts, I would have never formed the character or the story into something I know is new to the genre I love. Reading is what keeps writers alive. I read so often things that inspire me to sit down and write, I can say without question that it is integral to every writer's growth, no matter their skill level. Because I read outside of Sword and Sorcery, Epic, and High Fantasy, I am more passionate about them when it comes to creating those types of stories.

6. Get the first draft done, no matter how bad it is - This is actually the one problem I hear most often from beginning writers. "I'm scared it sucks, so I never finish it." Trust me, I victimized myself the same way in the beginning, and it took a long time to realize that the first draft is 99.9% of the time going to be absolute shit. And that's okay--nobody ever gets it right on the first attempt, that is why you hear stories of manuscripts going through three, five, or nine drafts before it finally catches on with an agent or an editor. Hell, I just got done working with an editor for a story called The Chase that I had accepted into an anthology, and all together I think there were SEVEN drafts created before we decided it was done. Three of them were mine which went through critiques and rewrites before I submitted it, and the remaining four I went through with the editor getting it ready to go to print. I will be open and honest in saying that the first draft sucked, but I knew at the time that I had grown to a point in my skill as a writer that I was okay with it. Any story/manuscript can be fixed if you are willing to put the work into it. This is a really hard concept for some writers to get their head around, as we do live in a society where we all expect some sort of weird perfection right from the get-go. If you can accept that you aren't going to get it right the first time, that pressure is gone, and you can just write. This is one of the few times where I will say that this method out of the five I just presented it absolute. Believe me, if you get the first draft done, you can get the second, and then the third, and then you can start a new story, and then you are off the races. This absolutely works.

Now, these methods or suggestions are all well and good, but there is one thing that makes it all work together in the end. It is something that applies to all aspects of life, whether it is writing, a relationship, a job, anything. It is plain and simple:

You either want this or you don't.

No excuses, no bullshit, it comes down to if you have the guts to sacrifice for what you want. I want to be a fantasy author. No, I want to be the best fantasy author ever! No, more than that, I want to be the greatest author of all time and of any genre! Will it happen? The words "greatest" and "successful" are all in the eyes of the beholder, but nothing is going to stop me from going after this dream of making my bones with my writing. RA Salvatore, my favorite living author, has a great quote: "If you can quit, quit-- If you can't, then you're a writer."

I can't quit this just like I can't quit breathing. If you, the reader out there, want this business and all the rewards (and hardships) it can offer, you can't quit. If you can, none of these suggestions will help you. That is just the simple truth.

I truly hoped you all gained something from this. I know how hard it is to sit down and write, but you can do it.

If you liked what you read here, please click on the "Google +1" button to the right, or follow me @JayRequard on Twitter. Stay safe, have fun, and get that writing done!

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Jay, I am making a comment about the blog on "Sit Down, Shut up and Write." I understand perspective is important to bear in mind when we are considering feedback. I struggle with zapping any motivation to succeed because I doubt my own abilities on a daily basis. I am a perfectionist by nature. That said, I have the worst grammatical and spelling issues with the lack of know how to do what is right for writing rules in this genera. I am very determined and creative. I have a excellent perception and imagination. I lack skills to use the talents I have the right way due to ignorance. Do you mind creating a blog helpful for those out there like me? Maybe there is something helpful you might have to share.
      Thank you
      Laura

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  2. Hey Mew Mew!

    Sorry it took me this long to get back to you, the past weekend was very busy.

    In a short answer, the best advice I can give you into getting over your grammatical and spelling issues (which I did not see in your comments--they were quite well written and thought out, actually) is to work daily to improve those needed elements. If you have the imagination to have more than one good idea to write about and the perception to put them on the page in an appealing way, then working on the areas you lack in will help immensely. The most important thing you can do is work on your problems by taking a proactive role in resolving them.

    I am going to start writing a new blog post soon which will speak directly to your concerns, as many beginning writers have this very concern about their ability when they first start out. So stay tuned!

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  3. "They don't have your job, they probably don't have your kids (call the cops if they do)" hahaha...or take a vacation! Woohoo free time!!! (kidding...or am I...)

    Great post. One thing that worked to keep me motivated is actually (and carefully) timing myself on just how much I write. Because I get distracted, dragged away, interrupted, a bazillian times (only when I'm freaking writing...*grumbles*) I kept seeing my ass-in-chair time stretch out hours with very little to show for it. I knew it couldn't possibly be right, but I didn't think that my distractions added up quite THAT much. Turns out they did. I got a little stop watch and every time I stopped typing for whatever reason (not for pauses or thinking - that would be cheating) but for actual distractions, even if it's farting around on the net...and what I found out is that my usual, solid writing time is around 45 minutes. So now I make time goals for myself at 45 minute stretches and take breaks for distractions in between. It helps A LOT

    And you're absolutely right. If you need this badly enough you'll do it. You'll sacrifice sleep and comfort, good times with friends, even (very drastically) a relationship or two because that's what it takes. Too harsh? Maybe... but it's a fact of life. A real writer doesn't want to write, a real writer NEEDS to.

    Cheers,
    Kierce

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