You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.Stephen King
I was recently reminded whilst listening to the audible version of ‘Make a Living as a Professional Self-Published Author,’ by Richard G Lowe, Jr of something fundamental to carving out a career as a writer. He emphasises in his book that if you want to be a writer, you need to allocate the majority of your working time towards; you’ve guessed it, writing! It seems plainly obvious doesn’t it? But it’s amazing how many distractions and issues there are in today’s frantic world that can hinder the professional writer/would be writer.
Richard advises that if you want to make a successful career as a self-published author, then you need to write as much as possible. Allocate time slots and do nothing else but write during them. You see the thing is that you have to be a doer not just a thinker to make it in this industry. He also suggests setting your-self a word-count target to help keep yourself on track and also advises that all the other jobs like social media, website, promotion etc. need to be done outside of the allocated writing time. What I’m finding is that it’s easy to lose an hour on word-press trying to figure something out, only to not have completed any writing at all.
I’ll be completely honest though, there are days when I manage to find a plethora of reasons not to sit my pert little derrière onto a chair, flip up the lid of my ageing laptop and actually access my brain to write something interesting or even useful. As we speak, my motivation has dived and of course there are so many things that just have to be done now that summer holidays are in full swing! I don’t mind admitting that maintaining focus is definitely something that I need to work on. The problem as any parent knows is that child-care over the summer holidays is going to have to take precedent which of course naturally means less writing. The problem is that the more out of practise I get with writing, the harder it is to pick up where I left off and get back into the flow. It’s like muscle memory, the more I do of it, the easier it becomes and tends to flow so it’s a constant dilemma of whether or not to organise child-care in order to work or just enjoy the quality time with them, letting go of guilt around not working. I constantly come back to the fact that they’re only really little for a short space of time and that sometimes life does take over and I have to go with it, safe in the knowledge, that it won’t be like this for ever. I hope!
SHUTTING THE DOOR TO DISTRACTIONS
I’m trying not to beat myself up about my dip in motivation and the slower than anticipated progress because it’s real life. The truth is that other things will always get in the way of writing; distractions, life events, brain-freeze, tiredness, lack of motivation, children, friends and even one’s own parents. The list is endless. As Stephen King is attributed to have said, ‘the hardest thing is shutting the door.’ The subliminal meaning of this being that it can be difficult to shut out everything and everyone and completely focus your mind on the creative process of writing. It can also lead to difficult conversations with the other people in your life who don’t necessarily get that you need time and space away from them and minimal interruptions to write a book, article, blog etc. I’ve realised that its therefore so important to make it known to friends and family when I’m going to be writing, set boundaries and treat it like a job. If I was working in an office, they wouldn’t necessarily have access to me whenever they liked. The bottom line, as with all careers is that if you want to be taken seriously, you need to get real serious.
Then of course, there’s social media and Netflix, the two big downfalls of many writers. The best tactic I’m finding is simply to leave my phone on charge elsewhere, hopefully keeping with the adage of out of sight, out of mind. If it’s close to hand, I’m constantly interrupted by the ping of emails, Face-book, Twitter and so on and once I look at them, I totally get sucked in. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve stopped what I was doing to view someone’s latest holiday snaps or what little Jonny has been up to now. So, for me, the only way is the highway as far as the phone is concerned. Thankfully, I do manage to keep Netflix just to evening viewing, but I know that lots of writer friends have said that if they take a break and start to watch a fantastic series on Netflix, they feel compelled to watch the next episode, then the next one and so on. These are of course 21st century problems and none of us would be without either our phones or television, but I’m learning that from a creative writing point of view, they can be distracting and sometimes brain-numbing which clearly isn’t great for lateral thinking.
We’re all human though and there will be times when we all lose motivation, no matter what occupation we’re in. It often happens to me when I’ve been really focused on one piece of work for sometime. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest and so I do give myself a day off from writing to regroup and refresh. No-one needs to be working twenty four seven right? When these days occur, I try to accept that this is the case and focus on something else instead that day like updating my Goodreads profile or my Facebook and Twitter pages or have a completely indulgent ‘me’ day, watching some films or tv or meeting a friend for lunch. I remind myself that ‘tomorrow is another day,’ and that just in the same way as a cloud passing overhead, the low motivation will pass and then I can get back into my writing, hopefully feeling refreshed after having had a short break. The other thing that I sometimes do is just to take a break for half an hour and listen to a meditation from somewhere like Headspace or Oprah and Deepak, to which I’ve just been introduced and there are some wonderful meditations on their app. I always feel really centred and open to creativity again after meditating. It’s as if any neural blockages affecting my energy and thinking have been cleared and all after only just a short period of time. Meditation also helps when I’m feeling really tired, which definitely affects my creativity and ability to get into a flow, so a burst of meditation feels like a power nap.
Another difficulty can sometimes be finding inspiration or a subject to write about. My creative writing tutor, Susan Maylor, author of the book ‘Justice Served Cold’ and a number of screenplays offered some advice to our class on this.
Susan also talked about something called a ‘Commonplace Box.’ In actual fact, it can be a box-file, book, scrapbook, drawer, whatever works for the person concerned. The idea is that you collect things that offer you inspiration and then anytime when you need some ideas, you can then refer to it. Essentially you can include anything at all, feathers, shells, photos, maps, brochures, packets, articles, tickets, programs, book reviews and anything else at all.
It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally got myself into a habit of carrying around a notebook and whenever I feel inspired by something, be it from a person, a location, an event or a conversation that I overhear, I note it down or take a photo in case it’s useful at a later point. A little while back whilst putting out the recycling at around 11pm, I noticed that the moon was shrouded in what appeared to be dark grey cloud and only the top part, which I can only describe as a gorgeous soft pink in colour was peeping out. (I later found out that it was a partial lunar eclipse). It was hugely atmospheric and struck me as something that I might like to come back to and include in my writing at some point so I took a photo. Having something tangible to look at can really help when you’re trying to describe the colour, mood, texture etc. My eyes are now always open and my ears are forever listening out for all things inspiring. Additionally, joining a writers circle or attending a creative writing course, workshop or writer’s convention provides ample opportunity for ideas generation to get writing.
Another tactic of mine for getting back into a flow after a pause is to re-read a recent piece of work and edit it. I usually find that once I’ve started, there isn’t usually a problem. It’s almost as if the thought of writing is harder than the act of doing it. One other useful piece of advice that Susan gave is to try not to edit too much as you go along as that can halt progress especially if the ideas are coming and you’re in the flow. You can always come back later to edit it properly or to add in missing details, facts, names, locations etc. if you can’t think of one at the time or need to research those in more depth. The key thing though is to just keep on writing if you’re in that flow.
There’s also something called ‘free writing’, which Wikipedia describes as ‘a pre-writing technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism.’ I must admit its not something that I’ve really tried as yet but it seems many others believe that its helps with creative flow and there are plenty of free writing competitions if you search online. Maybe at some point, I’ll give it a go and will update you on how I found it.
Undoubtedly, apart from writing ability and talent, the most paramount trait that any writer must have is confidence in their writing and the belief that what they write about is of value. For the most part, I am confident in my writing abilities and apart from the fact that I also find it highly enjoyable and often therapeutic, it’s what keeps me going on this mum to author journey. Something else that’s key is not taking criticism personally. I’ve made peace with the fact that once I put my writing out there, it is subject to criticism and people’s personal preferences. If they have something valid to say about the grammar, spellings, characters or plot, I listen and adjust it if the feedback is valid. If it just wasn’t for them or they didn’t enjoy it, that’s also okay and it doesn’t worry me. Simply put, I’ve got over it and keep on writing, knowing that along the way, different people will enjoy different parts of my writing at different times!
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