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Write like you mean it…

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the New Year’s Resolution to lose weight—or rather I can, because I’ve been making it every year since 2007. And yet, somehow, I’ve still found myself making the same resolution the following year, and the year after that. You can take this as irrefutable proof that New Year’s Resolutions don’t work, or that I am a lazy sod who sits in front of a computer for most of her day and wears a groove her favourite armchair, and you’d be right on both counts. But my point here is that sometimes, despite our best resolve, we’re all talk. A lot of us are always “gonna do” something, and yet we never do.

In few spheres is “gonna-do-itis” as prevalent as it is in the world of writing. Just about everyone I’ve ever met has admitted to having “a book inside of them,” which sounds remarkably uncomfortable if you ask me. Yet so few of them ever manage to extract that book from their … wherever it is … and actually put it out there where readers can enjoy it (or otherwise). Why is this so? I’ll tell you why: because we make excuses.

I’m too busy. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a fulltime job. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a disease (tip: gonna-do-itis is not a real disease). I’ve got kids. I’ve got books to edit (I use this one a lot, partly because it is true, but who keeps accepting the jobs? That damn editor in me is boycotting my writing dreams). I’ve got kids. I’ve got scissors for hands. [Okay, Edward Scissorhands, I grant that it might be harder for you, and I’m very sorry for your affliction. As you were.] I’ve got kids. I’ve got fleas. I’ve got piles of washing. I’ve got piles and I can’t sit for long on wet concrete writing with the nub of a blue crayon on the back of margarine lid—or however or wherever else you find yourself most creative. I find an armchair good, which is why I’m a fatty boomballa. You might prefer a treadmill. Whatever! Go to!

My point is—I have a point!—writers who suffer from gonna-do-itis make a multitude of excuses to explain away dismal word counts. I do it. I’ve been doing it for years. “I was too busy today,” I tell myself. And yet, I somehow managed to maintain a lengthy repartee about monkey’s uncles in a Facebook group. Ah, well, that was time well spent.

The truth of the matter is that we just don’t find the time to put our bums in the seat (or on the concrete) to write. We plot, we plan, we talk about writing, we read books about

writing, we edit what we’ve already written, we hang out in groups of writers hoping some of the starshine of successful authors will rub off on us and make us glow with writerly brilliance, we write blog posts about Edward Scissorhands, but we don’t actually find the time to write. So, this year, my New Year’s Resolution was to “Write like I mean it.” And by that, I mean to stop calling myself a fiction writer and start being a fiction writer. To follow Cruxim up with its sequel, Creche, this year (not in four years’ time). To stop half-finishing

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manuscripts, and to stop having gonna-do-itis. To put actual words on actual (okay, so Scrivener is virtual, don’t be so pedantic!) paper. One word at a time. One minute at a time. And so far, it’s working. Kind of. But I’m gonna do it, I swear it!

Oh, and Cruxim got a cover facelift this week too from the fabulous Eden at Eden Crane Designs, just in time for its first free run on Amazon from the 1st of March to the 3rd of March, so be sure to snag yourself a free copy, because that sequel WILL be along any moment you know. [Disclaimer: By “any moment,” the author wishes to advise that she means early April :-)]

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Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Writer self-doubt — we all get it!

A few days ago I promised a blog post a day — a promise that, if I’m truthful, I’m already regretting. I’m one of those writers notorious for not finishing what they started. And not just as a writer, as gym-goer or dieter I face the same problem. My initial burst of enthusiasm gradually dwindles. I’ll start again tomorrow, I tell myself. It’s just a temporary hiatus. But five works in progress (or 10 weeks and 10 kilos) later, I’m still on the bandwagon. So, at the risk of lapsing back into bad habits, I am posting today.

It might not be the most informative post in the world. It may even make you think: “Oh she’s one of those people — those big idea types who never finish anything.” But the thing is, I’m not always like this. As well as trying to find the time to write, I’ve been working as an editor for more than twelve years, working for traditional publishing houses as my day job (as a Senior Editor for the most part but as an inhouse author for the past three years) and spending my weekends and spare time working as a freelance editor, simply because I love it.  As a result, editing the work of others has often taken precedence over finishing my own writing.

When editing, I am extremely deadline driven and relish the excitement of working my way through a manuscript and the thrill that comes with finishing an edit on time and to the best of my ability. I regularly lose myself in a manuscript for hours on end, and I dislike interruptions and actively seek to minimise them. So where is the disconnect? Why am I so appalling at putting in the hard yards to finish my own work? Why am I so easily distracted by every tweet or post that pops up on my iPhone? Why do I sit staring into space cursing myself while my novel limps along? The answer is: I’m too close to my own work to be able to evaluate it successfully and I’m terrified of finishing it, which would mean I have to then subject it to a process that I know, from experience, is nerve-wracking: submitting.

My editorial training has taught me how to assess and appraise the work of others, how to pedantically mark up botched grammar and punctuation, and how to detect issues with plot, pacing and characterisation. Editing is a critical process that requires a certain kind of cynicism and circumspection, but when it comes to my own work, my critical faculties go into overdrive. Great ideas and interesting premises soon start to appear trite and unoriginal. Every word I write is wrong. And not just wrong, but WRONG! My work, I convince myself, is terrible. As a result I let trivial issues prevent me from writing and I turn instead to something I know I am good at: editing. That I am paid to edit (both as a freelancer and, in the past, for several traditional publishers) validates what I do. My own non-paid fiction writing comes with no such validation. It is subject to the whims of agents and commissioning editors just like any other author’s.

The annoying thing is that, despite my “inner critic,” deep down I know I can write. When not on maternity leave, I work as a non-fiction inhouse author and I’ve been paid good money to write more than 28 books — a luxury I am very grateful for. I’ve created funny, engaging storybooks for children, creative non-fiction, travel guides, natural history books and coffee table books for adults. I’ve sold lots of books. I’ve won awards. I’ve been well reviewed. I can write. What I can’t do is give myself a break.

I am my own worst critic. My worst enemy. The attention to detail and commitment to “getting it right” that make me a good editor distract me as an author. They prevent me from simply sitting and writing and worrying about the technicalities later. They make me go off on tangents and research a minor historical event for hours to ensure I have my facts straight. They send me scurrying off to compare points of style between the Chicago Manual of Style, AP and Snooks & Co. They force me to go back and reread my entire manuscript again every time I have let it go untended for weeks, which invariably leads to more line edits and fewer words added to the manuscript that day.

I need larger blocks of time, I tell myself (and that is partly true). I need the money that freelancing brings in, I tell myself (again, partly true). But the real truth is: I need to stop procrastinating and making excuses — whether valid ones or those based on the low self-esteem that plagues many writers.  Above all else, I just need to just shut the hell up and do it, even if I have only 10 minutes, even if what I write tonight is less than perfect. I’m sure this blog even operates as a procrastination at times! And with that, I’m off to write.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Editing, Procrastination, Writer's Block

 

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