What do you do when the last thing you want to do is write?
For me, there's no time this is more likely to occur than when I've committed to write something. Once I've promised to complete a project—whether that commitment is to a class, a publisher, or someone else—I suddenly feel like I'm walking underwater. My inner child rebels: But wait, what if I don't want to do that? Now I have to?! I find every reason to suddenly make the most complicated carrot cauliflower soup recipe I can find on the Internet. And I don't even really like soup.
I've experienced this sensation this week. I was plagued with self-doubt this week as I worked on my next novel, and yet, I did manage to 25 (handwritten) pages. Part of me is proud of this and part of me thinks I should have written more. But the proud voice is nicer and a better companion as I sit here typing this with a glass of wine, so I'm choosing to listen to *her.*
In the vein of celebrating those 25 pages that didn't exist before this week...how did I eke those out?
By sitting down and writing.
Just kidding—I hate when people try to make it as simple as a command (even though it may be true).
How I actually did it was by letting myself have fun. When I wanted to write in limited third then suddenly switch to a different character's limited third then BOOM—snap into omniscient just so I could make a foreshadowing remark as the narrator, I let myself. I let myself write two pages of dialogue with nothing else, no context or single use of "said". I created a silly hobby for one character just because it struck me as a funny thing for him to do.
Since when I sat down to write, I would fill with a kind of dread-fear-worry mashup, I rewarded myself for taking that on by letting myself be playful on the page.
While I don't yet know if this particular week's writing will make the final cut come revision time, I do know that by consciously trying to have fun when I sit down to write, I remember how to be creative in the first place. In other words, a commitment to having fun with words is, in effect, a commitment to let creativity do the driving. It's a sneaky way of stepping out of the way.
So this weekend, I hope, if you find time to write, you enjoy yourself. It makes it all the more likely your reader will enjoy reading your words, too.
PS - There's a giveaway on Goodreads this month for my upcoming novel—we're giving away 50 early copies, so your odds are high if you enter! :)
This past week I've been in New York, and on Tuesday I found myself back in my old neighborhood at my old favorite coffee shop. (We moved to Nashville a few months ago for my husband's grad school program, but we lived in New York for 10 years before that.)
Sitting there drinking coffee brought back my world two summers ago, right after I'd had a baby and sold a novel on proposal (literally on the same night). I was thrilled, of course, to have sold it. But it also meant I now had to write it. And as a brand new first-time mom, writing felt the most daunting it had ever felt. I was under-slept, very emotional, and full of questions about who I was in the world now. I also felt inexplicably guilty for leaving the baby at home while I went off to write, which my breasts would remind me of by filling up with milk and aching as I tried to focus on things like narrative voice.
So I did the only thing I could: I made myself a daily goal that didn't feel too scary. I would write, by hand, 10 pages a day.
Every day after my son turned six weeks old, I found time to go to this coffee shop while my mom, husband, or friend watched the baby, and I sat on a hard, wooden stool and tried to tune out the teenagers skipping class at the nearby arts high school while I thought, Mary, you can get to 10 pages. Some days it took me only an hour; others it took me two or three.
And in this way, I finished a draft. Specifically, 90,000 words in 6 months.
Just over two years later, this week I sat in the same coffee shop and thought about how the greatest feats are possible when we tackle them in increments.
You don't have to write 8 hours a day to write a book.
You don't have to write every day to write a book.
You don't have to quit your job to write a book.
You can write a book in a few pages a day while sitting on an ergonomic nightmare piece of furniture, having slept 5 hours the night before.
The question is...do you want to?
For me, finishing my first novel meant trading in a job that didn't allow me time to write for one that did. This came with a big pay cut—I went from being a lawyer to being a tutor (which is what I did before I was a lawyer), but it was so worth it. You can hear more about that story in this video:
But not all steps toward completion are so dramatic. Equally important were all of the little choices I had to make along the way. Choices like:
I'll leave you with a quote from Julia Cameron about the power of creative decisions: Learn to accept the possibility that the universe is helping you with what you are doing... Expect the universe to support your dream. It will.
My second novel Privilege (out in March) sold the night my son was born. I had him at 7:30 PM, and the next morning I awoke ("awoke"—hahahahahahaha—I was sleeping next to a newborn; we were up all night) to an email from my agent that my publisher had bought it on proposal.
Suddenly I had a kid to keep alive and a novel to write.
It took me six weeks to feel up to the task of diving back into writing. When I finally picked up the chapters I'd already written (a proposal includes sample chapters) before giving birth, I was struck by an observation I'd never had before about my writing. It was obvious and alarming: I hadn't given my main character any moments of joy.
As a brand new mom, joy was what I wanted most for my son from the moment he was born. That discovery led me to notice its presence or absence in my characters' lives as well. I wanted to give them joy—and not just because I liked them.
Joy is one of those things that makes life worth sticking around for. Narratively speaking, its power is that it is something to lose. When we give our characters moments of joy, we instantly deepen the stakes.
You may have heard the writing advice to "chase your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them." It generally means make things really bad for your characters so that the reader can root for them to get out of whatever dire straits you've thrown them in. But if what was on the ground to begin with wasn't anything to celebrate...is being stuck up in a tree so bad?
So I now say—chase your characters up a tree, but first, give them something to lose, something to yearn for...give them a moment of joy.
On another topic, today on my channel you can hear my thoughts on that wonderful and terrible writerly influence--feedback from others.
Hope you have a wonderful long weekend—and happy writing!