Monday, April 25, 2016

HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER! BY PRESIDENT KATE MCMURRAY



New Yorkers are busy folk. 

I feel as though everyone I know is always trying to juggle a dozen balls—myself included. All this activity can make it hard to find writing time. However, it is absolutely possible to write more without losing sleep or burning out. And I think that’s something we career-focused writers should strive for: writing harder, better, faster, and stronger, and improving our process and our finished novels as we go.

In March, I read two writing books: 2,000 TO 10,000 by Rachel Aaron and WRITING FASTER FTW by L.A. Witt (both are short and available as ebooks, and I definitely recommend them). I read both books in part because I was putting together a workshop on how to write better first drafts, and I thought these books might have some tips. They did, but they had some useful advice for me, too, and also take somewhat different approaches to writing faster.

One bit of advice from both books is to use your time more wisely.

Aaron recommends keeping a detailed log of when you write, how long you write for, where you are when you write, and how many words you wrote in that time. When she did this for herself, as she details in the book, she discovered that she wrote more per hour if she wrote for several hours consecutively, and she was most productive in the afternoons when she turned off her wifi. She explains that this isn’t necessarily true for all people (it’s not for me; I’m more on my game first thing in the morning) but the point is to keep track so you can determine when your most productive time is. Which is to say, you don’t have to carve more time out of your already jam-packed schedule in order to write more, but you should assess when your most productive hours are so you can make the most of that time. It’s not about writing more, it’s about writing smarter. Then guard your writing time—don’t plan other things during it and minimize distractions.

Witt talks in her book about those distractions. We all know what a time suck the Internet can be. How sometimes “writing” means browsing Facebook for three hours. There are also often environmental things that keep us from writing: your chair is uncomfortable, your back hurts, you have a headache, the neighbors are playing their music way too loud, your kids are screaming in the other room, and so on. Sometimes, the writing just isn’t going to happen. But sometimes you can get up and fix those things so they aren’t distracting you.

To me, it’s about priorities. Writing is one of my first loves, and if I could do it more, I would. I sometimes prioritize writing over things like housecleaning, although I haven’t quite mastered the art of time management yet, especially having just started a new job. So I read these two books about making the most of your writing time, and I sat with their advice for a little bit.

 
Aaron says in her book that, if writing isn’t a joy for you, you’re doing it wrong. Which is to say, yeah, sometimes you have hard days. But the reason you sit in that chair every day (or however often you write) is that you love it. Writing is a difficult career to succeed at—it’s a lot of work, it’s competitive, and sometimes it pays in Styrofoam packing peanuts—but a lot of writers get into it for love. They love writing and storytelling, love developing characters, love the time spent living in other worlds. So writing should always be something that brings you joy, or at least some level of satisfaction. It should be fun.


It’s not always. I know that. I find deadlines debilitating sometimes. I have days when I feel like the worst hack. Sometimes I’ll sit down in the chair and the words just won’t come, or I’m stuck on something, or I’m procrastinating on revising because I know how much work it will be.

Here’s one takeaway from Aaron’s book, though. She challenges us to ask why? When writing is not joyful, why is it such a struggle? What is our resistance, what are our blocks? One suggestion she has is that often writers block is born of the fact that we don’t know what comes next. An easy solution is to spend five minutes with a notepad working out the next scene and figuring out what you don’t know. As an avowed plotter, I can testify to the fact that having a plan is so enormously helpful in combatting the dread blank page and the cursor blinking at you mockingly.

But Aaron argues that we need to look deeper for the answer to that why. What are our blocks? There are a lot of possibilities worth examining. Insecurity is one; that’s something Witt talks about in her book. The trick, Witt argues, is to silence that insecurity. One way to do that is to realize that every writer has insecurities, but they power through them anyway. And so can you! Another possible block is impostor syndrome, something a lot of creative women suffer from—it’s that “I’m not worth” feeling, or the sense that you’re not worthy of praise because you’re a talentless hack and everyone else is delusional or lying to you, something I am well familiar with—but focusing on writing the best book we can is one way past that. 

We block ourselves in other ways, too—assuming we won’t be successful, or that no one wants to read the kinds of books we’re writing, or that we just can’t compete with all the other books being published. I try to believe that all things are possible, because these kinds of negative assumptions definitely hold us back and impede our progress. It’s hard to summon the energy to write if you don’t think you’ll be successful, you know? But you definitely have it in you to be a successful writer. Yes, even you. It just takes some hard work and elbow grease.

More to the point, you can’t publish a book that hasn’t been written, so sit down and write it! In other words, take the time to work out what is holding you back, or what is making writing hard or undesirable, and work on those things. Then when you sit down to work on your novel, the words will come easier.♥


Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America; and as Vice President of RWA/NYC. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com

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