I’ve been writing on and off for the past two years, and I have read countless articles about how to keep writing and get that book done. And I think we all fall into the trap of thinking that getting the book done as soon as possible is the aim.
I feel like the reaction drummed into us when we hear a writer talking about changing projects or abandoning a project is “No!” After all, you’re never going to finish if you don’t keep writing. I follow a writer online who is constantly changing projects without ever finishing any of them, and when I heard her tweet about changing projects for what felt like the 10th time “No!” was definitely my first reaction.
That kind of made me think. What happened to writing being fun? What happened to writing what you want to write? I’m sure we’ve all heard about a thousand people saying that writing isn’t going to be fun all the time, it’s a struggle, sometimes it sucks. All of this is true. But that repeated message quickly distorts into “you won’t enjoy writing while you’re actually doing it, only once you’re finished will you enjoy looking back on what you’ve written” which is a complete lie. Yes, when I sit down to write I don’t jump for joy because it’s bard work. It requires more effort than just watching TV or scrolling through social media (which are some of my favorite hobbies). But I am still so excited about the story I am telling, I love my characters, and I love the process of weaving stories together (even though I hate it when it’s not working out).
The times I have been most excited to write have actually been the times when I haven’t written for a while, when I have a bunch of new ideas, when I really want to tell a story. It gets to a point where I miss writing so much. And the times when I have been most excited to write haven’t necessarily been the times I’ve written the most, but they’re always the times I remember as my “best” writing moments.
That’s why I think this mindset that you just have to sit down and keep writing until you’re done, even if you don’t enjoy it, is so harmful. Why are we wasting all these moments when we really want to write about something just because that something isn’t the project we’ve told ourselves we’d work on? Especially when that feeling lasts for days and weeks and you reach the point when you kind of dread sitting down to write because this story feels dry in comparison to the one you’re wishing you could be writing. We all started writing because we loved it, right? And not letting ourselves stop when we’re not enjoying it anymore is only going to kill that love of writing.
Now when that same writer tweets about changing projects my brain doesn’t scream “No!” because at the end of the day they’re still writing, they’re still getting better at writing, and most importantly they’re having fun. Obviously there’s something to be said for sticking it out and finishing the book (or at least the first draft) but I think we spend so long telling new writers that writing is going to be hard, and not enough time telling them that it should be enjoyable.
The “finish your novel ASAP mindset” is basically married to this imaginary idea of the “perfect” writer. They’re someone who works on their writing every day and is always really passionate about their project. Someone who writes quickly but not too quickly because then we all get jealous. Someone who has a few projects under their belt but hasn’t taken too long to get published because otherwise it seems like they never will. See all those qualifiers I had to add??
This idea of perfection is such a narrow combination of an impossible number of factors, some of which are out of our control. None of us are going to be the “perfect” writer. Personally I struggle to write every day because I’m busy, tired, and just plain lazy. I’m a very slow writer who hardly ever has a plot in my novels. I’ve got far too many ideas that I want to write considering the amount of time I actually spend writing. And the only first draft I’ve finished so far is one I instantly started rewriting because it (1) didn’t make sense, (2) was meant to be a prequel so was told through a series of convoluted flash backs, and (3) was so stereotypical I could barely stand to finish it.
But that’s just looking at the negatives. There are plenty of things to be proud of in each of our writing journeys. I completed nanowrimo in 2016 by writing 8k in a single day. That seemed impossible to me even as I was doing it. I have over 150k of drafts for a single project (the one I keep rewriting) and yes most of it is terrible and unusable, but that’s a lot of words. I’ve found an outlining method that works for me and used it to plot two projects (even though one of them I have now abandoned). And I’ve written a couple of scenes that I’m really proud of.
I’m sure if you look at your own writing there are plenty of things to be proud of too, and I’d love to hear about them in a comment below. Different things work for different people, and maybe changing projects regularly works well for you and maybe it really doesn’t. They’re both equally important because all of us work a little bit differently, and that’s good. I think we all have to learn to be gentler on ourselves, let ourselves change between projects, or have a few weeks without writing, or take a while to find the story we want to tell rather than forcing ourselves to write write write all the time.
Do you agree?