Writing Struggles: Why am I doing this?

I hit a wall last night. I made it to 70,000 words on this project, and I just stopped for a moment, staring at my computer.

“Is this any good?”

I think the answer with most rough drafts is, no, but it could be. I try to repeat that to myself often. Rough drafts aren’t about finesse and perfection; they’re about throwing ideas on paper and seeing what sticks. There’s time to take scenes or sentences out in the editing phase.

Rationally, I know all of that. But as I look at my draft now, all I see are my flaws – I’m using the same descriptive words too much, I’m not fleshing out my villain enough, I’m not giving my minor characters enough to do, and my biggest fear, there’s just too much going on.

“Ugh,” I groaned to my husband. “This is just stretching out so much. I’m barely at the halfway point. I can’t imagine writing another 70,000 words.”

“What does it matter?” he asked, shrugging. “It’s not like you have a firm deadline.”

He’s right – there’s no one tracking me to make sure I get this done. I don’t have an agent or a publishing company breathing down my back, demanding that the story is done by a certain date. But I had set a date for myself of June 30th. It’s arbitrary, but that would have given me three full months to work on it, along with the sporadic times I worked on it last year when I started it. As Stephen King taught us, a first draft should be done in three months.

As I thought about my lack of a deadline, my mind leaped to another question: why are you even doing this? I don’t have to. This isn’t my real job. I’m not going to make money off of it. And, as we established above, it’s probably terrible.

So, what answer did I come up with? As you may remember from previous posts, I really struggle with the idea of calling myself a “writer.” I think a lot of self-published authors do. Maybe I’ll never consider myself an “author.” But I am a writer – I can’t imagine not writing (pardon the double negative). I have so many stories in my head, so many characters, so many scenes. I kept all of my ideas tucked away in my mind for years, until I write The Historian. Now that I’ve experienced the catharsis in the process of creating a story, I don’t know how I could ever go back.

Maybe it’s crap. Maybe I won’t sell a single copy. Maybe one of my beta readers will review it and say, “Not your best work.” But I have to keep writing.  I’m not doing because other people are telling me that I should or I have to – I’m doing this for myself.

Writers: Do you struggle with these thoughts? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep working in the face of self-doubt?

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A Writer’s Identity, Part 1: What Does a “Real” Writer Look Like?

This is a common experience of mine, especially at my full-time job. Someone will mention The Historian, and people turn to me, a surprised look on their face. “You wrote a book? No way! Why didn’t I know about this sooner?”

The short answer is that even though I have put it on social media, I’m not exactly broadcasting it. I told a few close friends at work about it. They read it, recommended it, and the word just spread.

When someone approaches me about the book, my first reaction is always to minimize it. “Oh, it’s really not that big of a deal.” I go on to explain that I just self-published (I have even uttered the words – “I didn’t get it really published.” I know, I know. I’m sorry). Why do I do this? Why can’t I just smile and say, “Yep, I’m really proud of it. I hope you like it!”

The truth is, as much as I hate to admit this, I don’t see myself as a “real” writer. I’m a lawyer who wrote a book. But I don’t define myself as a writer yet. There is still some part of my brain that believes that I can’t be a “real” writer unless I’m published through a traditional company, or unless I become as successful as other self-published stars like Hugh Howey or A.G. Riddle.

I know that this is complete crap. I know that there are many people out there, including many of you, who are in a similar situation to me, and they consider themselves to be “real” writers.

“But,” I say to myself, “a ‘real’ writer needs a better website. A ‘real’ writer needs to do more marketing. A ‘real’ writer needs an agent.” And on, and on. Every time I start to identify myself as a writer, self-doubt creeps in and reminds me why I’m not really one yet.

I need to stop this vicious cycle. I am a writer. It doesn’t matter what my blog looks like, how many Twitter followers I have, how many reviews are on Amazon or Goodreads – I am a writer because I write. I am a writer because I create stories, characters, and worlds. I am a writer because I take what exists only in my imagination and make it real through words.

That’s what a real writer does. The rest of it is helpful. But it’s not definitive. Even if you don’t have something published, you can still define yourself as a writer. If you spend your free time writing, outlining, brainstorming, or just imagining, you’re a writer! I need to start repeating this mantra to myself. I need to keep telling myself that no matter what’s going on with the business aspect of my writing, I am still a writer.

Have any of you struggled with this issue? What do you think makes a “real” writer? 

An apology to my NaNoWriMo project

Dear Camp NaNoWriMo Project,

I’m sorry. I know it feels like I abandoned you. We were going so strong, writing every day, and then, bam, nothing. I didn’t mean to ignore you for so long. I know that I promised you that I’d write a lot while I was away during the long weekend. I promised that I’d wake up early and knock out at least 1,667 words every day.

I did not do that.

But never fear, Project – we’re not out yet. At over 35,000 words, we’re still on track. 50,000 is not only attainable, it’s in sight. In fact, we might even hit 50K before the 30th.

More than that, I have plans for you. I know it might have seemed like I was a little sluggish. You haven’t seen a ton of action recently. But don’t worry – we’re just getting to the good part. You’re going to meet a couple new characters today and tomorrow, and I think it’s going to reenergize you.

So, once again, Project, I’m sorry for ignoring you. I promise I won’t do it again.

Committing to a Project

One of my biggest flaws as a writer is my tendency to be scatter-brained with my ideas. I think this is why I’m such a big fan of NaNoWriMo–the incentive of accomplishing something at the end of 30 days and getting that sticker on the website encourages me to focus on only one project. But when I don’t have that extra motivation, it’s hard for me to stick to one thing.

This mostly comes from the fact that I can’t turn off my brain to other ideas. Ideas for stories, characters, and scenes pop into my head constantly throughout the day. Most of them are worthless, of course, but some stick around. Sometimes, I’ll be on the train or in the middle of a workday, and I’ll think of a great scene in another project–maybe one that I’ve put to the side or one that I haven’t even started.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, my most effective way to address these ideas is to give into them–sort of. I keep a small notebook with me wherever I go, and when these ideas pop up, I jot them down, but I don’t feed into them any more. I just write down enough information so that when I come back to that idea, whether it’s in one day, one month, or one year, it’ll remind me what the idea was all about. Sometimes, that means I need to write part of a scene. I have dialogue or descriptions in my head that need to get out. But once that idea is written down, I can push it out of my head and focus on the project at hand.

The project I’m currently working on is tentatively called The Hylands. It’s about siblings who are brought together after their eccentric father dies unexpectedly, and since you should know my tastes by now, you know there’s something weird and creepy going on. I think it’ll into the science fiction and horror genres. I love writing these characters–they’re all weird, and they all have secrets. But sometimes, when I’m writing a connecting scene or I’ve been writing from one POV for awhile, I get bored. And boredom means writer’s block. So, I pull out my black notebook, cheat on my new project for just a bit, and get a burst of creativity from something new and exciting. I’ve found that when I do that, I’m able to go back to The Hylands with a fresh pair of eyes and get more accomplished.

What about you, fellow writers? Is it hard for you to stick with one project? What do you do to keep yourself on track?