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? 

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day 24

The end is near.

It’s hard to believe that we only have 7 days left in the month of April. That means that you (yes, you) only have 7 more days to reach your Camp NaNoWriMo goals!

After an embarrassing lag, I came back strong this week. My word count is now 45,809. I hit two records this week: on Tuesday, I wrote 3,120, and yesterday, I wrote 4,450 words. Part of my spurt is due to wanting to hit 50K, but most of it is due to my story. I’ve just written a crucial turning point (that sparks the entire rest of the story), including a grisly scene where half of my characters are unexpectedly killed. It’s been great knowing you guys, but you need to get out of the story in order for this to properly move along.

My total word count on the project is about 56K at this point. As I keep writing, I think the final word count may be around 110K or 120K – those are absurd numbers to me. I’ve never written anything close to that. But I’m finding this time around that the more I write, the more ideas come into my head. As I’m writing a scene, my mind is finding ways to twist the plot to add more tension, set up more obstacles for my protagonists. I’m sure that this will all get narrowed down when I finally edit the completed version, but for now, it’s write, write, write.

I’ve accomplished a huge goal this month in that I think I’m finally letting go off my fear of writing. Sometimes, I’ll write a scene, and I know it’s not great. I know it probably won’t make the final cut. But I want to write it – I want to get those words out, even if they’re not perfect. Even during my first NaNoWriMo, I found myself editing during the writing process, fixing my verb tenses and taking out words that didn’t quite fit. Nope. Not anymore. A first draft should be an idea, fleshed out and on paper (well, on a Word document). It doesn’t need to be pretty.

How are your months going? Anyone else close to their goal? Anyone just giving up?

Book Update: Available Now on Kindle

Good news!  My book, The Historian, is now available on Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Historian-Rachel-Bohlen-ebook/dp/B00OZ85SI2/.  I’m hoping to have the paperback version available later this week.

I’m trying to balance being proud of myself for developing a finished product and constantly reminding myself that it’s “just” self-published.  No matter what, I’m still proud that I actually finished a book and polished it to the point where it’s acceptable for people to read, but I still find myself correcting my friends when they say congrats on publishing — “It’s just self-published,” I tell them. “Not really published.”  I know that I shouldn’t say that, but I do.

I’ve never been someone who is eager to have other people read my work. This may seem counter-intuitive for someone who claims they want to be a writer, but I think that other writers out there may understand.  Of course, a part of me wants people to read my work (and, I hope, love it), but the potential for harsh criticism has held me back.  That’s even held me back from putting myself out there and telling people that I enjoy writing at all. Creating this blog and my Twitter account were huge steps for me.  Saying to the world, “Hey! I love writing!” gives the world the chance to say, “You? But you’re not good at it,” or, the worst, “But you’re not a real writer because you’re not published by a traditional company.”

My expectations are realistic: this is not going to make me money. I don’t expect to be the next Hugh Howey or A.G. Riddle, those wonderful self-publication success stories.  I just want to be proud of my work, and I want to feel motivated to write more.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying, my book is available, and I’ve been told it doesn’t suck. Hooray!

Defining Success and Failure

Putting yourself out there is scary in any case, but it’s especially terrifying when it’s something you truly love.  It was hard to tell my husband, my family, and even my close friends that I wrote a book and actually wanted to publish it.  I still haven’t told some of my close friends, and I haven’t let most people read it yet.  I mean no offense toward them by this – just the opposite.  There’s almost something less scary about giving your work to a stranger to evaluate.  If Bob Jones on the Internet doesn’t like what I wrote, who cares?  But if my mom or my best friends think this is complete crap, what does that say about the work and about me, as a writer and a person?  I think there is something in the back of my head that says if I fail as being a writer, it’s a strike against me as a person.

The first step toward changing this mindset is to redefine what failure and success are to us.  If we think that failure is failing to become a bestselling novelist, well–we’re probably going to fail.  Writing to get rich and famous probably isn’t going to work, just based on the odds.  If success only comes with a publishing deal at Big 5 company, again–maybe that won’t happen.

Of course, we should all strive to be the best at what we do. But when I went to law school, I didn’t define “successful” as going to Yale Law School, getting a Supreme Court clerkship, and then someday becoming the Attorney General. I couldn’t do that, because I would have been setting myself up to fail.  I defined success based on my own terms and my own interests.  I’m in the exact job that inspired me to go to law school, so I think that’s a slice of success.

So, why do we, as writers, let commercial success be a guiding post about whether we’re good or bad?  Maybe I’ll never have a publishing deal.  Maybe I’ll self-publish all of my work.  Maybe my mom won’t like it.  But here’s how I’m going to define success:  I can finish an entire project (done!), clean that project as well as I can (pending!), and hold a printed copy of that book in my hands (soon!).  I want to adjust my lifestyle so that I’m making time every day to write a little bit, and I want people–even if they’re people I know–to read my ideas and evaluate them.

Success doesn’t have to writing the next great American novel.  Success can be as little as one person reading and enjoying your work.