Competitive Writing

Early in the year, when I was all gung-ho about publishing and marketing, I was reading a lot of blogs with advice for new and aspiring authors. There is one piece of advice that has – in a way – stuck with me, niggling at the back of my mind.

The tip that the blogger was attempting to impart was that, in order to be “competitive” in today’s market, a writer should be producing two novels and a short story each year. That’s two complete, polished, ready-to-publish novels and a complete, polished, ready-to-publish short story. The reasoning seemed to be that if you didn’t have something coming out every 4-6 months, the modern reader would grow bored and forget all about you.

Wether this is true or not, it still bothers me. Admittedly, I am the kind of writer who needs deadlines, I can’t and won’t deny that, I am a woefully unmotivated writer. Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking that anyone who can nail 5,000 words in a breezy day of writing wouldn’t need help finishing anything, and yet here we are.

So, surely, this benchmark would seem like a good thing for me? This kind of thing that I could strive for? After all, surely the faster you can write books, the more money you could (theoretically) make, right? Well, maybe that day is still yet to come for me, but in the meantime, I found this little ray of hope:

GerogeRRMartinGoodBooks

Yes, A Song of Ice and Fire is insanely complicated, and I’m not even close to being in that league, but I have a little faith in my readers that, even if they forget me in between novels, I found them once and I will find them again.

BONUS! Check out this Buzzfeed on how George R.R. Martin will destroy everything you love (caution: spoilers).

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My Own Worst Enemy

Writer’s block. It seems to plague even the most prolific of writers. That creative stoppage that keeps you from moving forward.

The trouble with writer’s block is that it is only a symptom. The disease is far more insidious. There are thousands of tips, strategies, techniques, & exercises for overcoming or by-passing that looming sense of “not knowing what to write”. The thing is, dealing with the block is simple. Dealing with what caused it is another thing altogether.

I haven’t done any real work in quite a while now. I’ve entertained dozens of distractions – some of them constructive, some of them highly enjoyable – but, at the end of the day, they are exactly that: distractions from the real task. Ways to get around doing writing.

I could say that I’m stuck, & that wouldn’t be entirely untrue. It is a fact that I’m not sure how to connect where I’m up to with where I want to go, but I already have a favourite way to deal with that.

The real problem is one of motivation.

Whether it is self-doubt or procrastination or just the lack of discipline, the heart of the matter is that I could be working, I just haven’t been. I really do enjoy writing. I just wish I was better at making myself do it.

Writing Inside the Box

My current project is giving me a lot of trouble, more so than any other story I’ve attempted before. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that’s blocking the flow, but every time I look at my story, I feel lost.

Some writers are like architects: everything is beautiful and precise and structured. Some writers are like gardeners: their ideas grow more organically. I am a rather disorganised writer, my ideas are like seeds that I germinate and encourage to grow and bloom. While the main thrust is ever upwards, there are branches that I go back and cultivate or trim as I need, pruning and grafting until I have a complete form.

I usually start with a sentence and let the words flow out of me, happy to be carried along by the stream. Occasionally I come back to fill parts in, rearrange sections, & add scenes I thought of later. This has never bothered me before. I have never planned out a plot from beginning to end, more often than not, I have no idea how a story is going to end until I’m at least halfway through. This hasn’t bothered me either, except that you can’t really write a blurb when you don’t know what the point of the story is going to be.
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Illegitimate Research

For someone who spends so much of their time writing, drawing, painting, and dreaming, I seem to lack a certain creativity. Ideas come to me, on occasion, and I carry those ideas out to the best of my ability. But, when it comes to actually trying to ply my craft – to think of something to decorate a blank canvas or decide where a story is going to go – I am an empty vessel.

In light of that, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’m not much of a planner. My characters do what they want to do, how they want to do, & I let them. In my early endeavours I was often surprised by the things my protagonists got up to & never asked where my tales were going, I just went along for the ride.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Research is essential to good writing, so many details – from tiny throw-away lines, to great over-arcing world-building – to pinpoint & refine. Authors need to have answers to questions asked & questions unasked – by the story, by the characters, by the readers. The bigger the world, the more science in the premise, the more work a writer needs to do, & it can be a lot of work.

For the most part, I do my research on the fly – I have a question, I go find the answer. If I’m lucky I’ll find it quickly enough & everything proceeds the way it’s supposed to. When I’m not so lucky I get distracted by wikipedia links & end up finding out a lot more than I intended & writing a lot less that I should have.

I am embarking on a new story idea. I’m not sure if it is by accident or design (probably a little of both), it involves far more research before beginning than I’m used to. But some types of research are worth more than others.

This new story touches on a genre that I love, but have never tried to write before. So with the excuse of needing to “research”, I’ve been spending hour upon hour reading TV Tropes, all the clich├ęs to avoid, & the ones I can touch on without making my story awful. It’s been fun, but it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, I have been trying to read more – reading is an essential, probably the single most important – weapon in the writer’s arsenal. With work and games and sleep and movies and TV shows and writing, it can be amazing that I have any time to keep up with just my favourite hobbies, let alone all the fringe hobbies I like to indulge in.

So, here’s to stopping procrastinating & actually getting the writing part done!