There are so many writers out there telling us what we should/must do in order to be successful. I am grateful to everyone who is willing to share in order to help others find their way. But I am somewhat less grateful to those who couch their advice in terms of “should” and “must.”
I believe that all of us find our own best path when it comes to how we get things done. For some people, their best path is one that takes more time – seemingly wasting time to others who appear more efficient. For instance, some writers write multiple versions of scenes before they decide which direction they want to go. Other writers decide first and write one draft. Who has the best path? Sometimes the easiest way to understand this concept of finding your own path is to use something you don’t do well as an example.
I don’t cook very well. I have a few dishes that I can make pretty tasty every time – I just made John and Doug bacon-wrapped meatloaf for dinner – but mostly I despise cooking only a little more than I hate cleaning up. I would LOVE to be wealthy enough to have someone cook and clean for me every day for the rest of my life!
So when I do cook, if someone or something convinces me to try something new, I have found that I should double the prep time. One time, it took me 2 1/2 hours to prepare lasagna wraps out of the “easy” Betty Crocker cookbook. The prep time in the cookbook was 45 minutes. John was pretty starving hungry by the time we ate that night.
Looking at something I don’t do well and rarely enjoy, it’s easier to see how to adjust other people’s “should’s” to work for me, easier than trying to apply it to something I do pretty well and enjoy, like writing. Following me so far?
Stephanie and I were on a writing retreat once where she did all the cooking and I did all the grocery shopping. I ate like a Queen that week! Steph laughed at me so many times when I gushed about how good her food was, and she kept insisting it was so easy. She eventually learned that cooking is not easy for me.
Now compare all the writing advice you’ve heard. I’d guess that over 90% of the advice you hear works for the person who said it. (I suspect that some people tell you what they believe to be the best way to do something even though they haven’t been able to be completely successful doing it that way.) But just because it works for someone, or lots of someones, doesn’t mean it will work for me or for you.
Take writing every day for example. I do believe that working consistently is the best way to build structure and habits and routines that will get you through the hard times when you don’t know what to write, or when life keeps you from writing as much as you used to. But I don’t believe every writer needs to write 5 or 6 or 7 days a week, rain or shine or Christmas or funeral, in order to be successful.
I’ve found that a menu system works better for me. I work every day, 4-7 days a week, but I don’t write every day. Some days I’ll write for 8 or 10 hours, other days I’ll do other “business of writing” work for the whole day. My brain works smoother and more fully when I do only one or two major tasks a day. I’ll spend an entire day doing a week’s worth or a month’s worth of accounting rather than take a few minutes every day. That’s the menu item I chose on that day. On another day, I’ll choose to write all my blogs for the next week or two. On a different day, I’ll spend most of the day researching, reading, and journaling to get my thoughts stirred up or organized.
So how do I know when I “should” write if I don’t have a specific schedule? Well, first let me say I’m curing myself of the “should’s.” But how do I know if I’m choosing what Stephanie calls creative procrastination or if I’m really procrastinating or being lazy? That’s a tough question. I don’t have the answer for me, let alone you. But I will say that asking yourself the question in the first place will often give you a gut feeling as to which one you’re in now.
Most of you know I’ve had a pretty tough year. Several funerals, several periods of unemployment, financial hardship, two moves, it’s been all I can do to keep from wallowing in self-pity let alone try to keep to a writing schedule. On the one hand, I have the feeling that I haven’t gotten much done this year. On the other hand, I wrote stories for two anthologies that will be out later this year, brainstormed a new series of books, worked on getting Little Miss Lovesick into print, and attended two writing retreats and a national conference. I’ve also been learning how to run a publishing company since I’m self-publishing my books.
Under the circumstances, I feel pretty good about what has been accomplished! I’m working on getting more of a schedule going, creating a printed menu of work for each month, and in general getting more done starting this week. But I’m still not going to force myself to write every day because that’s not how I work best.
What should you do this week? Begin by tossing the word “should” out the window. (I’m not saying you definitely “should” but I think you’ll find it helpful.) Then look back over your writing life and your regular life and look for patterns when you felt like you achieved the most and were happiest. That’s where you’re going to find the answers for you.
I need to find some time each week for silly fun, some time for TV and movies, some time for reading fiction and nonfiction, some time alone, and some time with other people. Some varying amount of each of these help me to get the most work done during the week.
Looking over your life, what do you think will work best for you?