A few days ago I stumbled across this quote on Facebook and it got me thinking. At which point in my life did I realise that writing was more than a fun past time? And what do I do to keep it so?
I have always been a daydreamer and from a very young age was able to entertain myself and friends for hours playing make-believe. At nine years old I created my own personal escapism - a book about Bernie, the dog and his friends. Bernie was the dog I would have loved to have and by letting him have adventures in my head, it was almost like he was real, even if he came without the need for daily walks, brushing, and feeding.
A year later my grandparents, my cousin, and I went on a holiday and my cousin, being several years younger than me, became terribly homesick. To keep him distracted I spent the long evenings in a hotel high up the mountains, far off from civilization as we knew it, telling stories. Silly little things, about the ghost that was rumoured to haunt the hotel (particularly the very room my cousin and I shared - thank you, grandma, for handing me inspiration on a gold platter), about the mountain on whose side we were currently staying (don't ask me how, but I distinctly remember a story, where the mountain came to visit the hotel and demanded a drink of whisky), and many others. Did that make me a story teller or even a writer? Not in my mind.
It took years of my mum encouraging me to participate in writing contests (and me not listening - until the day I did and actually landed myself a page full of my own words in the local newspaper), and it took the Lord of the Rings fandom and some very talented and encouraging people to have me catch the writing bug. Yes, it was still only fanfiction, but at that point at least my mum had realised that writing was my calling. My mood was what tipped her off.
"You're grumpy today," she would tell me during one of many phone calls shortly after I had left for university. "How long has it been since you last wrote anything for fun?"
As is often the case with me, I was rather slow on the uptake and I thought it coincidence. But after a while I realised that there was a pattern. No writing equalled bad moods.
Shortly after that revelation I had an idea. It began with "What if...?" and ended with my own idea of magic - one that, until then, I had not seen realised the way I imagined it. That idea has stuck with me ever since early 2006 and while I did not expand on it straight away, it has steadily grown in my head ever since. That story concept was the moment I realised I wanted to be a writer.
What made me a writer is all down to the last three years, when I finally shoved aside all my fears of not doing the story justice and sat down and wrote, working not just on that story, but on many others too. It's not always easy and time, in particular, is a huge cause of reduced writing momentum and lack of creativity.
Another is confidence. Particularly with my current piece I've had more downs than I had ups. I'm only about 10k words from the end of a first draft and still I have moments when I feel like burning the whole thing. I already know that this is likely going to be the most editing intense piece I have written to date, but I am determined to make it good and do the story in my head justice.
Lastly there is motivation. To me, motivation comes in two forms. One is internal - the part that keeps me excited enough about the story to keep putting words on paper. The other is external and comes in the form of encouragement and a sense of somebody outside my living room caring for what I come up with, be it in terms of actual story and novel writing or in the form of a blog.
So, what did I do to keep myself going in the face of my three main adversaries?
TimeI set myself a word count goal. That goal is deliberately low, set at only 200 words a day. Why? Because I ended up much happier and more motivated if I managed to double or triple my goal consistently for a few days, than if I looked at my 1000 words daily goal and realised that I had not met it for the third time running.
I also started carrying a notebook with me wherever I go. Sometimes I jot down scenes, dreams, or bits of dialogue. At others its observations, unfamiliar words I come across in my reading, random ideas and "what ifs...?", or descriptions of places and people I see that day. It's a great way to always have your writing tools to hand.
ConfidenceWhenever I struggle with my writing, particularly if I'm still in the "putting words to paper" stage, I remind myself that this is just a draft. It's an info dump, a big chunk of words that will be chiselled away at in the edit. It's only after several drafts that the true form will begin to take shape so, if I haven't found it yet, I'm not all the way there.
I would place writing advice in this category as well, though sometimes if I'm down in the writing dumps that is the last thing I want. But on the whole, writing advice, if it's packed right and does not take the shape of "you must write this way or it is wrong" (which is not good writing advice anyway - nothing ever absolutely has to be done a certain way), can help boost confidence. I have mentioned the Writing Excuses podcast before and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Listening to this podcast has helped me look at my own writing differently, improve what has been there, and given me new ideas. And it's always a good feeling when you realise the creative well has not run dry.
Another thing to keep in mind is that friends and family, particularly your alpha readers, are very important. For one, they build you up when you've hit a writing slump - and sometimes even bring ice cream. More importantly, they are a sounding board for ideas. I don't know how many hours I sat awake with my OH bouncing ideas off him, or how many emails went back and forth between me and one of my alpha readers beginning with the lines: "So, I had this idea about...." and ending with "What do you think?"
And finally, in the case of your alpha readers, they will see things. Plot holes that you have edited past a dozen times without noticing, character inconsistencies you have become blind to, pacing problems you are no longer aware of because after a while your novel turns into homogeneous goop and your brain supplies the pacing it wants to see even if it isn't there. In short, they will add a fresh breeze to a draft that has grown stale.
MotivationThis I find to be the most difficult hurdle in my aim to be a writer, especially on the days of low confidence when questions like "Does anybody even care?" loom large in my head. Rejection also comes into play here and, I fear, this is one thing every writer needs to accept. Unless you are VERY lucky, your manuscript will definitely get rejected a few times.
When it comes to dealing with motivation issues, I don't really have any advice to give. What keeps me going on those days is that sense of happiness that comes with writing. In the end it does not matter whether the words are good or bad. As long as I have been writing, there is a sense of elation and a feeling of accomplishment. I know in my heart that I want to create, that I want to tell stories, and maybe bring a smile to someone's face in doing so. To me, that need to write, that fulfillment that comes from writing is what it all boils down to.