I may have an English degree. I may be a writing teacher. But I’ve come to understand that I have oh so much to learn, and it’s humbling.
This is both an epiphany and a relief. Before I came to understand how much I didn’t know — and learned to feel comfortable enough to admit that — I was feeling so much pressure to be perfect I wasn’t getting anything written. Since admitting my deficits, I’ve been in learning mode and my creativity has shot through the roof.
With that, I’ve decided to throw myself into my first full novel … yes, I’m going to complete this one! And what better way to start than to join in the craziness of NaNoWriMo?
Is everybody right?
As I feverishly work away to prepare for it (8 days away and counting!), I’ve come across a crazy amount of advice, tips & tricks, and experts insisting their way is the only way to go.
It’s not just about being a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’. (‘Plotters’ plan down to the last detail and know their plot before they even write a word. ‘Pantsers’ are also called organic writers and they will argue that the story takes care of itself and that you have to let the characters make their magic.) Once you decide you’re one or the other, there are skills, habits, and rituals to consider. Some even say that if you “don’t have time” for these things, or if you don’t want to do them, then you should question your status as a “writer”. Yes, some advisers can be quite passionate.
Oh, and then there’s the advice about what absolutely MUST be in your story and exactly where it has to be placed, down to the precise page number and word count position.
And we can’t forget the tools. Aside from my trusty notebook and favorite pen, I eventually settled on Scrivener and mastering that is part of my pre-November 1st rush. (It really is extraordinary and I will share much more about it at a later date.)
At first, I appreciated all of the advice. I may have read hundreds of novels, but this is only my second attempt at writing one. I’m still somewhere in the first 5,000 hours of my 10,000 hour journey to ‘mastery’ (a la Malcolm Gladwell). So, knowing all of that, I found myself opening numerous browser windows and downloading countless spreadsheets. At one point, I even reflected on how lucky I was to be learning at a time when I could access so much free expertise.
But something happened to me at around 5 pm yesterday. I crashed a little. Not a lot, because I was still functional. But enough that I had to step away; my brain shut down. Fortunately, I had already planned to go out for dinner with one of my best friends and she had absolutely no connection to my work as a writer. I didn’t talk about it once, not even for five seconds. It was left behind at home, in my office, with the lights off. When I got home, my husband and dog greeted me before I even stepped out of my car. We went for a walk and then curled up together to watch a documentary about Stonehenge. Again, nothing to do with the writing.
It’s not that they’re not interested in what I do. And they both know me so well that if something is up, they can usually spot it before I do. They just don’t press me. They don’t ask questions. Both of them have watched me risk the new and unusual in my life a number of times, and come out unscathed. (It’s one of the advantages to being a little older; we’ve proven our metal a few times!) They trust my judgement and, most importantly, they trust me.
Don’t forget to trust yourself
This morning, the lesson I was coming to learn was reinforced when I received an email that said, ”Unless you’re writing for a very specific market … there are no absolute rules for writing fiction. Instead, there are artistic choices that you have to make as an author.” That part in bold was final confirmation. I love when the e-world sends me a sign!
So, go ahead and learn. Knowing what other professionals are doing is good; build your toolkit. But, you are an artist and you can’t forget to trust yourself.
Today, I went back to playing and creating. A little calmer. A little wiser. Don’t get me wrong, I will still turn to all of those experts because they really do have something to offer.
But, then again, so do I. And so do you.
Does my story remind you of a moment when your ‘people’ helped you get back on course? How do you deal with the overwhelm of your writing project? Please share in the comments below.
Closely tied to feeling overwhelmed by all of the expert advice out there is what Jeanne Kisacky calls Literary Hypochondria. I love her conclusion: don’t “get lost in the ocean of writing advice … answer the questions for yourself.”