How I keep writing

Last night, a great friend sent me a message and the jist of her questions was how have I kept writing? She’s referring to my 500 words- a -day odyssey. It got me thinking. So in answer to her, and others who have commented on my ability to forge ahead, I came up with this list of motivators and suggestions.

1. Fear. I will never forget that episode of Friends where Rachel is once again hating her job at the coffee house, and Chandler tells her “you have to feel the fear,” meaning if she was really going to go for it and do what she wants, she needed to quit and let the stress of being without a job compel her to find what she really wanted. I’m not advocating that kind of fear, exactly. My fear is that not writing will leave me stuck in a job, that while I am totally grateful to have (Take note, Universe) much of the time I HATE, and it’s because I am stuck teaching composition, which anyone who teaches will tell you is like the 4th or 5th ring of Hell. So for me, I keep thinking “I will finish this novel, it will be great. I’ll get that three-book deal with the five-figure advance (I’m trying to be semi-realistic here) and I can tell them all to fuck off.”  So you don’t teach, so what. Apply that to your own situation. It’s the fear of being stuck that counts.

2. Getting old. Every time I see one of those “Hot writers under 30” lists I want to lose my mind. What the hell does someone under 30 know about life anyway? Karen Russell published her short story collection when she was like 26. What the fuck does a 26 year old know about anything other than Justin Bieber and how to use a beer bong? Okay, yes, I’m a bitter old “Not Hot Writer Under 30.” I admit it. Point being that each year that passes is another year off my potential career, at least until we get this whole dying thing figured out. Each year gets me farther away from some list that makes me feel like an old prune. I really do not want to make the “Wish She Had Published Before She Died list.”

3. OCD. I have it. I admit it. I have never met a lock I did not have to check two or three or five times to make sure it was locked. Car, office, house, padlock, prison cell. Whatever. I’m a freak about it and I really don’t care. The point is I use some of the freakishness to get myself “in the chair.” How do I do that? Read number 4.

4. Word Count. Some people, including one of my favorite profs ever and soon-to-be thesis advisor Dan Barden stresses time as a measurement. Writing an hour a day. And that works for some people. It does not work for me. And here’s why. I need tangible proof I did it. And going by word count does that. Yesterday was a tough day. I had to get a mammogram, take my fiancé to lunch, and then get ready to drive to an hour and a half to Butler University for class. I decided that I would not try to push much over the 500 word count. I got to 593, and it took me around 30 minutes. That’s the bare minimum I would settle for. When I do more, it’s closer to an hour. So really, the two methods do overlap. But the key is finding what works for you. I can’t tell you that word count will save your literary soul. I can only tell you that it did mine.

5. Set a goal. This goes hand-in-hand with #4 for me. So my 500 word count journey was simple: I wanted to end the summer with a 60,000 word first draft. It’s modest draft. But I know that in revision I will add words, so that doesn’t discourage me. I set a time frame. May 1st to September 1st. Four months to write a draft. One of my profs told me that was ambitious. Maybe. I’ve done it in less time. It sounds like I’m going to have to get addicted to meth to some people for me to accomplish this. I did the math: it came out to 488 words a day. I rounded to 500. Now, if your goal is to write a 100,000 word draft in that time, I’m sure I can find a dealer who will sell you meth at wholesale prices. But why the fuck would you kill yourself trying to write a huge first draft when you’re only going to have to butcher the shit out of it anyway? Just say no.

6. Write every day. I know, you’ve heard it all before, from EVERY freaking writer on the planet. And I used to think it was an utter load of toad crap myself. But trust me, IT WORKS. By constantly focusing on the characters, the plot, each day ideas will come. They really do. And most, if not all, will surprise you. Just go with it! Let your imagination have free-reign, God knows we have that squashed the rest of the day by our bosses, parents, kids, the media, the schools. By freaking LIFE. You will shrivel if your imagination is not set free each day. It causes cancer. Trust me. DO IT. And remember, you don’t have to work on the SAME thing every day. Novel driving you crazy? Work on that short story you’ve been tinkering with. Write a poem. Write blog entry. Just write. Every. Freaking. Day. I will give you a pass if you’re in the hospital or there is a death in the family. If you fall off the horse, the fuck back on as soon as you can!

7. Make the time. Someone said “Time waits for no man.” And that’s true it will march on whether we’re standing on the sidelines or riding in the pace car. If you really want this, you have to make the time to do #6. I do not work the normal 9-5 job. I am so freaking lucky. And I know this. But as a teacher, I also sometime work longer days than that. And during the school year, it is freaking hard to find the energy to make the time. I refer back to #1 to get me motivated. If you are working all day, examine what you do all day for a couple of days. Are you taking 10 cigarette breaks? Quite smoking! Are you freaking crazy? Those things will KILL YOU. Take all the time you waste ingesting carcinogens and fucking WRITE. There are programs that people use during March Madness to hide their bracketology from their bosses. Use one! What are you doing for lunch? If you sit at your desk anyway, why aren’t you using your time to do something that will get you out of that dead-end job and into the life you want? Seriously? What about after work? Or before? Sometimes I write at night when Glee and Castle are not on. It’s a matter of asking yourself “How badly do I want this?” SO bad it makes your teeth hurt? THEN DO IT. “Not bad enough to give up Facebook for 30 minutes a day?” Well, then I suggest a career in quilting or telemarketing. If you don’t want it bad enough to sacrifice freaking 30 minutes a day, I have wasted your time to this point. Do not pass #7. Collect zero dollars and zero publications.

8. Be accountable. Tell someone. Do not keep it a secret. Secrets will not get you on the “Published Before She Died List.” TELL SOMEONE. It’s what I did on Facebook. I said, here what I’m doing. I post the word count every day. Did I think that anyone would read it? No. Did I think that anyone would really give a flying fuck about me and my stupid word count? Uh, NO. But guess what? People did read my goal. They DO care. And that keeps me accountable. Would I have done it if no one ever “Liked” or commented on those counts. Hell yes. Because you just never know. I’ve had people tell me I’ve inspired them or shamed them into working. So now, they are accountable to me. 🙂 It’s one of the joys of social networking besides reposted pet videos and morbid, depressed, self-loathing status updates. It’s a web of people who will readily bust your balls for slipping up. I really would rather keep my balls intact.

9. Have a Muse. I know a couple people who do not believe in the idea of a Muse in the spiritual sense of the word. That’s fine. I do believe in Muses, along with angels, ghosts and Big Foot. But that’s not really the kind of thing I’m going to talk about here. Maybe in another post. What I mean here is find a flesh-and-blood Human Being. For me, it’s my fiancé Ray Buechler. He is my sounding-board, my reader, my “idea man.” He gives me suggestions, gives me ideas, gives me honest feedback. I swear at some point I will have to put him on my work as “co-author.” I have NO idea what I would do without him and to think about it makes me nauseous. The thing is find someone in your life who believes in you more than you believe in yourself. Who cares what you’re doing, who wants you to succeed. That may be a tall order. But that person is there, waiting for you to ask for advice. He wants to feel included. Include him! Or her! And if you have trouble finding that person right away, know that I care. If I can’t be there physically to guide you, think of my ass parked in the chair, straining over every word, and know that I don’t want you to give up. That might be enough to at least get you over the hump. 🙂

I’m looking at my watch. It’s been exactly one hour and a half since I started writing this. I have written over 1,780 words. Am I done for the day? I could be. But that novel is waiting and I want to get it done. I’ll take a break, let the words regenerate in my mind. I will play on Facebook and waste a few minutes. I will rest. Then I will get back to work. I’m not getting any younger for god’s sake.

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