There are countless blogs on the web that will spout of the truths/tips we’ve all heard ad nauseam. “Be authentic, don’t emulate anyone else”… “There is no such thing as writer’s block, but many people suffer from writer’s laziness”… “Never revise while writing your first draft”… and one of my personal favorites, “You can’t call yourself a writer until you can call yourself a reader.”
Although my truths have been discussed by others, they don’t show up in blog posts nearly as often as the ones listed above. So, let me share my own personal journey to a writing life.
- It is ALWAYS easier to spot mistakes in someone else’s work than it is to spot them in your own. Forget about setting your manuscript aside and attacking it in several weeks with fresh eyes. That works, but with only a degree of success. I went over my first book no fewer than 15 times. Complete read-throughs. Some, when I first wrote it and others more than a month later, after it cooled down. Each time, I found mistakes and corrected them until the last read-through. I found nothing. So off I sent it. It came back to me wearing more red than Santa on Christmas Eve. How did I miss so much? Familiarity. If our eyes pass over a mistake once, we still stand a chance of catching it during our next pass. But once we have skimmed over the same mistake multiple times, we are much less likely to recognize it as a mistake. You know what they say, we dno’t raed ecah lteter idvalunlidiy… but as a whole word. As long as the first and last letter are in their correct placement within the word, most people will still be able to read the sentence with relative ease. And that’s how our eyes pick up mistakes once we’ve incorporated them as words within the sentence. When we read someone else’s work, we haven’t poured over it for weeks or months, taking each letter into memory. We are reading it for the first time without all of the creative effects that come with writing it. Lesson 1: Don’t be cheap. Hire an editor. They are worth their weight in books!
- Thoughts and ideas are fleeting. We’ve all heard we should write down things that come to us at night because the chance of remembering them until morning is less likely than winning the Powerball jackpot with a ticket you found in the gutter and wrestled off a sewer rat. That advice is too vague. If you’re anything like me, you won’t retain an idea from the time you see it on Pinterest until you can open your note app without repeating it over and over in your head until it’s down and saved. Because, let’s face it, our brains are taxed with thoughts about home, family, work, appointments, et cetera, constantly. It’s like a never-ending loop. The random ideas that spring out of nowhere live on the fringes of our mind. Think in terms of a Merry-Go-Round. Home, family, et cetera, are the big things and they get the horses. The ideas that aren’t important enough to have their own horse sit on the outer edge and when the Merry-Go-Round (our life) picks up speed, those ideas get thrown off. Lesson 2: Invest in a voice recorder or smart phone with a recording app (or text notes to yourself if you like to type on small objects that test the strength of your eyes!
- Burn out is real. I’ve read the how-to books written by the experts that say (in essence) that a day away from writing is a degree of separation from your creativity. I agree with them, to a point. I have taken extended ‘vacations’ from writing and found it insanely difficult to get back to it when I was ready. I still wanted to write, I had it in me to write, but I had trouble putting my foot to the gas. Where do you begin? But, on the opposite side of the coin, if you never take a break, you will inevitably reach the point of fried brain receptors. What was once either a hobby or maybe a passion, will begin to feel like work. Hard, dreaded, daunting work. Take a day here and a day there. Nothing saying you can’t have work-related thoughts while you’re playing tennis, or walking through a museum. But, they will be casual thoughts (that should go directly into your recorder!) Staring at a computer screen when you’re struggling with burn-out on the inside will thwart any progress you would normally make. Lesson 3: Recess helps kids get through their day, recess helps adults get through their week!
- There is (some) merit in Victoria Beckham’s standing desk photo. (Even though I have ridiculed it in the past!) I began writing in 2001 after a riding accident. Fifteen years later, I am feeling the ill-effects of the time spent with my butt married to a desk chair. My lower back and hips have been at war with my creative energy lately so, I have made a makeshift standing desk by clearing off a shelf on one of my bookcases and using it as a desktop. Standing to work would never, ever, be my position of choice, but it has helped ease the hip discomfort. *In all fairness, I have to disclose the facts that I don’t rock stiletto boots while I work, and I don’t dress in couture while I work, and I certainly am not coordinated enough to walk on a treadmill AND type at the same time, but I do shake my bootie a bit to the Doobie brothers sometimes while standing in place! Lesson 4: Sitting isn’t the only position a person is able to write in. Give your butt a break and try it standing (but lose the boots!)
- Writing isn’t easy. Okay, cliched. But it’s even harder than many writers let on. The truth is, computers have made writing SEEM easy. Spelling and grammar check, even easier. Software like Scrivener… easier yet. Maybe that’s why a slew of new writers emerge every year. But, if those writers had to type out every word of their book on an old-fashioned typewriter in order to submit (because there would be no eBooks if there were no computers), 75% of those writers would never finish their book, if they started it at all. And, if they had to write their manuscript out longhand, 90% of those writers would find the art much less appealing. Yes, I took some liberties with the percentages, but the point is, computers, the internet, software, et cetera, has fooled many, many people into thinking that writing quality work is easy. Notice how I specified ‘quality’ work? (There is a lot of the other kind living in the land of Amazon.) Lesson 5: Unless your passion for the written word keeps you up at night, don’t waste your time staring at the computer screen. Go play with your kids, wash your car, plant a garden, or find a job that might actually pay off in the end!
As we all know, there are many more truths to the overly romanticized art of writing. Please feel free to share yours below.
Up next time: The negative side of writing – Phony reviewers and internet trolls. Until then…
Write to the ends of your imagination ~k.e. garvey