Sometimes I wonder what happens in a writer’s planning that makes it so easy to fall off track. No matter what our writing goals are, so many of us fall apart at some point down the path. Essayists get stuck in brainstorming, novelists are overwhelmed with character development, and memoirists lose their mojo half way through a story.
One nasty setback can derail a writing project by weeks or more. But, every element of life comes with the risk of failing: our professions grind us down, our kids forget to eat their veggies, and our waistlines expand with each slice of pizza. So, why do we push through the everyday challenges of life but find it so much harder to stick to a writing routine?
Having worked with writers as an instructor and coach for 20 years, I believe that a poor plan sloppily executed will sink any writer’s dreams. OK, so if it takes a poor plan and sloppy application to ruin a writing practice, what exactly does that mean? Take a look at a few of the ways that a writer, any writer, can derail their dreams.
I genuinely cannot make sense of writers who do not read. That is up there with chefs who do not eat, tailors who do not wear clothing, and skiers who do not like snow. How does a writer not read and expect to be able to write? I really do not understand.
Strangely this phenomena is fairly prevalent. I meet writers who have something to say but are unwilling to read the messages shared by their contemporaries. Due to the complications of modern life: pervasive technology, busy schedules, and lacking creative communities, some writers can hide under the idea that their messages are paramount in importance in the literary world.
There is no settled rule about what writers should read, but avoiding reading altogether is a certain step on the road to failure. Failing to read separates a writer from the writing community. Writers who fail to read fail to make an effort to connect with the greater community of writers, fail to observe what good writing looks like on the page, and fail to open themselves up to the growth process to be had from the writing process. Writers who do not read will not write for long or successfully.
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Books, films, and stereotypes have created a popular image of a writer as a tortured artist who types away in a grimy basement apartment into the dark hours. We have bought into the idea that writers are socially anxious, awkward, and even anti-social creatures. We tend to think of a writer as a lone wolf without a single friend to provide comfort and understanding.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Some writers take time away from the noise of life to attend a writer’s conference or to spend a couple of days working on a book project. But overall, writers a highly social, caring creatures. If writers did not care so much about the world, we would not write, because one of the reasons that we write is to make a difference.
Writers who connect with other writers are not only better connected professionally, but they are better supported in their communities. Writers who pound away in the dark room of loneliness are missing out on the opportunities of local workshops, writing mentorships, and courses that can help them develop their skills. Writers who avoid other writers are missing out on one of the best methods of keeping the mojo flowing.
I’ll write when the feeling moves me.
I’ll write when I get around to it.
I’ll get to some writing later on.
I don’t feel like writing today.
Have these words ever escaped your lips by chance? Regardless of what genre we choose, writing can be hard work, and for some people, when the work gets hard, they tend to avoid the task. When we avoid that which is hard, we leave the paths that lead to our goals. Writing a novel, a series of articles, or a letter to a friend can be incredibly hard work. Writing is an activity that pulls from every energy source people have: the emotional, physical, mental, and philosophical. It takes a lot of grit to write.
Without accountability, would we show up to work on time, stop ourselves from eating a second slice of cake, or bother heading to the gym? Perhaps not. But we know that we could lose our jobs, gain a few pounds, or lose our health muscle mass if we do not follow through.
Writing is the same. Writers need some kind of accountability. Sure, there are some people out there who are doodling on napkins, jotting down stories during the commercials, and cranking out novels at breakneck speed, but most of us need at least a little nudge to stay on the path.
Create accountability by working with a writing partner and sharing with each other what you accomplish. Join a local writing group, especially one that expects you to write in between meetings. Attend writer’s workshops; these are available both in person and virtually. Keep track of your daily word count and set goals around how much to write on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Avoid Taking Chances
Ineffective writers stick close to their comfort zones. They avoid trying new things, they push mentorship and challenge away, and they spend an amazing amount of time making excuses for not meeting their goals. They do not take chances.
A few years back, a friend of mine shared a novel idea. I offered to be a writing partner so that we could encourage each other and gave her some ideas of how to use the writing process. She then spent the next three years complaining about how I got her off track, and in those years, she made no progress on her novel.
As writers, our craft makes life an ongoing challenge, because no matter what is happening in our lives, we still have the drive to put words to paper. And considering that a novel can easily take a year or more to compose, sometimes we may feel like avoiding challenge may be the easier path.
Writers cannot know how well they write poetry if they do not take the chance to sign up for a poetry workshop. They cannot consider their options with a memoir if they vehemently stick with short stories. And they cannot improve their skill sets without considering working with a mentor or editor.
We all get stuck in a rut now and then, and we are all challenged by the intricacies that the writing life has to offer. But at the end of the day, we still want to write; the drive to write is what makes us writers. So, if being a successful writer is of interest to you then, read, connect with other writers, hold yourself accountable, and take chances in your writing practice. You do not know what you are made of until you push yourself.
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