June 2011 archive

Perceived writing obstacles — trust me, they’re in your head

About a week and a half ago, I was in San Diego for a few days. I was there for work, at the annual Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition. It’s during this event, every year, that I get the chance to catch up with some colleagues, which is one of my favorite parts of the event.
Some colleagues who follow me on Twitter, or who are friends with me on Facebook, knew about the goings-on of the last year of my life. Specifically, writing — and now publishing — my debut novel, Rock Star’s Girl. Several of them came up to ask me about the novel, and when it’s being released (late July, if you’re curious), which then caused other colleagues to learn about this endeavor. A couple of them, as it turned out, are closet writers.
One thing I learned about myself during those few days is that I think I’d greatly enjoy being a writing coach. Getting to chat with my writer colleagues, and being able to offer advice from someone who has been there, done that, and has come out on the other side with a novel ready to go, and another one currently being written, was deeply gratifying.
A couple of the things we talked about are common perceived obstacles to writing and finishing a large project, such as a novel or a screenplay. And I’m here to tell you that as daunting as the perceived obstacles are, really, they’re in your head.
The first perceived obstacle I heard was “time.” As in, not enough of it. I get that. I’m often asked where I found the time to write Rock Star’s Girl, and where I’m finding the time now to write my second novel. Most of you who know me also know that my job is pretty busy, and that I’m dedicated to it. So subtract those hours from the week, and the hours spent making sure my dog, Pico, gets the time and attention and love he deserves, and the time spent with friends, the time spent talking to family, the time spent at the gym or hiking, and the time spent just doing every day life things like grocery shopping, errands, cleaning, and so on (and yes, even sleep), and it surely seems like time left over to write novels would be non-existent.
Except, it’s not.
I think the first misconception would-be writers have is thinking they need huge blocks of uninterrupted time each day, or each week, to write. Here’s a secret: you don’t.
The thing about writing is, if you write every single day, even for only five or ten minutes a day, it is incredibly easy to just start and stop when you need to. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post to the blog, when you write every day, there really is no such thing as writer’s block. You’re not daunted by a blank screen. You don’t have those mental blocks about everything that goes from your mind to your fingers to your keyboard having to be utterly perfect, beautiful prose, with immaculate grammar and punctuation. You just don’t.
The important part is to make sure that when you have those five or ten minutes, or even the luxury of an hour, you simply get used to writing from the moment you turn your attention to it, and write. You’d be amazed at how quickly a sentence turns into a paragraph, and a paragraph turns into a page, and one page turns into two pages, and so on. If you just keep writing, you will get your novel or screenplay draft done.
Something I find helpful is to use the voice memos app on my iPhone. More recently, I’ve also installed the Dragon Dictate app. If part of a scene pops into your head and you can speak it out loud, record it. That way you don’t even need to be in front of your computer — you can write anytime, almost anywhere.
This leads me to the second perceived obstacle I wanted to discuss in this post: writing a novel or screenplay from start to finish. I’ve heard would-be writers say that they write pieces of things, or scenes here and there, but tend to jump around from one scene to something else that would occur far before or far after. Trust me on this one — it’s normal. Writing scenes in order is not necessary for completing a novel or screenplay, or anything, really. I’ve been writing since I could pick up a crayon (literally), and I’m pretty sure I’ve never written a single multi-scene story in order. Rock Star’s Girl most definitely was not written in order. Even entire scenes weren’t completed at once.
To add to that, most of my articles during journalism school were not completed by writing the sentences or paragraphs in order during the first pass. Term papers? Not written in order, from opening word to closing line. My Master’s Research Paper? Bwa hahaha. (That one wasn’t written in order either.)
Finally, there’s the prospect of writing something that long that can discourage writers from even attempting it. I’ve written about this on my blog before, and I can’t stress this strongly enough: don’t let the word count daunt you. Just work word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and your novel or screenplay will grow. Eventually, it will even be novel-length or screenplay-length. You’ll also find that in the process of writing, other scenes or plot intricacies occur to you, so you’ll go back and work those in. It all comes together.
If you want to write a novel or screenplay and are daunted by any of these perceived obstacles, know that you’re not alone. But also note that’s all they are — perceived obstacles, not real ones. So get writing.

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