The best thing that ever happened to my writing life

I’m not great with metrics but I think it’s fair to say that I wrote more this year than I’ve ever written in my life put together, except maybe the year I did NaNoWriMo. I wrote at least once a week for Parent Co., which was my main gig, plus I wrote regularly for a couple of other clients, I took a couple of writing classes, and there were, of course, my irregular blog posts here. Writing frequently with deadlines constantly looming was (not surprisingly) the best thing that has ever happened to me as a writer. Here is what I learned this year…

1| There will always be something to write about
It’s true. Yes, there were moments I thought I had nothing interesting to say or that everything worth saying had been said before and with more wit, humor, and clarity than I ever could manage. But then the time would invariably come for me to give my editors a slew of pitches from which to choose my next assignments. When the choice was a) mope around feeling bad for myself and my poor little uncreative brain or b) think of some goddamned ideas already, b always won.

2| You have to believe 
I believe in manifesting. In other words when we look for something we’re going to find it. Is this new age bullshit? Maybe yes, maybe no but it works. Do you think all the bad stuff always happens to you? Do you think you will fail in the face of a challenge? You’re probably right. Are you convinced that life is amazing and beautiful? You will find joy in the most unexpected places. (True story: Dan often turns to me in the car and says “Aren’t fossil fuels amazing!? We are so lucky.” with this huge grin on his face.) Even when I wasn’t sure if I believed it, I forced myself to say these words in my mind: There is an abundance of ideas. Is it magic? I don’t know, maybe. I believe in that, too. (You guys, I AM THE ACTUAL TOOTH FAIRY. BELIEVING IN MAGIC IS ONE OF MY ESSENTIAL JOB FUNCTIONS.) What I know is that once I started telling myself the ideas would come, they did. And the more I came up with ideas, the more confident I felt that there would always be more. Other things I believe: There will always be a way to get paid for my work, my work matters to more than just me, my mom, and Dan, and I can resist the pull of Facebook, email, and Instagram while trying to work.

3| The voices get quieter
If you’re a writer (or a runner, or anyone who has ever done something hard), you know the voices I’m talking about. When you sit down at a blank screen (or show up at a race or do anything hard), they say you’re not good enough. They ask you who you think you are. They want to tear you down. But when you have a deadline you don’t have time for that. The more I practiced ignoring the voices the quieter and quieter they became until I finally got to a point where they got out of the way and just let me write.

4| Its okay not to be perfect
The more I wrote, the more comfortable I got with letting things be imperfect. That’s not to say I was okay with putting my name on shoddy work. I always submit work I’m proud of. But if you don’t set some kind of limit, you could be tweaking your work forever. That’s not hyperbole. I literally mean forever. You have to accept that there will be aspects of your work that you will wish you could edit after publication, and that is okay.

5| Embrace the cringe
I cringe when I read my early blog posts. It was 2007. I was 28 and dipping my toes into creative non-fiction (that’s fancy for blogging) for the first time. Some of those early posts are okay, some are mediocre, and some are awful. It was a few years after I wrote them when I started to realize that. And there are articles I’ve written less than a year ago that I’d like to edit the crap out of now. I’d delete whole paragraphs, save certain ideas for a whole new article, trim all the fat. But I consider this a good thing. It’s not just a sign that my work could have been better, though it is that, too. That I can recognize the flaws in my writing is also a sign I have grown as a writer.

6| Do what works
I have wasted untold hours on the internet searching for the secrets to productivity, creativity, and how to win at life. Wading through all the pretty infographics and Facebook discussion threads only made me feel inadequate. Successfully managing my deadlines made me feel like a rockstar. Working backwards, I ask myself, what “methods” worked for me? The same methods that have always worked for me; having an external deadline, breaking my tasks into smaller chunks, slotting those sub-tasks into my available free time, using low-tech methods such as a bullet journal (e.g. glorified spiral notebook) and an Excel sheet. I’ve also found—and this is a new one for me— that forcing myself out of bed at stupidly early times to write when the house is quiet and my mind is fresh works for me. I just don’t think well after the kids go to bed and staring at a screen before bedtime sometimes messes with my sleep. Also, it is a luxury to feel there is nothing I “have to” do after I put the kids down, as far as work. I’ll take the little luxuries where I can get them.

2 thoughts on “The best thing that ever happened to my writing life

  1. Nina says:

    All stellar advice! I love hearing about how things have gotten easier. I really do feel that writing begets writing. When I take big breaks, it gets harder to get into it.

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