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What Makes You a Writer?

Tea


There are few other professions aside from writing where people claim to do it when they never do.

What if I were intrigued with medicine after watching the entire TV series House, so I spend the next month thinking about going into the medical field. Maybe brain surgery.

That’d be cool.

So at the next party I go to, when someone asks me what I do, I naturally tell them I’m a brain surgeon.

That would never happen, because I don’t do surgeries, which is kind of important if you’re a brain surgeon.

Then why is it so common for people to claim to be a writer when they don’t write? That seems counterintuitive to me.

With every other career or hobby, you have to actually do it, not only think about how great it’s going to be once you actually do it.

I’ve spoken to so many people who claim to be a writer, then when I ask where they’re at with their book (or whatever project they’re working on), they tell me they haven’t written in a few months (or years). All I want to say to them is, “You’re not a writer. And it doesn’t sound like you want to be either because you don’t write.”

I don’t judge at all. I really don’t. Because I’ve been there.

Do whatever the heck you want to do. But if you tell me you want to write, or you are a writer, and you just don’t write… Well that doesn’t make any sense to me.

I think my natural tendency is to be a little harsh on that mindset because that used to be me. And it held me back.

I lived in California for a while, and I got connected with a screenwriter over there. At the time, I hadn’t written in almost two years. It was a lost passion of mine. But I still called myself a writer.

We were talking about writing, so the screenwriter asked me, “When do you write? What are your writing habits?”

And when I couldn’t answer him right away, I was so embarrassed. Because I realized that I wasn’t a writer. I wanted to be a writer — at least I thought I wanted it, but not enough to actually write.

Question(s) of the day: Are you a writer? Or do you want to be a writer? What does that look like for you?

24 Things: The Real Reasons Why Writers Don’t Write

Woman Working

Don’t you just hate not writing?

Especially during November. Even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, it’s impossible not to feel the galactic pressure that thousands of writers around the world are writing more than you are.

That kind of makes you feel like crap.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo, and within the first week, I fell behind by three days. Three days might not sound like a lot, but oh my goodness gracious, at 1,667 words a day, that’s a lot of words to catch up on.

So, last week I told my friend I’d give him $50 if I wasn’t caught up by midnight tonight.

I’ve been incrementally catching up all week, hitting huge word counts each day. Then I got sick and missed two days.

Funny how lack of sleep affects your health.
Yesterday I wrote about 5,400 words. I did it in three huge writing blocks, one in the early morning, and two in the evening.

I only need to write 2,200 words today before midnight to be completely caught up, so I’m pretty sure I’m safe.

Yay.

But seriously. There are some days I’m eager to write, and others where I suddenly become amazing at household chores because I’ll do ANYTHING that’s not writing.

I know if I don’t write, some reasons are legit, most are total bullshit. Sometimes I blame “creative blockage,” “I just need a little bit of space from my characters,” or “writer’s block.”

When in reality, it’s usually just fear or laziness and I’m justifying it with logic to make myself feel a lot better about myself. Saying, “I’m not going to follow my dream of finishing this novel because I hate writing right now,” can be difficult to say to myself.

So, I came up with a list of actual reasons writers don’t write.

All the “creative juices aren’t flowing” bullshit out of the way:

  1. You’re scared that when you start typing, what comes out will be the written equivalent of a pubescent voice crack
  2. Your computer has internet access… and it turns out there’s a lot of websites on the internet
  3. Making you a modern day Marco Polo
  4. You had a long day at work and you’re brain is exhausted… for a month and a half straight
  5. You’re scared you’ll prove to yourself that you’re not able to finish a novel, so you fizzle out to save yourself the seemingly inevitable pain of failure
  6. You just had a large meal. Now you need to digest
  7. You have a certifiable case of FOMO
  8. And all your friends are having fun. Right now. Without you
  9. Your main character reminds you too much of yourself
  10. So now you hate him/her
  11. You’re too busy on the phone with your therapist because your main character exposed so much about yourself
  12. You’re in the middle of plotting your next best-seller
  13. Netflix just released that one childhood movie you haven’t thought about in a decade. But now you MUST WATCH IT
  14. You decided you hate writing
  15. You feel untalented and outshined
  16. So you’re scared to put yourself out there, even to yourself
  17. Finding a consistent time to write would take like 25 minutes to plan. And that’s way too long
  18. You started a new diet and exercise routine that really eats up your time and energy (pun intended)
  19. Your regular writing spot is either taken or not an option today. Well, there goes today’s word count
  20. You haven’t outlined your novel so you have no idea where you’re going next
  21. You decided to pick up a book in the same genre as the one you’re writing, and you realize that they’re 100 million times better than you
  22. You’re bored with your story, and that scares you, so you’d prefer to ignore it and hope the feeling goes away
  23. You’re too lazy to keep up with the daily word count
  24. You picked up a new hobby, basket weaving, and it’s taking up the majority of your time — because it’s easier to do and you don’t hate yourself when you see the finished product

If you’ve not discovered this already, writing is an incredibly self-exposing task. You’re forced to face your fears and insecurities. And if you aren’t facing them, chances are you’re hiding.

Your writing, and your life, will be much better once you face your inner demons.


Question of the day: Why don’t you write? (For me it’s either Youtube or Netflix. I freaking love funny videos, it’s unhealthy)

What I’ve Learned From Falling Behind in NaNoWriMo

Consistency.

It’s everything.

Everything else is secondary: plot, creativity, talent…

If you don’t write every day consistently, you will lose. Simple as that.

I’m a few days’ work behind.

But I will catch up. I will not give up.

I will conquer NaNoWriMo. This time next week I will be caught up or I will pay my friend Nathan $50.

I know he’ll see this. And he will hound me for it.

But I’m determined to win, to beat this goal, so much that I’m setting the stakes higher for myself to drive me forward so I will not compromise.

NaNo this year is going really well. I’ve had a couple plot breakthroughs. It’s challenged me so far. I’m developing my characters in new ways.

I’m excited and hungry to win.

 

Question of the day: Are you doing NaNo? How’s it going so far for you? 

5 Ways to Deal With Self-Doubt as a Writer

Girl


Self-doubt

Don’t you love it?

Well it sure loves you. It must, since it’s hanging around so often, whispering sweet nothings in your ear when you try to focus. Try to write. Try to plan.

You’re a terrible writer. People will judge you. Do you even know what you’re doing?

Or whatever that voice tells you.

Mine usually jumps to the worst-case scenario immediately. It never starts small like, “Your friends will judge you.”

It starts about a hundred and seven steps past that.

My first thought is something like, “Holy shit! You’ll be sixty-seven years old with a stack of half-completed manuscripts and half-completed dreams piling and seeping out of the hall closet, behind Christmas decorations and other seasonal oddities you never touch. Pudge lopping out of your gym shorts. Children who are taught to recite: ‘I’m sure this book will be the one, Dad!’ in an effort to ebb the nagging self-doubt that’s crippled for so long.”

Yeah, that’s about my first thought. If you haven’t found this out yet, I’m super dramatic. I doubt your first reaction is that dark and that specific.

We all have self-doubt. Whether it’s as dark and specific as mine, or if it’s a fear that your agent will dump you after her first read of your manuscript… doesn’t matter what it’s saying.

But it does matter what the hell you’re gonna do about it. You’re not going to let that voice boss you around, are you?

Your thoughts shape your beliefs. And your beliefs shape your reality. Think toxic thoughts long enough, and you’ll become toxic.

Here’s how to kick self-doubt in the ass.

  1. Reframe your mind. You cannot eliminate that voice from coming back. But you can change the way you receive it. Instead of thinking of it as speaking your future over you or your inevitable demise, recognize it for what it is — fear and lies. Move past it. Speak truth over yourself in courage. Claim something higher for yourself and believe for it.
  2. Recognize what’s realistic and unrealistic. If your self-doubt is that you’ll get a rejection letter from a publisher one day… sorry to break it to you, but that’s realistic thinking. However, if your self doubt is saying that out of all the publishers out there, no one will like your drivel. That’s unrealistic. I’m sure someone will like your drivel.
  3. Take small steps. A win, no matter how small, will give you momentum that can carry you on towards your next win. It’s a snowball effect.
  4. Don’t live by someone else’s goals. Example: someone you know writes 2,000 words a day so you feel like that needs to be your goal. Do whatever works for you.
  5. Surround yourself with support. Sometimes you need to hear someone say, “I believe in you!” I know I need that every now and then. More now than then of course.

Don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t work immediately. It takes time to reframe your mind. You have to train your thoughts in a healthy way. According to Dr. Caroline Leaf, it takes 7 minutes per day for about 21 days to solidify a thought in your mind into a more permanent state or reaction to something you habitually think about in a negative way.

So meditate on something positive for 7 minutes a day that goes right in the face of your doubts.

Dare for something greater. Or collapse into something lesser.

Your choice.

Question of the day: Am I crazy for dealing with self-doubt? How has it affected you?

How to Know Your Characters More Intimately

Books


Despite your personal opinion on structuring a novel vs. going with the flow, we can all agree on one thing: if you don’t intimately know your characters, you’re screwed.

Then the million dollar question is, how do I get to know my characters better?

Sure, you can answer 101 questions about what holiday vacation your character’s family went on in 1988. I don’t know about you, but I find that super boring.

There are many lists of questions you can use to flesh out your character and tons of different scenarios to drop them in to get to know them better.

This approach is something I learned recently, and something that surprised me at how effective it was. I felt like I knew a well-rounded character within 5 minutes of writing.

I think it’s so effective because instead of thinking of who I want the character to be, I imagine the environment they have around them. It seems so much easier to imagine, and the items they have speak volumes about who they are.

I would recommend using this in tandem with something a little more exhaustive, but this is a fantastic starting place. I was writing a short story, so this is what I came up with in 5 minutes for my character:


Name: Joe.

Brief description: Boring name for a vibrant personality. He’s 37 years old and goes out of his way to prove how young he is. Stronger than his belly would suggest. Average height, average build, piercing blue eyes.

Describe where he lives as if he’s talking:  “My loft is in a neighborhood you probably haven’t heard of. It’s an up-and-coming place. A lot of young professionals. Give it a few years, and it’ll be the hot spot of Chicago.”

Fear: Being average Joe.

Flaw: Flaky, and doesn’t care.

Strength: Passionate.

What are 3-5 things in his fridge right now? 7-week old whole milk, Ethiopian takeout box, and spicy ground mustard that has no shelf life.

What are 3-5 things in his medicine cabinet: Rogaine, a scale, and three different canisters of Axe body spray.

What are 3-5 things in his closet: Gym shorts with the tag still on it, a wide-necked Spanish shirt in a loud green, and a baseball cap.

What are 3-5 things in his car: Chipotle cups in the backseat, high school sweetheart’s mixtapes in the glovebox, and unused golf clubs in the trunk.  


Question of the day: How have you gotten to know your characters?

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