Lately, my writer friends have been admitting — albeit with somewhat guilty looks on their faces — that they have, for whatever numerous reasons and justifications, abandoned one project for the attractiveness of another. In their confessions, and the expressions on their faces, I deduce that they are believing that their sudden ADD is somehow wrong. That they’ve broken some kind of unspoken, unwritten rule on what defines a writer. That somewhere there exists a manual that trains us how to be writers.
In my experience, such ADD is completely natural. It’s the self-judgment that’s unnatural.
Being a writer is difficult enough.
Non-writers tend to think it’s all glitz and glamour, thinking perhaps of those writers who manage to reach New York Times bestseller status. And in seeking out a similar status for themselves,aspiring writers tend to be too easily led into believing things that may or may not be true.
Writers conferences tend to foster this type of belief behavior. Listening to participants wandering between sessions, one often hears contradictory statements such as:
“Well, so-and-so just said that we should be doing it THIS way.”
“That’s not what I heard,” says another. “We need to be doing THIS.”
And so on.
We’d be so much better off in the beginning in learning to meditate and trust our innate intuition and instincts when it comes to our personal creative process. Because no matter how many hundreds or thousands of books there are, or accomplished writers spouting their own way of doing things, there truly are NO WRONG WAYS to write. You have to decide what your ultimate goals are — traditional publication, self-publication, writing for family only (in the case of biographies and memoirs) or to be the next American Idol of the writing industry – and then focus on learning what works best for you. Not through listening to every other person, who’s sure to have a personal story or anecdote or “right way” of reaching our goals. Our goals are personal. Our processes are personal. And the results come from experimenting and figuring out what we best respond to.
We writers, as a collective group, tend to be largely insecure. We sometimes tend to possess a herd mentality. We chase after those who seem to have figured out some enormous secret about writing success. And those writers are more than happy to espouse on their “tried and true method” of certain success.
And we lap it up like thirsty dogs. We run out to buy books on writing, thinking that there will be some golden nugget of wisdom buried in their pages that will be the ONE THING we needed to hit it big.
The reality is much different. Writing is hard work. There is an apprenticeship we find ourselves having to learn (in some cases…I have, however, read a few self-published tomes that were truly horrible), and then journeyman, and eventually, if we’ve done the work, learned the lessons, and practiced until we thought our fingers would fall off, we master the craft.
The creative process simply exists. It does not conform to logic or someone’s rules. There are certain truths to the art of storytelling, though those truths are constantly being bent and broken by other creative types who see things differently than anyone has before. Society tends to either celebrate those rebellious creatives, or we vilify them for trying to change the status quo. But those rule-breakers first had to learn what the rules entailed in order to break them.
For the most part, we have come of age in a time when we’re led to believe that we cannot do things on our own. We are not talented/smart/creative enough to figure it out for ourselves. We’re told that we must follow the major league team members if we want to experience their success. The fact that most of us never see that level of success never factors into the lopsided equation. We’ve come to believe that all we have to do is get our writing out into the world and we’ve become the next American Idol.
Many of us have forgotten that the creative process is unique to each one of us. That the first writers didn’t rely on such advice. The late George Carlin once stated, “It’s hard to start your own path. You have to hold the grass down yourself.”
Your process is whatever you decide it is. If you started a project, but get sidetracked momentarily by another, seemingly more attractive thing…there’s a reason why it came to you at the time it did. And to ignore it might be to lose that particular idea in its pristine form.
My own process is not so focused. At different points in my career, I have worked on as many as six concurrent projects, thinking that was how I needed to complete them. Over time, I understand the “peeling the layers” school of thought in which all our personal writing is inherently connected, be it by theme, character types, plot, etc. So when working on one project, I’m peeling away layers of memory within me that has taken generations to create in the first place, like geological layers of ourselves that must be mined. And working on Story A, we inadvertently unearth pieces for stories B, C, D, and so on.
There’s no reason to ignore them, believing them distractions. They’re coming up because we are ready to move forward with them. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. That’s no reason to ditch Story A to work on Story D, though. When I’m working on a story now, I want to honor and respect it completely. By allowing writer ADD to take over, I dishonor and disrespect Story A. However, that doesn’t mean I ignore the information coming through. I simply must create a form of discipline for myself so I’m not all over the map. The other stories will wait. And I ask them aloud to do so. It sounds something like this.
Wow, that’s a great idea! I’m going to write it down in my idea journal and come back to it later. I know you’re eager to write more on Story C, but right now, I’m working on Story A. So I hear you, and I want all the ideas you come up with, but understand that I want to give you my full attention when I’m more ready to do so. Do you mind hanging out while I finish Story A?
I don’t feel self-conscious about having these inner dialogues with myself. After all, I’m a writer, and there are a constant parade of ideas and characters clamoring for attention. However, I’M in charge of the writer’s body, so I must allow my creativity to come out and play in an organized way. On days I don’t “feel like” working on Story A, I will look at my idea journal and draw momentum from it. My reward is a well-written, focused and engaging story that I hope others will enjoy. In that way, I don’t get so distracted that I abandon the work I’m wanting to complete.
Having said that, I would never pretend that I know the “best” way to writing success, just because my process is tailor made for my personality and character. I would no more try to imitate Stephen King’s writing process than I would imitate yours.
In attending a number of conferences every year for a decade, this is the personal wisdom I took away with me. I am not anyone else. My process is unique, and highly individualized. I have my own rituals, needs, and way of expressing myself. It would be disrespecting my own process if I admitted that I don’t know how to be a writer. At some point, we make up our minds that we ARE writers, and we set about figuring out what that means to us. My only word of caution is to say that finding your own way is going to always be the BEST and MOST DIFFICULT way. Because in order to understand our process, we must first understand ourselves, the ways in which we allow ourselves to sabotage our efforts, or our antics in allowing the internet to distract us from the day’s writing, etc.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Ever. Do what you need to do to feel that you’re progressing. But always keep your SELF front and center, and don’t lose your identity because someone else said to do it their way.