Today is the first Monday in August – how did that happen? Today I open the blog to your questions about any aspect of writing and publishing, and answer them here. The blog is read by many terrific writers who add their thoughts or experiences. Post your questions and ideas, argue with mine, share your war stories. This is the day, heck, sometimes the whole week.
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To kick things off, I’m addressing a problem all writers share – dealing with our inner grumpy brat. You can be a New York Times bestseller or an emerging writer, but sooner or later Grumpy Brat Writer will appear, usually when you’re facing a deadline or a contest closing date. You need to be ready. Just like a parent in a supermarket when their toddler throws themselves down on the floor and screams blue murder, you need coping strategies to stop your Grumpy Brat Writer from winning the day.
Here are 5 things you’ll hear Grumpy Writer Brat whine:
1. I don’t wanna
GBW never wants to do anything, especially if it involves work. And most writing involves a LOT of work. GBW would much rather play with her friend, Google, on research sites. Even then, she may start out on topic and be distracted by the first shiny link that comes her way. Which leads to another link and another until your research topic is a speck on the digital horizon. She also loves toys. Solitaire is to GBW what Lego is to most toddlers, and just as hard to get them to put away.
The solution: GBW loves rewards. Don’t wait until the end of a project (or dog forbid, a whole book) to reward her. Give her little treats along the way. They can be time outdoors, a little taste of chocolate, a phone call to a friend, or some reading time when she does what you want.
2. Why do I hafta?
This goes to the question of motivation. Writers have to be self disciplined to get anything done. Unless you have a publishing contract, no one is pushing you to finish the book. Non-writer friends and family don’t get why it isn’t done in a week. And without a goal, you’ll find GBW cleaning out the refrigerator, brushing the cat, or lining up pens in colour coded rows.
The solution: Motivate GBW with whatever works. Enter a contest with a submission date. Choose one that you can meet without too much stress, but that’s close enough to keep you at the keyboard. Tell your writer friends you’re writing. If you’re on Twitter, use a hashtag like #amwriting. Hashtags are like secret handshakes. They link together people who are otherwise unconected. but share a common interest – like getting the writing done. Sign up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. These days Nano is international. Participants aim to write 50,000 words during November. Nobody says they have to be good words, although published novels have come out of these rough drafts. If all else fails, buy a cute kitchen timer and set it for ten minutes. Almost anybody can stay on task for ten minutes. Tell GBW that’s all she has to do, write until the timer goes off. Chances are she’ll still be going after the timer rings. And if not, reward her and come back for another 10 minute sprint later.
3. Are we there yet? (usually repeated over and over)
We’ve all heard GBW on this. She wants the work finished and the fun to start. Especially if you’re writing a book, the finish line can be months and sometimes years away. No wonder GBW gets restless and whiny.
Solution: The kitchen timer in #2 helps to let GBW know when she’s “there” at least in the short term. Choosing a set number of words you’ll achieve each day no matter what and not stopping until you’re “there” can help. Even if your goal is as few as 200 or 500 words, make a deal with GBW that you won’t stop until they’re written. If you write more than your goal, great, but beware of writing 4,000 words and then finding you can’t write again for several days. Slow and steady wins the race.
4. No! (said with jutting out lower lip and folded arms)
Sometimes I think this is the first word that GBW learns. Whatever we ask of her, we get the one word answer and the stubborn body language. How can you deal with such an implacable, “No?”
Solution: GBW is looking out for herself, but she also has an almost subliminal sense of what else is going on with your work. Every time I’ve come up against GBW’s flat refusal to co-operate – every time – it’s been because the writing is going in the wrong direction. Coming up against that “No” leads me to look at what my characters are doing. Is this where the book should be at this time? Could I change settings or characters? Add a new character? Have somebody produce a gun? Magically, as soon as I address what’s bothering GBW, she starts saying yes to me.
5. Hers is bigger/better/shinier
This is GBW looking around and wanting what other writers have. Whether it’s a publishing contract, a prize, an award, great cover art or fantastic reviews, the little green monster brings out the worst in GBW. Often, she’s so consumed with the shiny goodies others seem to have that it stops her from writing anything.
Solution: tell GBW it’s okay to feel jealous. Maybe the other person does have a bigger better shinier whatever. On the other hand, they may also have ill health, financial woes or family issues GBW doesn’t know about. Most of us show the world our best side, but there’s nearly always a dark side lurking. Remind GBW about this and also of the line from the Desiderata, “Never compare yourself to others, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” While GBW is busy envying other writers, just as many would like to be her.
How does your Grumpy Brat Writer show his or herself? How do you deal with it? Share your thoughts and experiences here.
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