Persisting to the End
“Perseverance is absolutely essential, not just to produce all those words, but to survive rejection and criticism.” -J.K. Rowling
Persistence is a popular discussion topic among authors, and for good reason. Have you ever tried writing a story only to give up before completing it? If so, then you likely succumbed to I call “Writer’s Sabotage” (the parent of Writer’s Block). This is my term for all barriers standing between you and your completed work. These barriers can don many faces. Some eerily resemble the reflection staring from the mirror. Some tick and tock. Others might stare, glare, and criticize you. To conquer Writer’s Sabotage, you need a plan… and persistence. Persistence is the most crucial tool in your writer’s toolbox. Equipped with persistence, you can and will write your entire story.
Guises of Writer’s Sabotage:
- Time Thieves : If you blame a lack of time for your inability to write, then Time Thieves may be to blame. Fortunately, this can be easily remedied. Make writing a habit, and schedule it into your daily life. Let’s say you wish to write a novel within the next 6 months. No matter how busy your life feels, you can do it! It’s time to Equip Persistence. If you write 20 words per minute, you can write 300 words in 15 minutes! At this pace, if you write 30 days a month, for 6 months, you will write a 54,000 word novel! Scheduling dedicated daily writing time is the key. You do have the time, and it won’t take forever to write that novel… even if you only write for 15 minutes each day.
- Dried Inspiration Supply : This barrier is often referred to as “Writer’s Block.” However, it’s a pretender. It is often another Saboteur cleverly masquerading under the guise of Writer’s Block. Equip Persistence, and you’ll see that the Quest for Perfection, Domineering Doubt, or possibly even Squirrels, are to blame rather than a genuinely dried up supply of inspiration. However, if you have indeed run out of inspiration, appeal to the tools suggested in Lesson One for some quick idea generation.
- Domineering Doubt : My story idea isn’t a good one. It’s been overused. Am I qualified to write it? Oh gosh, what if it’s all three!? You stall, terrified that you shouldn’t bother writing another word. Hurry and Equip Persistence! You are likely writing for other people while writing a rough draft. Big mistake. Write for yourself first. Edit for others second. The first draft is the most important an must be written. It probably won’t be great, and it’s not meant to be great yet. However, you have the right to write, and only you can tell your story. Cast aside all doubts, and let the words flow however they may.
- Conniving Competition : Let’s face it, sometimes the saboteurs are other people. Jealousy and competition can lead people to tickle actions. They might plant Domineering Doubt in in my mind, infest your life with Squirrels, and do everything they can to prevent you from succeeding. Equip Persistence! Act yourself why a person would do this to you. 9 times out of 10, it’s probably because they know you might be writing a classic, and are jealous. They worry that you are a better writer than they are. Notice that the problems are theirs, not yours. Feel sorry for them, and keep writing.
- The Quest for Perfection : Related to Domineering Doubt, the Quest for Perfection can slow your writing to a grind. You begin second-guessing every passage, paragraph, sentence, and word choice. Your first draft cannot be perfect. Your final draft can’t be perfect either! A friend of mine always says, “Perfection is the enemy of Done.” She couldn’t be more right about that. Equip Persistence, and you might find it helpful to deliberately write your first draft to a younger audience. Use simple words and short sentences. Merrily blunder along until the story is told. Then, after it’s written, you can flesh it out until you’re satisfied.
- Pestering People : Unlike the Conniving Competition, these people are usually your friends, family, and anyone else vying for your time. You just want to write for 15 or 20 minutes. Is that too much to ask? Then the phone rings, someone knocks at the door, and your roommate keeps asking you questions. Equip Persistence! 15 or 20 minutes really isn’t too much too ask, and neither is an hour or more. Turn off the phone, affix a “do no disturb” sign to your door, and clearly declare your boundaries. These same people wouldn’t dare interrupt a surgeon at work. They need to extend the same respect to you while writing.
- Pinchers : The pinchers pressure, nag, and beg you to write faster. They pepper you at every turn with questions about your progress. I don’t know about you, but I can’t write well under that kind of pressure. Publishers are the biggest pinchers for professional authors. Still, most writers have to fend off pinchers of varying sorts. Your pinchers might also be your Pesterers; the friends and family who can’t wait to read your story. Perhaps a professor is reminding you that a January 12th deadline looms right around the corner? Equip Persistence! Unless you’re answering to a publisher or unbending professor (not I!), then you need not feel the pinch. Set boundaries, ask people to stop inquiring, or give them an outlandish finishing date. Tell them you’ll be done in five years, if need-be!
- Squirrels (aka “Other Things to See and Do”) : If you’ve seen the movie Up, then you’ll understand why I called this saboteur “squirrels.” These furry little rodents symbolize every little distraction that pulls you away from your writing. It might be a television show, a social media website, a pretty sunbeam, or anything else that might abduct your attention. Equip Persistence! While it certainly helps to minimize distractions, these squirrels only become an infestation when they are fed. Something else is probably stalls you, and causing you to seek distraction. That something else is likely one of the other Saboteurs. Identify it, squash it, and keep writing!
- Missing Commander Chaine : When this fellow goes missing, anarchy takes hold of your story. While a little anarchy can be fun in the right place and time, it’s rarely of help when writing. You’ll know that Commander Chaine has wandered off when it feels as though everything and everyone other than you have taken control of your story. Equip Persistence! Find Commander Chaine and convince him to share his nickname (psst, it’s “Priorities”). With Commander Chaine by your side, you’ll better organize your priorities.
“You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot, cause I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.” -J.K. Rowling
Who said that writing was “all work and no play?” Um, don’t answer that. My point is that writing and play can interact now and then. These playful moments can bridge the gap between frustration and inspired frenzy. Most of the fun activities I enjoy are from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) events. Some ideas for incorporating play into your writing routine include:
- Word Sprints : These are fun and can be done either alone or with others. The goal is write non-stop, anything that comes to your mind, for at least 10 minutes. Some groups write for longer. Don’t delete what you wrote; anything you choose not to keep, you instead strike-through the text and include it in your word count.
- Word Wars : The same as Word Sprints, but shorter. Word Wars usually last between 5 and 10 minutes (though there is no law keeping you from holding longer wars!). The person who write the most words in this time-frame wins the war!
- Adopt-a-Plot-Bunny : Plot Bunnies are ideas that demand you write them, and they tend to multiply. In a group, gather fun (even silly!) plot ideas on scraps of paper. Distribute them at random. Each writer is obligated to incorporate the plot bunny they’ve received into their story. No, it doesn’t need to make the final cut. Whether you or not you love the results, this activity consistently lightens the literary mood and instills inspiration. This activity can be conducted in forums, where people “donate” lots of ideas and people stop by and “adopt” them.
- Adopt-a-Prop : Similar to the plot bunnies, except people donate and adopt props such as broken pocket watches and mysterious skeleton keys.
- Share-a-Scene : A group donates random “story element” ideas, and then draws one at random. Everyone in the group writes this element into their stories. Example: I once challenged everyone at a table to incorporate a feather falling from the ceiling, seemingly out of nowhere. It had just happened to me, so it seemed a fun idea for us to write into our stories.