Tuesday, March 14, 2017

For Love Of Writing

I love writing.

Some writing is harder than others. Depending on the stage of a project, some writing requires more focus and mental power. However I always enjoy the act itself.

Many of you know my co-author Meg and I have insanely high word counts. We love writing together even more than I love writing alone. As a result, we produce a huge volume of first drafts. About 15 last year, I think. More than one a month and most are between 60k-100k. We can do this, because we enjoy it so much.

A few days ago a friend came over and he gave me some excellent advice. He said: 'You need to stop writing first drafts and focus on editing.'

Unfortunately, while his advice was excellent, it was also wrong. He, like most other people in the industry, considered writing a first draft to be part of the work and editing to be another part of the work.

However for Meg and I, writing the first draft isn't work in any capacity. Writing the first draft is something we do for fun. It's like playing video games or watching TV. We would do it even if we knew it was never going to be a book, if it was never going to go further than that first draft. It's pure joy. It's quite literally a game we play.

The suggestion we stop writing first drafts to focus on editing is like saying: 'Don't watch TV, play video games or read, just work all the time.'

I mean, I could do that. It would be a pretty joyless existence. The problem is not that we are writing first drafts instead of editing. The problem is that editing, while I love it, requires a lot more focus and concentration and skill. So it is much slower. It is a 'work' process. First drafts are not.

Slowly, however, Meg and I are changing our first draft processes to make the editing process much easier. So perhaps in future, it will be faster. At the moment, however, while we are very fast writers, we are pretty normally paced editors.

And that is perfectly okay.

It really only causes problems when I am gung-ho and decide I can skip normal human functions like eating and sleeping and edit at the same pace I can write. Unrealistic expectations are not your friend.

I think the barrier a lot of people have with writing, is that they don't let themselves enjoy it. I work fastest when I have no deadlines. The moment I have a deadline, my productivity dies, because I feel the weight of expectation and it's no longer about me just having fun. Suddenly people expect things. People I like, such as my editors.

Imagine you are at the beach with your kids. No one else is there, just a gorgeous, sunny beach with gentle waves and pristine sand. They have their floaties on and sunscreen and cute little hats and they're laughing and playing. You're happy. They're happy. Everyone is happy.

Now imagine a creepy guy shows up and stands nearby watching your kids. It's the middle of the day and he's wearing a trench coat. On a beach. You think he is filming your kids with his camera? Maybe? You're not sure. You're not having fun anymore.

You also see something that might be a shark out in the water. Or is it seaweed. Was that a fin? Then your kid brings you some broken glass and you realise there is a lot of it, hidden under the sand. It's really sharp too.

Are you still having fun? Or are you ready to pack the fuck up and go home?

Nothing bad has actually happened, but the fear of bad things happening, worrying about things, anticipating disaster, sucks the joy out of things, regardless of how lovely they are at first.

If you're thinking about deadlines, what people will think, sales projections or angsting about your own skills, you can't enjoy writing.

You know what though? No day at the beach with your kids is actually flawless and awesome. Nothing is ever perfect. Someone gets stung or sunburnt or you lose something or someone cuts themselves on a oyster shell.

No book is birthed perfectly either. I'm not saying you should be deliriously happy every time you sit down to write. However EVERY book is going to be hard and stressful and draining if you are worried about shit the whole time you're writing it.

I enjoy writing so much, that if I am suck and stressed, my answer is usually to write something else. Often, it's something I think will entertain Meg or Annie. I'll pound out two thousand words, show it to them, they'll laugh and enjoy reading it and I'll feel a hell of a lot better.

Sometimes, if I am struggling to edit something, I will choose someone I want to impress or want to make happy and write the scene to appeal to them. (It's good to choose people who are enthusiastic about your work for this.)

I always turn my writing problems toward a source of joy. I always make joy the end goal. Am I happy? Is this going to make someone else happy? Who is going to smile or shiver or cry over this? I don't angst about it, I'm excited about it. And when Meg and I share our edits, I make a point of actually showing my enthusiasm. (I'm an enthusiastic person, but it doesn't always show on the outside.)

Knowing I am excited and waiting to read more motivates her, in the same way her enthusiasm motivates me. Having people I adore say they are excited to read something I have written is also very motivating.

Most of the time though, my main reason for writing--particularly first drafts--is just for the pleasure of doing it. Just like watching horror movies or playing video games. It makes me happy.

If it doesn't make you happy, ask yourself why. Clear out the negativity. Be joyous. Love the process of writing.

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