2013 hasn’t been a good writing year for me.
It started with me failing at the first writing challenge I set for myself: 30 Days of “One Question” interviews.
I accomplished 15.
The streak continued through two sad attempts at ROW80, an incomplete month of “bad poetry” and, last, only because it’s most recent, a half-finished pass at my own version of NANOWRIMO. I even managed to fail at writing three longhand Morning Pages, a basic journaling challenge for even the most inexperienced writer.
Me and Zig, Cup Half Full Kinda People
So you might be wondering: “What kind of advice can this woman offer me on succeeding at my ROW80 when she hasn’t even succeeded at her own?”
The answer lies in the words of a brilliant man—Zig Ziglar, the father of Self Help—who once said:
“If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.”
I’m here to share what I learned over the course of the last eleven months, in hopes that you won’t have to make the same mistakes.
Five Lessons Learned the Hard Way
1) Your body has a natural cycle; for the most successful experience, work with it as often as possible.
Discounting the endless hours I can spend watching Doctor Who reruns, I’m not a night owl. I’ve never been a night owl. So why did I ever think I could succeed at a daily writing challenge scheduled to write at the exact time I feel most likely to pass out into a stupor?
2) Don’t depend on your emotions to fuel your writing.
In Sonnet 14, Elizabeth Barret Browning says, “If thou must love me, let it be for nought/Except for love’s sake only.” A few lines down it continues “For these things in themselves, Beloved, may/Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,/May be unwrought so.” Love and writing are very similar—at least in this. It’s fine to write cathartically, but you still need to sit your bum down and put fingers to keyboard when all your feelings of heartbreak, anger, or sadness have dried up. (see Also – the fall of Alannis Morrisette.)
3) Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today (a/k/a Shit happens, write anyway!)
I was 14 days into my NaNoWriMo challenge when I fell asleep on my keyboard. When I woke up, it was already 12:01 AM, one whole minute past the deadline I set to reach my word count. So I went to bed. This was a stupid decision. I was there, I already had a general idea of what I’d planned to write, I should have written anyway.
Instead, I went to bed. And when the same thing happened two nights later, I went to bed again. And the third time it happened, I went to bed, never to write another piece for my NANOWRIMO challenge this year.
Sometimes you fall asleep at the keyboard. Sometimes there’s a death in the family (true story- see Also: Failing at 30 Days of One Question Interviews). You have to make up your mind to be flexible and KEEP. WRITING.
4) Drink enough water (a/k/a take care of yourself!).
I live on the edge of dehydration because I NEVER drink enough water. I have been known to put off washing my hair for seven days at a time and we won’t talk about my inability to shave regularly. If I can’t prioritize getting myself a cup of water or cleaning my oily hair, is there any wonder that I can’t find regular time to do my Morning Pages?
Most of us don’t become writers because we think it’s going to make us rich and famous. We write because we have an innate need to create and communicate. If this is true for you, then writing regularly is an important part of caring for yourself. Just like you wouldn’t expect to only drink water when someone reminds you to do it, don’t wait for someone to give you permission to write. Do it because it’s essential to your health.
5) Your chances at success are proportionately related to your willingness to suck.
Have you ever done yoga? If you haven’t, let me tell you that “downward dog” is a lot harder than it looks. And “flowing” from one position to another is no piece of cake, even if it’s just downward dog to forward lunge. If you decide to try yoga, you have to get comfortable with the idea that you will suck at it for a good while and that’s okay. Any yoga instructor worth her salt will tell you that it’s the continual practicing while you suck that helps you get better,. I.e. the only yoga practitioners who win are the ones who are willing to suck.
Writing is the same way. When your inner critic starts yammering away that you’re a hack, that it takes you too long to write a sentence, that fifteen other writers have already said what you have to say and 300 times better than you ever could say it… well, you remember that every other successful writer started off a hack regurgitating words too. You can only get better by continuing to put your fingers to the keys. As long as you keep showing up, you win.
That last part is the most important: Keep showing up. No excuses. You’ll win.