When the going gets tough, real writers…

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This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week series

You know the saying… “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley…” (Thank you, Robert Burns). It’s our way of mourning the death of every New Year’s resolution… If you’re anything like me, you start out the year with the best intentions (#writeeverydamnday). You may have even had a plan for how you were going to accomplish your goals.

But what plan doesn’t run into kinks? Sometimes the kinks are nothing more than the common cold or sleeping through your alarm a couple of times, but other times major life stuff comes up that you can’t just get around dealing with. That’s how life goes. We all know it’s true. Having a plan for how you’re going to accomplish your goals when everything is going smoothly is one thing. What’s your plan for when everything “Gang aft agley”?

What Real Writers Do

If you’re the kind of person who never makes a false move, you’re probably not reading this blog, and obviously I’m not writing this post for you. Honestly, you’re the person we all aspire to be… but you’re also the person who makes the rest of us feel shitty when real life gets in our way. Why can’t our lives go perfectly, too?

Lofty goals of writing  (Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”) are all well and good, but come on. Who has the time/energy/resources to live up to Stephen King’s standards?

So if you don’t live up to that prescriptive method (or anyone else’s list of things that “real writers” do) does that mean you’re not a real writer? Or that you don’t take your craft seriously?

No freaking way. You should always have goals, always set out for the top of the mountain. The good news is, you don’t have to feel shitty when you have to stop before you get there. Because let’s face it, it’s gonna happen. And your writing life (career/identity/dream/whatever you call it) should be built to take it. How?

My friend Gabriela at DIY MFA* calls it “Honoring Your Reality.” Also known as Elisabeth’s Second Commandment: Don’t compare your journey with someone else’s.

The secret is recognizing what you need in order to be the most happy, healthy, productive person, and doing that. It doesn’t matter that Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. How many words a day can you write? Or maybe it’s how many words a week? Whatever your number and time-span is, own it. Be proud of yourself for getting any words out at all. IMO, some words are better than no words. The actual number and time spent writing varies from moment to moment.

Honor Your Reality

For me, the more I allow myself to do what I need to do, the easier I find to make time for the things that really matter to me. And right now, writing is one of them. But sometimes it’s making sure I’m well rested. And sometimes it’s going out with my friends and having a new experience. Because those things, even if they take away from my writing for a day, will make me a better writer in the long run.

Who writes well when they’re exhausted? And who writes creatively and with nuance when they’ve been shut away from the world for too long (well, besides Emily Dickinson)? But see? Even she honored her reality. She could have said, “I’ll never be a real writer because I haven’t seen enough of the world.” And we all would have missed out on the beautiful brilliance of her voice and her perspective.

And sometimes there are even heavier issues than just being worn out or needing to get out for a while. Sometimes life throws you a real curve ball… When that happens you have to give yourself the space and grace to do what you can when you can. The alternative is living with pain and guilt and shame. And, having been down that road before, I’d advise against it.

So you, yeah you. What’s your reality? What do you do when the going gets tough and you’re struggling to find the time to write? Do you make yourself feel terrible for it? Because you should stop that right now. Figure out what you need to be the person you want to be. And then go do it! That’s what “real writers” do. We write. And we also live.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

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Write Big and Dream Big in 2016

Happy-New-Year-2016-Images-4It’s New Year’s Eve! Time for taking stock of what’s behind you and looking ahead to what you want to accomplish in the coming year. There’s something special that happens when that clock rolls over to midnight and we break the seal on all the potential energy of the year to come. It’s that special magic that makes people resolve to make changes or to shoot for their dreams!

I love New Year’s resolutions. Not because they’re so often kept, or even very effective in the long run, but because of the hope and imagination that they represent when they’re made. Sure we all regularly screw up, fall off the wagon, or backslide on our best intentions. It’s part of being human. But the act of imagining our lives could be different than we are now? That’s powerful magic.

So out with the old and in with the new! In this new year, what are you resolved to do? How are you going to make 2016 your best writing year yet?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m starting a “Write Every Damn Day” challenge for 2016. I’ll be spending 15 minutes a day with a writing prompt, and working on consistency and “intentionality” in my writing practice. I’d love it if you joined me. You don’t have to work on the same prompts as I do, just sit down and write. Butt-in-chair. It’s proven to improve your writing craft!

Maybe writing prompts aren’t what you need this year, though. In that case, I challenge you to figure out what it is that your writing practice needs and then scrape together the motivation and go do it! You’re the only one who stands in the way of your dreams of writing a novel. You have the magic in you to make it happen.

Don’t let the hugeness of your dreams overwhelm you and keep you from taking the first steps to achieving them. Figure out what those first steps, and then the next steps, and then the next steps are, and pretty soon, you’ll be standing at the peak of Dream Mountain. You can be the writer you want to be. It just takes determination and a little humility.

Make 2016 your year. Finish writing that book. Or get started! Write big! Dream big!

Write Every Damn Day

write every damn dayWrite every day. It’s something they tell you to do if you want to be a writer. And it seems like both an easily achievable and a hopelessly insurmountable task all at once.

I mean, of course you should write every day. How long does it take to sit down and scribble out a few words? It’s the easiest thing in the world to do… until it isn’t.

Life gets in the way often and, unless you’re aggressively intentional about setting aside your time to write, it’s easy to find that you’ve gone days and days without making any time to sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keys (well, for anything other than updating your Facebook status, right?).

3 reasons why you can’t write every day

Think you don’t have time to write? Here are 3 reasons you can’t write every day and why they don’t actually matter.

  1. You’re too busy
    Understandably. Most of us are busy somehow. But you prioritize what you want most, and that gets done first so, sit down and think about whether you can’t take a little slice of time from binge-watching that Netflix series, or right after you put the kids to bed, and give your writing your full attention.
  2. You don’t have the time for a big project
    Guess what! You can do this in tiny increments. As little as 15 minutes a day will keep you moving forward with your writing practice, keep the gears oiled, and help you grow as a writer. Or if you like word counts better, pick something reachable and start there… 250 words. You can totally meet that.
  3. You can’t think of anything to say
    If you’re stuck, not finding anything about your current work inspiring, then try writing prompts. You can find them on-line or buy a book full of them. My cousin David goes through old family photos and makes up stories to go with the people in them. There’s always something you can spend your 15 minutes on.

The thing is, people will tell you that after you do this for x-number of days, you’ll develop a habit and you won’t think about it anymore, you’ll just do it. I’m honestly not convinced (and neither is this study on building habits). But just because you may have to be extra diligent about making sure you find your 15 minutes a day, doesn’t mean you should skip it altogether. The diligence is part of the point.

Sure you’ll miss days. It happens to everyone. But if you set your intention, if you put your mind to it, and if you remind yourself how important your writing practice is to you, writing every day is a realizable goal!

This new year, I’m giving myself a challenge. I’m going to write every day for 15 minutes. I challenge you to write along with me. Comment below and let me know you’ll be participating so that I can cheer you on! Share your successes and your failures with me, too. Let’s make 2016 our best writing year yet.

If it’s important… If it’s something you want more than anything in the world… If you’re really serious about this writing thing… then just do it. Write Every Damn Day.