Writing can be a very lonely pursuit. For an unpublished author this can be a critical time where self-confidence is challenged irrationally.
There is a lot to be said for isolating oneself when actually engaged in the writing process. It removes distractions, allows the mind to wander through fictional landscapes and provides space to prepare and return to reality afterwards.
Most people fail to realise emergence into characters and situations is, for many, an emotive experience that’s isn’t easy to switch on and off at will. Interruptions during the process can create flash annoyance, a loss of flow and ensuing guilt at snapping just because someone interrupted.
It’s part of the package of being a writer. Isolation is a topic I intend to cover next time because highly creative processes (not just writing) are often associated with insular thinking and periods of quiet reflection. There may be a link in this to periods of intense advancements in knowledge, discovery and innovation.
Here I am considering the periods between writing though, in particular in relation to new authors and those not yet published. Inter-writing spaces are where an isolated mind can begin suffering doubts and begin to rationalise irrationally. Without sounding boards to validate your own opinions then it’s very easy to tip from positive to negative. This concept is prevalent in mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy. Challenge the negativity and determine if it is valid and how you have evidenced the way you think.
So what can we do to fill inter-writing time more positively?
My own acronym for this is EARS. I don’t think it actually exists as such (clearly actual ears proper do), but the concept certainly does.
Encouragement, Accountability, Readers and Support.
What does this mean in practical terms?
This sounds obvious. However, many people suffer from an inability to reach out and use other people to find out if their work might be received well. Left too long and the brain sets up a comfort zone which churns out excuses about why you can’t write. This is the procrastination engine. It runs on self-doubt and too much isolation.
Blogging is an obvious testing ground. Showcasing writing there is a way to reach out to the world. Readers owe you nothing at the start so can freely comment. Family and close friends who aren’t writers might be over polite and unreliable evidence trails. Writers and strangers tend to be more honest.
Stephen King covers this in “On Writing.” He has strong views on the writing process and emphasises his best writing buddy and critic is actually his wife and that, for many, the same is not necessarily true.
I feel it is highly important writers have the ability to reach out and engage with others. Listen to the feedback and critique with an open mind to improve and develop a network of like-minded people. A few might end up long terms friends. If they have arisen from a blogging or writing community then the encouragement necessary will be provided freely.
ISWG is one such forum, Stream of Conscious Saturday another and Blog Battle is resurrecting next month to develop another writers community. All of these help reach out to and encourage authors of all levels.
If you struggle with daily writing habits then it’s possible that might be due to lack of direction, limited encouragement and support. A way to combat this lies with writing buddies and/or challenges such as those mentioned above or established susyems offered by NaNoWriMo or the smaller NaNoCamps.
Declaring a goal to someone or a group creates pressure to accomplish it. The reward in confidence after are legion. Over time these reinforce themselves and ultimately assist in creating the habit necessary to write every day.
The three I’ve mentioned in re,action to blogging can be good examples. I use these myself so, while not intending to promote them as part of ISWG, it might be useful to look them up to get a flavour of what is available in the blogosphere.
Linda Hill who runs SoCS offers a prompt word(s) on Friday to stimulate free flow writing for Saturday. It’s not about editing, reviewing or the normal writing mechanics. Here you let words flow anywhere on any subject. Some might even be non-sensical. It doesn’t matter, nobody judges the content. Writers just network with other writers and engage on blogs they might not ordinarily encounter. The common ground is writing. Often the nonsense is funny. I, however, have used it to spin yarns on backstory for a new WIP.
Rachael Ritchey once ran the Blog Battle. After some persuasion it’s returning. Again there is a prompt word and a month to create 1000 word fiction using that word as context driver or just including it in the text. It runs once a month giving three weeks to compile a short story. The advantage here is running word craft away from, say, a project that dominates your time or is stuck. It provides an escape from WIP’s and allows writers to network and engage. This month is relaunch so maybe give it a try.
NaNo I have used twice on the full November marathon. The target is 50,000 words in a month. That is a huge challenge and easy to fall behind on. However, CampNaNo’s run several time a year. These allow the authors to set their own word count goals. These are tracked each time you update your profile and progress is displayed to any buddies you have connected with. It allows you to write consistently and relies on a reachable target. If the full NaNo is daunting than camps are much better to start with.
All of these are commitments. They make you accountable, in the primary state to yourself and later over time to the community you network with. Physical writing buddies, on the other hand, give you a real accountability to someone else who will ask and cajole you, cut through the crap and get to the heart of why something’s not working, or is absolutely brilliant.
Goals help you visualise too. Knowing what needs to be written or done via accountability is far more effective than working with no direction or target.
Readers come in two supportive forms. Alpha readers who often read chapters as they are written or an end product prior to any additional editing or proofing and beta readers who go through a more polished version. The latter is often a useful guide to an author because the time for submission or self publishing is getting closer.
Alpha readers offer instant support and critique during the process. It’s important for an author to define what they want out of each of these. I don’t want alpha readers proofing and editing, I want to know if the chapter sucks or not. Do successive ones hang together or not? This method can also act to facilitate accountability too. Once you submit a chapter the reader won’t necessarily want to wait months for the next one.
Both types are useful to validate the writing before it goes out to a publishing arm. Whether you use both or not is more personal choice. My caveat here is you must use beta readers. An external pair of eyes before progression to the next phase is invaluable. The author can easily become so close to the novel that things get missed. It also gives another boost to be accountable after and before the submission process. Be that to an agent or self publishing route. It’s also an invaluable aid before sending it to an editor too.
Often projects can stumble. Characters lock you out or at odds with your story arc. Block might set in along with nagging self-doubt as words stutter and fail to rest in the sweet spot. Isolated writing cracks in these places.
Everyone needs support to bounce the ideas off, talk through a problem scene or just get feedback that might shed new light on the darkness. Solutions might well get thrown up during the discusssions.
This is the role of writing buddies and sometimes non-writing friends who show an interest. If it’s verbal conversation over coffee friends might actually help. If it’s discussing excerpts then the buddy might fare better. They will understand your pain!
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!