There’s an adage that says, “A writer is someone who puts their ass in the chair and writes.”
A writer isn’t someone who publishes, talks about their novel, pitches to agents, or what have you. Those are all things writers may choose to do, but the defining characteristic of a writer is that they sit down and gets their words on the page. End of story.
You’d think this would go without saying. You’d thinkI would have learned this by now considering how much I preach the “ass in the chair” idea! But you’d be wrong. Recently, I’ve gotten off track when it comes to writing.
Of course, everyone knows that you have to write to be a writer, but I’ve noticed something funny. It’s really easy to forget that writing is the main prerogative sometimes. It’s easy to start out your writing practice with goals that will simply make writing more stressful. I won’t call them “the wrong goals” – because you get to decide what you want out of writing – but I believe there are plenty of things that can at the very least hinder our writing.
Worrying that you won’t ever get your book published
Getting ahead of yourself
Spending all of your time worrying about how you’ll publish your book before you’ve even written it
Overthinking the writing process
Trying to take every famous author’s writing advice without getting to know your own writing style first
Forgetting to stay humble/acting pretentious
None of these are inherently wrong, but they’re distracting. They’ll keep us in our head instead of on the page. They’ll get us focused on our ego instead of our manuscript.
My biggest hang up in my writing practice lately has been my focus on publishing. Yes, I’m giving these warnings from experience! I’ve been really lucky to have a few poems published in literary journals and a few articles published online. When everything’s going well and I’ve got pieces in the pipeline, I feel motivated, like I’m doing everything within my power to further my writing career. That’s a nice feeling and always having something in the pipeline is a good publishing strategy, but when all your efforts are geared toward getting an acceptance letter, writing isn’t the main priority anymore, publishing is.
I was spending way more time thinking about how to get my work published than I was spending thinking about how to make my writing better. It bothered me that my focus had shifted so dramatically without me even realizing it.
Of course, prior to my realization, I didn’t worry what my focus was on. I was simply okay with explicitly pursuing publication. There was no way I could publish without writing first, so I reasoned that writing truly was the main goal. Somewhere along the line that reasoning became faulty. All I cared about was getting my next piece of writing published. Since I’ve realized my focus was off, I’ve changed a few of my habits to begin cultivating my passion for writing again.
“This is how you do it, you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman
The first thing I did was stop submitting my work. I’ve spent the last four months either writing, reading, or goofing off. Not searching Submittable and Twitter for places to send my work.
Once I stopped spending every weekend compiling the right pieces, editing them, writing cover letters, sending them off, and anxiously checking my email every ten minutes, I realize how burned out I was on the process and how obsessive it’d made me. I wasn’t even as obsessed with writing as I was with sending my work out to editors! I wanted a break. Luckily, life got busy with other things quickly which helped me stay off Submittable and semi-cured my addiction to checking email.
I’ve only recently let myself entertain the idea of submitting again, but to be honest, I’m not interested. I have different priorities when it comes to my writing practice now, like developing a writing routine, reading more, and maybe drafting a novel. I allowed myself to apply to one writing opportunity since then, but I applied because it genuinely seemed like the right opportunity for me and I felt comfortable breaking my own rule this once. I was then accepted as a 2019 Her Culture blogger! I wanted this opportunity because it would be a chill way for me to gain experience working with an editor by writing blog posts. No stress. Writing is still the main goal.
Thinking about this now, I can see how the whole idea of “stressing out” about publishing can be laughable to some people. Those are probably people that have tried and true writing habits or people who simple don’t care about being traditionally published. That’s cool, but I’m not there yet. I’m still young and learning and (mostly) unpublished. I’m the kind of person who stresses about writing things. So, this post is for me and people like me.
My focus moving forward is going to be redesigning my writing practice. I have a habit of writing several times a week, but it feels sporadic. This week I’m setting the goal to write every night between 6pm and 7pm. This seems doable since I have some flexibility in my schedule right now. I’m going to keep notes on how each session goes – word count, what I wrote that day, etc.— and reassess at the end of the week. Maybe I’ll blog about how my practice evolves.
So, these hour-long sessions are going to be good for me in terms of the amount of writing I can get done and with a whole hour at my disposal, I can take my time and keep my desire to realign with my passion for writing at the front of my mind.
I feel like this is the start of something rewarding for me, and I’m ready to get to work.
How would you describe your writing practice? Whether yes or no, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments. Happy writing!
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.