Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What it's Like to Be a Full-Time Writer

In August, my partner and I moved from Minnesota to Belgium. I looked for jobs, but I was struggling to find something I was qualified for that would also enable me to apply for a work permit (as it turns out, the law is very complicated – who knew). So I figured, hey, we have enough money for us to survive for a year if I don’t work; why not use this year to finally finish my manuscript and find an agent? Sounds like a breeze!

Narrator: It was not a breeze.

No it was not. By the time a month had passed, I’d barely done anything. It was infuriating. After years of wishing I had time to just sit at home and write, that was my reality – but the words refused to come. For weeks, I spent more time than I’d care to admit yelling “WHAT THE HELL” in my mind as I stared at blank pages or chapters that simply refused my revision efforts.

It seemed so backwards. Six years of college yielded countless notebooks that started out with the good intentions of taking relevant notes but devolved into mostly plot ideas and character descriptions with phrases like “lake turnover” and “anaerobic respiration” crammed into the margins. All the ideas that had come to me when I really should’ve been paying attention to my classes had completely fled my mind.

After struggling for several weeks, I talked to one of my critique partners about how lost I felt. I had tried setting daily goals for myself, like “write for two hours” or “write 2,000 words,” but neither had really worked. Could I count time spent staring at my computer as “writing time?” What if I deleted a couple thousand words, did that put me in the red for that day? I spent way more time thinking about the act of writing than I was spending on actual writing.

My CP gave me two great suggestions. She knew that I had previously been a competitive short story writer, and that I’d been a part of a free-association writing group in Minnesota. She tasked me with writing a short story every day for the remainder of my time in Belgium. At first, I thought there was no way I’d be able to do that – it seemed like so much work and I am, admittedly, very lazy. But then I realized that I’d able to do just that when I was thirteen when there were actual stakes, and there was no reason I couldn’t do it now.

So, every day, I find time to sit down for thirty minutes maximum and write a short story based on a writing prompt from Reddit. (If you’re interested in doing this, visit r/writingprompts for free writing prompts every day. You could even make an account and post your stories if you’re looking for feedback!) Amazingly, as of today I’ve written a short story every day for more than a month. They’re not all good – in fact, some of them are downright terrible – but about once a week or so I write something that I’m proud of, and that makes the bad stories worth it. I’ve even written a couple pieces that I’d like to expand into full manuscripts. I try to choose various genres to write and vary the length to push my creative boundaries. Sometimes I let myself write the full thirty minutes, and sometimes I force myself to only write six sentences. No point doing the same thing over and over expecting to learn something.

The second suggestion my CP gave me was to read THE 90-DAY NOVEL. (This is not an advertisement, this is just what happened.) If I was skeptical of my ability to write a short story every day, I was downright suspicious of a book that claimed to be able to teach me to write an entire novel in three months. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo with varying success since 2014, but I usually cheat and use it as a way to force myself to work on existing manuscripts. I’m very much a planner – I want to know exactly who my characters are, what motivates them, what the conflict is, and I usually write an entire novel’s worth of worldbuilding material before I even get started writing the actual story. Doing all of that in a very compressed time frame seemed impossible.

As of this writing, I’m only on day twelve of the ninety days, but it’s going better than I anticipated. I started out with a vague idea for my manuscript – I wanted to write about an all-female combat robotics team – and I’ve already outlined the three acts; created a detailed background for my protagonist, antagonist, and love interest; and come up with a pretty solid opening and ending.
Even with all this planning, though, I’m still nervous for the point where I start writing the first draft (which doesn’t start until day twenty-seven; everything before that is brainstorming). I’ve already tried to write this story twice, and both times I crashed and burned after less than a week. Luckily, I started doing this just in time for NaNoWriMo, which will begin about a week after I start writing. I’m hoping that I’ll be motivated enough to finish this thing and I won’t fall off the word-count wagon.

For a long time, I thought that if what I wrote wasn’t good, there was no point writing it. My flash drive is a graveyard of abandoned manuscripts, and you wouldn’t believe the number of notebooks I have in a storage unit in Wisconsin littered with tidbits of stories I never even began writing. I thought this year would be a panacea – a chance to finally be a full-time writer and turn the frustration of not having enough time to write into an amazing manuscript that would go on to become a cultural phenomenon, or maybe just a thing a few people enjoyed reading, I don’t really know. So far it hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, but the year isn’t over yet. 

I think I can do this.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Add your awesome here: