The other day I managed to sit down and spend a bit of time writing and editing my current work-in-progress. This time, I was forcing myself to sit down and go through the entire WIP in chronological order, editing as thoroughly as I can.
I’m still near the beginning and it’s extremely slow going because I tend to stop and agonise over every little word I come across – or start rewriting whole sections that I think could be so much better, but better how I haven’t figured out yet – but at least I’m going somewhere. I’m not expecting myself to perfect every single word and phrase but to at least try my best and do as much of the chore work as I can. Then when I’m done, I’ll take a short break (a few days to a couple of weeks) before coming back and going through the process again as many times as need be until I’m finally happy with my manuscript. (Which, at this point, may be never!)
I will be honest and say it can be a bit tiring going through the beginning of my WIP again because that’s the part I’ve already edited over and over even as I was struggling to hash out the middle and end of my manuscript.When you’ve re-read something so many times, the words don’t look as fresh and as awesome as you once thought they were – you know them so well already! (When that happens, it can also help to take a little break before going back over that section again).
But recently, I’ve noticed a little something when I come across certain sections in the beginning of my WIP where I have already spent many hours in the past agonizing over, rewriting and re-editing. I’d have a flashback of the last time I rewrote and re-edited this part and remember myself slamming the laptop shut and feeling absolutely discouraged. Thinking, ‘Oh God, this is shit and this is never going to get better, no matter how much time I spend over this. This is crap writing and I’ve just wasted so many precious hours I’m never going to get back over this crap writing. Why am I even bothering because I obviously can’t write??’ And going away (probably to the nearest bottle of wine), convinced that I’ll never be able to write anything that’s worth someone’s time reading.
So I’d have this flashback as I’m sitting there at my laptop, reading over the very section I’ve been writhing over weeks earlier. And I find myself thinking, ‘Hey, actually this isn’t so bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was and now I’m getting more ideas on how to improve it and it’s a lot easier now to edit because I’ve actually got something to work with and, hey, oh my God, I think it might all actually be coming together.’
And I realised the only reason why it looks a lot easier right now is because I had already put in all the groundwork before. The not-so-fun, tiresome, discouraging chore work where you’re just scrabbling away in the dirt with your fingertips and wondering what good this would ever do and why you’re wasting time trying to achieve something you will never achieve. But in the end, when you come back the next day and look at what you were doing the day before while you were scrabbling around in the dirt, you’d find that you actually have done something. You’ve laid in the foundations. You’ve begun the groundwork and with every step of the way, no matter how tiny or worthless or unpromising those steps may seem, you’ve gotten yourself that much further along the path to building your Palace of Dreams.
So don’t worry if you currently feel discouraged or daunted or simply just like an all-around failure. These feelings come often – far too often, I think!! – when you’re attempting a goal – any kind of goal. (This is especially true for writers who know they might be potentially spending hours on a manuscript that might never see the light of the day. Question: Why are we even doing this??? Answer: Because every bad story that we write is another step closer to creating a really good story). Know that with failure, comes success. (Ooh, now I’m sounding like something out of a comic book! With great power, comes great responsibility!!). Know that no matter how useless what you’re doing may seem right now, you’re actually putting in the groundwork for the future that you can’t see at the moment. Know that as long as you put in the hard work and persevere, things will come out all right for you in the end. Every little bit helps.
As for the quotes above – okay, I’m sorry, you’re always going to be hearing references to L.M. Montgomery for a while because I’m such a huge fan of hers and because I’m currently re-reading all her works again and because she’s got just so much damn good advice in her books so you’ve just got to bear with me on this one! The Emily series is such a great series for wannabe writers to read. Emily Byrd Starr is ‘climbing the Alpine Path’ to her goal of being a writer, but as in the quote above, she’s beginning to realise the journey isn’t an easy one where you just spread your wings and soar. Rather, like Mr Carpenter tells her, “Dig in your toes and hang on with your teeth – that’s the only way.” Writers, it is the only way!!!
As for the quote by Neil Gaiman, this is one that always sticks out in my mind. Whenever I feel like maybe I should be doing something else, maybe concentrating more on my day job and doing something that will give me less spare time for writing, but more money and perhaps something that seems a little more worthy in the eyes of my friends and my family who think I should be doing something more important, I think about where I wanted to be. And I know I want to be a writer. That is my goal and my mountain and as long as I’m always walking towards that mountain, one day I know I will reach it. (For some reason, the mountain I have pictured in my head is that giant monolith thing the Power Rangers have to trek across an entire alien planet to reach in that 1995 movie. Don’t judge me on this.)
And finally, for everyone who’s near tears over their keyboard, convinced that they will never be able to write anything that’s worth reading, remember Maya Angelou’s words: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
Now pick up your pen (or turn on your laptop) and get back to work. (with maybe a hot fudge chocolate sundae next to you to help you along your way!)