I don’t know about you, but my writing life started out like this:
I read and read and read when I was little. I DEVOURED books. Then, characters started appearing in my imagination, but instead of developing imaginary friends, I would start writing about them. I would fill notebooks upon notebooks with stories and poems and everything else “writable.” I never ran out of things to write about.
I wrote this way through college. I never even thought of writing for living, because, heh, who did that? Maybe a few people, but regular mortals like myself? There was no way. That was OK, because I was having fun with my writing. As I said, the thought of being published never even occurred to me.
Then, after I was married and had my son, I had a paradigm shift of sorts. I started writing short stories, and I thought, “This isn’t so bad…” I submitted a few pieces. Some even got published, though not for payment. Still, I could tell people that they could go to Barnes and Noble and buy the magazine with my story in it.
Then, I made the mistake of signing up for my first writing workshop online.
It wasn’t a mistake because it was a bad workshop. Quite the opposite, it was good, and I met friends on there I still have today. But it was there where I first started hearing about these “rules.” There were rules for everything pertaining to writing. And I mean EVERYTHING. The best time to write. The order in which to write your stories. Outlining. The list is endless. And silly me, I tried to follow the rules, because, hey, what did I know? These were Big Name Writers telling me this stuff. They had to know, right?
My notebooks, upon notebooks of stories? Well, I tried to follow the rules. My writing began to dwindle. A notebook. Soon, I felt like I couldn’t do anything unless I could do it RIGHT. I became a total writing perfectionist, and then–poof.
Over the past year, I have thrown out the rules (well, not really. They are on a shelf over my desk). I’ve really been on a mission to re-discover how *I* write, not how I should write if I wanted to be just like so-and-so. What can be really frustrating is that I don’t even remember at times that I used to write a certain way, or that I CAN write that way. The “rules” have been so ingrained into my brain that I’m like a zombie. “No… writing… out…of… order…” and things like that.
The myth (or “rule”) that I am letting go of right now is that I must only have one work in progress going at any given time. I’m sorry. I just don’t work this way, and never have.
In high school and college I always had about three stories going at once. If I got stuck on one, I’d just move to another. And it didn’t distract me from finishing them. I finished the stories. What it did accomplish was allowing me to not feel stuck. It let my brain work on something else for a while. Meantime, whatever was hanging me up with the other story would work itself out. In a few days, I’d be ready to work on that thing again. I know that not everyone can work like that. Maybe very few people work like that, I don’t know. But that is how *I* work.
If I have only one story going at a time, then if I’m stuck on it, I really feel stuck, and just stop writing for days. What does that accomplish? It takes the same amount of time for my brain to work the problem out, and in the meantime, I could be writing something else. Plus, working like that is really discouraging for me. I get very stressed when I am not writing.
I’m not saying to just quit and move on to something when the going gets tough. That’s called avoidance, and it’s not what I’m referring to. The story is still in my mind, it’s still being worked through. If you find yourself going to another project, to another project, to another, and never going back, and never finishing things, I would say that this would not work for you. The key is, you always go back to the project in a little while.
So part of my M.O. is this: always have a back up story. It keeps the words flowing, it keeps writing fun, and it makes me happy. As I said, it doesn’t work for every one. Nothing works for every one; we’re all different, and work in different ways.
What works for you?