What Keeps Me Writing

A Perelandra College student who, though mighty serious about writing, can’t often make herself sit down and write, wrote and asked me some questions. In case my answers might help others, here they are:

How have you been able to write so many books?

I’ve noticed that among naturally creative people, the ones who have chosen a certain vocation are usually the most contented.

If I’m not creating something, I sink into a state of moderate to severe melancholy. My best creative outlet, the one at which I’m most likely to succeed, is writing stories. So I write them, and rewrite them, and generally keep working on them until I have something about which I feel proud.

Meantime, I read stories that give me ideas and insights about how to make my own stories better.

Novelist Don Winslow gave a talk in which he asked, “What could be more fun than going to your writing place every morning and asking yourself, ‘What if …’?”

Sure, writing is hard, but it can also be lots of fun.

Do you just write a certain amount of words a day?

I try to write at least three or four pages, about a thousand words, but if life (usually my daughter) doesn’t get in the way I may keep going for another page or so. And if I don’t write my quota, I don’t let myself worry about it. Usually, the pace picks up the farther I get into a novel.

One thing I love about writing novels is, if the part I’m working on feels too hard to tackle on a certain day, I can make notes or write a rough scene that will come later and which I feel ready to tackle.

If I feel stuck on a certain scene, I might sketch it and then move on, come back to it later.

Now, all the above is only about writing first drafts. If I’m revising, I might go through ten pages a day, or twenty or more, which is one of the reasons I enjoy revising.

Writing first drafts tries my patience.

And, no matter if I’m writing or revising, if I miss a day, or a week, or a month, I don’t kick myself but simply notice how much more alive I feel once I start writing (or revising) again.

How do you keep going when you feel self-doubt?

Everybody has self-doubt. If I start cooking a meal from a new recipe, I worry nobody but me will care to eat it. If I decide to run a race, I sure as heck doubt about my ability to win. If I get married, I doubt about whether I can keep this person in love with me.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

So I just try to do my best.

In Tae Kwon Do, the master simply tells us, “Do your best.” He doesn’t expect perfection. In traditional Tae Kwon Do, no one ever reaches tenth degree (perfection).

When you sit down to write, just do your best. And if it sucks, work on it, revise until it doesn’t suck. Then revise until it’s great. Then, in some cases, when inspiration has delivered something wonderful, revise until it’s a masterpiece.

By the way, learning to revise is what writing classes like Perelandra College’s are mostly about.

If I pass into eternity having written just one masterpiece, I will consider all that writing worthwhile.

And, most importantly, there’s the story itself.

Some stories that come to us simply deserve to be told, and if we are so lucky or blessed to have been given them, we’re obligated, I believe.

We need to tell the stories that are in our hearts, the ones we believe in and want to share, no matter the obstacles.

If we don’t, shame on us.

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