As an indie author (that is a self-published author) deadlines are something of a nebulous concept. I imagine that if I were working with a traditional publisher–especially if I had a contract predicated on future works–I’d have some pressure to put my thoughts onto paper in a timely manner. But as an indie author, no one is breathing down my neck to spit out my next “great” literary creation. Since no such pressure exists, I am left to my own devices in terms of scheduling the work of my writing. In some ways this is a positive (I never feel rushed), in some ways not (I’ve always worked better under pressure, so no pressure can mean little or no output).
Frequently, Monday is the day when I question myself and my ability to set deadlines. By extension, then, I begin to question whether I’m really a writer at all. It usually goes something like this:
Friday hits and all those “genius” story ideas that have been swimming around my head all week (or often longer) are ready to jump out. So I say to myself that I’ll spend the weekend knocking out the first draft of a story, or maybe even two. I enter into each weekend with grand plans… and then there’s the weekend itself: chores around the house, relaxation (read: laziness) and just having-a-life in general take over. By Monday I find myself no further along than I was on Friday, back at the time-consuming day job (I have to feed myself somehow), and feeling, frankly, rather discouraged about the whole affair. Add to that the holiday that was this past weekend, and (as you can probably imagine) I begin to doubt myself and my ability to be a serious writer.
Often on a Monday I find it’s time to seek some encouragement–which is really my way of saying I find ways to procrastinate further under the guise of making myself feel better about what I didn’t get done. Here’s one (delightfully snarky) view of what trips up an author that makes me feel less of a failure, for example.
If I desire a more practical approach I look for some strategies authors can use to battle distractions. But the problem here (aside from the obvious: while reading this I’m still not actually writing anything) is I’ve never been a planner. It’s not that I can’t plan, it’s that (for me) the act of writing is too personal to be undertaken in the formulaic manner that many would advocate. (I understand that outlining and/or writing a little each day works for many, just not for me.) So a lot of this good advice ends up wasted. I need something that goes beyond a plan–something approaching inspiration (though a good night’s sleep and a few more hours in the day would certainly help too). And unlike Faulkner, I’m not automatically inspired at nine o’clock each morning.
Perhaps that sounds corny–and many will say it’s probably not an effective mindset if I want to be a “successful” author. In some ways, these folks are right. To achieve my goals I need to put that Midwestern work ethic I learned as a child front and center. I need to “buckle down” as my mother is fond of saying.
But then, my definition of “success” may be different.
Make no mistake, I want readers, especially readers that appreciate my work. And eventually I’d like to be in a position to quit my day job in favor of just writing. As impatient as I am, though, I am rational enough to know that I’m not there yet. And so my definition of success–at this moment–is balance. That balance is what feeds my process–because even though I’m not a planner, I still rely on a process.
Look at it this way: If I were writing a historical novel, I’d spend oodles of time not writing the actual novel, but still engaging in a writing process. This process would likely involve researching the time period my book was set in, the characteristics of the people there, the place itself, etc.
Research for my work, though, takes a different form. The current body of work I’m developing relies heavily on human reactions and interactions, and inspiration for that is everywhere. It’s in seeing how the onlookers at a 5-k race react to the disabled man as he finishes the course in the middle of the pack (and in seeing the man’s own reaction). It’s in envisioning how people on the street, who don’t know one another, would interact if they did. Having a balance in my life means I can accomplish this part of my “research’ in a way that locking myself up all weekend, ignoring the world and typing out a trite story simply never would.
So, am I a writer? You bet, but writing is much more than just putting the words onto paper. This weekend I re-wrote a portion of a story I’ve been working on for the third time. I did it in my head. You might pause here and say that I’m kidding myself and should have put the words to paper. I disagree. If there’s one thing I know about my own process it’s that I need to do this–because when I put the story on paper it becomes harder for me to re-vision it in the same way, and my creativity becomes too easily bound to what I’ve already put down.
I’m sure the cycle of great plans followed by a feeling of disappointment will repeat itself soon–perhaps even next weekend. But I also know that this cycle ends and a better story is the outcome. That’s my process. What’s yours?