I wrote just under 11k yesterday- yes, my brain hurts right now, even as I’m gearing up to write 11k more today. I’m participating in the Queensland Writers Centre ‘Rabbit Hole’ event- three days of writing in the State Library. Nothing else. Just writing.
I love the chance to sit my butt down and make stuff happen. But I realised yesterday that I’m increasingly wary of writing my daily word count on the board. After I wrote my word count yesterday, one of the other writers asked me if I use a lot of small words, or just write ‘a’ over and over. That it happened in front of two writers I really admire only made it more mortifying.
Because these people don’t know me, they don’t know that I panic in these moments, and end up sounding like a complete bitch because my words get jumbled, and I’m trying to get the hell out of the situation, and what would be witty in a less tense conversation loses its charm in all the self-recriminations. Also? Pretty sure I have resting bitch-face of the vocal chords.
The sad part is that it used to be funny to me when people said stuff like that, but now it’s just painful because it’s always followed up by people taking my achievement as a personal insult, or a reason to invalidate their own efforts. Always.
If you’ve never had someone take something you’re proud of and beat themselves about the head with it, I can assure you it isn’t fun. It’s hard to maintain your personal pride when it feels like your success is actively hurting other people. And if you’re anything like me, it ends up with a leap into ‘helpful reassuring mode’, and putting your own efforts down in order to make other people feel better about their achievements.
I don’t think people are trying to freak me out, or trying to be mean. I just think we all get caught up in the BS idea that there’s One True Way To Write™, and if you’re not doing it that way, you’re a fraud of a writer and should have all your pens and tech thrown onto a bonfire. People, especially writers, seem to think that all writers should be insanely productive and type 10k a day without breaking a sweat and publish multiple books a year while raising a family and working full time, all the while learning how to speak fluent Mandarin and building orphanages in Africa. In heels like that chick in Jurassic World™.
However much you write is perfect. I’m not being an asshole when I tell you that. I actually, genuinely mean it, so please stop with the eye rolls and scowls when you seem to ask me for validation and I give it to you. Whatever works for you is freakin’ phenomenal. There are billions of people in the world who don’t get to write 10 words a day for their own amusement- so yeah, you’re kicking ass if you hit any kind of milestone. On the other hand, if life’s kicking your ass and you take a day for you, that’s just as brilliant. Taking care of yourself isn’t something you should feel bad about. Whatever works for you.
What it comes down to is this: we all write differently.
The people today who ‘wrote the least’? They weren’t sitting on Facebook all day, they were editing as they went. They were crafting sentences, and fixing them along the way, and they’re going to have an easier time of it in edits than I will.
I respect the hell out of that dedication. Right now, though, it just isn’t me.
Me? I can’t see the plot holes until they’re on the page. Sometimes, that’s not an issue. Other times, I write a dozen or so new versions to fix those plot holes, get disheartened, and put the story in a drawer to fester and die. I’d like to not keep doing that, so I’m changing the way I do things. I’m not trying to write perfectly, or even brilliantly at times like this. I’m just figuring out the story, and challenging myself to get something down rather than contemplating it for another few years and still winding up with big-ass plot holes everywhere. I struggle with character voice sometimes, too, and this helps me figure out who the characters really are.
It’s like writing fanfic for my own stories- it takes the stress out of writing because it doesn’t have to be perfect. And because it’s just faffing about on a page contemplating things, it’s easier to hit those bigger milestones. If I was editing the shit out of what I wrote? I’d have maybe 1k. Probably far less, because when it’s about crafting the best sentence possible, I’ll stare at a sentence for an hour and cry.
My way of writing and editing would drive other people mad, and the reverse is certainly true. But it doesn’t mean that anyone is going about it wrong.
I said I wanted to apologise to other writers, so here it is:
If you’re feeling insecure about your writing based on the word count I make at a writing event, I’m really sorry. I’m sorry that you feel like you have to compete with the writers around you. because you don’t. You’re a writer. You don’t have to prove yourself to me, or to anyone else. You’re not my competition. I am my competition (and sometimes my friend Luke is too, but only when it’s agreed upon in advance).
I’m sorry that you’re not celebrating your achievements, because you deserve to be. Word counts are arbitrary numbers that say more about methodology than talent. Whatever you achieve is brilliant, and I wish you could see that. I get why people don’t, because most days I think my writing is shit and I’m a total hack. Doesn’t stop me wishing other people could see their creative worth, though.
This isn’t me playing Elizabeth Gilbert and saying I have shit worked out. I really, really don’t. The majority of my writing life is me sitting, wondering how the hell to get to the other side of an issue. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that writing a novel and getting it published is really, really hard. It’s a hard industry, and I’m pretty sure it’s made harder when we’re all running around kicking the crap out of our own work. If I’m dismissing my own work, what right do I have to expect anyone else to take it seriously?
Frankly, my work deserves better. So this is me, refusing to play anymore. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to keep dismissing my work to validate yours when everyone’s efforts are already valid as hell.
Holding drafting work up against someone else’s, even if it’s just to make them feel better about their work, is like throwing two puppies in a cage and making them fight to the death.
It’s wrong. There’s no reason to do it, at all, and about a billion really good reasons not to. And when it’s all over you’re left with the bloody wrecks of two formerly beautiful things that didn’t want to fight it out in the first place.
I’m not okay with that.