6 Ways to Quit Pressuring Your Writing to Succeed
The rise of technology (or more like, the fact that technology has actually risen) has turned us into needy, greedy, instantaneous people. We're addicted to live updates, to the "now." We want by-the-minute details. We want our products to show up on our doorstep within an hour. We love fast-food because it's fast. We work quickly while multi-tasking, eyes focused on a computer screen and ears focused on what's happening in our TV show.
We want instantaneous success—a viral video or blog post would give us instant fame (insert: friendship) and solve all our financial woes (insert: money). That's why we subscribe and post constantly to Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat. We've seen everyday people do it, and we want it too. Our cat is cute enough. Our friends are funny enough. Our lives are just as mundane, yet fascinating as the rest of them. We want to believe we too can make it.
If this isn't problematic enough, we think this of our writing as well. People have published younger than us. People who have been published have written worse novels than ours. People have finished drafts of novels before we have. So we think, we can make it too. We NEED to publish. We NEED to write better novels. And we need to do it NOW.
We end up putting pressure on our writing to succeed. We believe we must write something wonderful—the perfect short story, the next Great American Novel, the best dystopian, post-apocalyptic, literary fiction, satirical commentary on society's flaws since insert-your-favorite-author-here. We try and FORCE our writing to be wonderful and magical and do all these incredible things NOW because we are ready to be acknowledged, validated. We are ready for success.
And this ends up hurting us as well. We feel paralyzed, overwhelmed, rushed. We think we're not good enough. We think there's too much to do. We think we haven't done anything worthwhile. We pressure ourselves and then our writing suffers even more.
We have entered into the never-ending Writer's Space Race: a race to publication and fame and success in writing. We think we're fighting, competing against the rest of the world to be the first, the best, the only, but we're not. In reality, we fight our writing. We fight ourselves. And it sucks.
To be a "writer," it feels as though there's a lot of additional steps to complete besides the act of writing itself. You must have published a book. You must be published in literary magazines. You must be financially independent and able to focus on your writing full time, whether that means you're helping others write through classes or attending conferences or running a successful blog.
In reality, to be a "writer" you must do only one thing: write. (Click to tweet this!)
The Dangers of Succumbing to the Writer's Space Race to Publish:
- We work too quickly and get sloppy. When we write too fast, we may end up writing shit that can't be fixed. We may end up missing the true details.
- We may finish something, and feel accomplished, but it's probably just a shitty first draft.
- We may rush to publish something because of this need to subscribe to the "NOW" and we may not be publishing our best work, work we can stand behind and be proud of. We may regret it later.
- We may feel as though we have to do everything right away and overwhelm ourselves. This results in paralysis which accomplishes nothing.
- We may constantly compare ourselves to others, and then end up putting down our own self-worth—again, resulting in paralysis.
What this all adds up to is two differing things: Either 1) our writing will start to suck, or 2) we'll stop writing completely. Because we've stopped paying attention to the world and only paid attention to the idea of fame and friends and money and success, we lose sight of why we're doing this whole writing thing in the first place.
And that's not what this whole thing is about. We're writing to document the world, to be accurate and true, to explore and have fun, and come up with something bigger than ourselves.
The fact is: we can't compare other writers' journeys to our own. We can write to an audience, to an ideal reader, but we cannot focus on the potential outcome. We cannot write for the sake of money and fame and the 1st-place winner ribbon. We cannot work too quickly, or else we'll miss the whole point of writing and then hate our whole process and then maybe give up writing completely.
On the other hand, without a bit of healthy competition, we won't have the motivation to do anything at all. We've got to find a way to strike a balance between racing to our goals and paying attention to why we're doing it in the first place. The marriage of the two together would create a balanced, healthy work ethic that gets what we want done in a quality and timely way.
So, how do we do this? Change your mindset.
Diagnose yourself: Which of these 6 thought-trains feel most relevant to you?
Are you feeling paralyzed? Has your writing stopped? Or are you feeling rushed? Has your writing magic disappeared? Use the six thought-trains to diagnose your issue in the writer's space race, reframe your mindset, and get back on the right track.
For the I'm-paralyzed-and-overwhelmed thoughts:
If you say, "There's so much to do! There's so much to read! There's so much to write!" then remember this:
Take the steps you need to take right now, right this minute.
What book (singular book) should you read next? Start there.
What story is calling you? Start there with chapter one.
Focus on the little bits that add up to the big bits. You will NOT wake up tomorrow with all the knowledge you think you need to have in order to succeed. You will NOT finish today by having read a million novels. Focus on what is possible today. Take it one step at a time.
Record what you have done so that when you look back a month from now—or six months from now, two years from now—you'll see what you HAVE accomplished, instead of sitting here lamenting what you have not.
For the rush-to-the-finish-line thoughts:
If you say, "I just NEED to publish something. It's time I call myself a 'published' writer," then remember this:
Don't throw your story out there just for the sake of throwing it out there. Work it into something you like, something you believe in.You want to publish something you'll be proud of. You want to publish something that in 50 years, you'll look back on and still be proud of.
Revising (literally re-vision) your story is just as hard of work (if not harder) than the actual writing in the first place. Don't convince yourself that you don't need it (I promise, all of us need it).
For the need-to-accomplish-something tHOUGHTS:
If you say, "I want to have accomplished something big like publishing," then remember this:
Look back to what you HAVE written. Have you finished a short story before? Have you finished a novel? Then give yourself a freaking pat-on-the-back. That is SO MUCH MORE than the majority of the people in the world. And YOU. DID. THAT.
Don't be so hard on yourself. Your time will come with publishing. Your journey is yours alone. But in the meantime, remember that you are awesome and you are accomplishing important little things every day.
Try reverting back to kindergarten techniques like giving yourself a gold star on your calendar for every day you've written something. These are little accomplishments, yes, but they are not to be taken lightly. They are still accomplishments that you have done something, and a gold star is completely valid. (Trust me, it's stupid, but it's amazing how rewarding a little fucking sticker can be).
For the need-to-feel-validated thoughts:
If you say, "I need to validate my abilities as a writer and prove to the world that I am actually doing this thing. I need someone else to say I'm good enough," then remember this:
You don't have to win the Pulitzer to know your on the right track. You just need to be making progress. If you need validation, seek out just a little bit to keep going. Remember, your overall goal is to touch one reader, to change one life. Where in that goal do you see "NYT Bestseller" or "Award-winner?" You don't. Because it's not in there.
Give your stories away to someone you trust. Not the internet as a whole (don't go posting it just anywhere for public consumption), but a singular person. This can be a family member, a friend, a fellow writer. Let them read your stories and tell you what they honestly think. I can nearly guarantee they will find something magical in there that is sure to lift your spirits and allow you keep writing. Even something as small as your mom or your significant other saying they liked your writing should validate you enough to keep going.
If you can find one person that likes your story, there surely must be others. You don't have to find them yet. You just have to keep writing. You'll find them eventually. It does NOT have to be today.
For the she's-doing-it-better thoughts:
If you say, "Everyone else is ahead of me! That guy published his book at 14. That girl published her first story at 22. That person is in the same situation as me except they're published and I'm not. I have nothing over here," then remember:
You can use these people as inspiration, but not as mile-markers that you need to live up to. Use them to fuel your fire to keep going, not as extinguishers that put out your flame to write at all.
Their journey is NOT your journey. Your journey is your own. You can look to writers you admire for inspiration. You can follow the things they've done or continue to do, and you can model them. But the time that you read what you need to read, the time that you write what you need to write, is your own. You are on your own timeline.
It's not all about them. It's about you. Focus on what you're doing. Don't compare yourself to others because THEY ARE NOT YOU.
For the I'm-not-doing-it-quick-enough thoughts:
If you say, "I NEED to finish my novel this month. I must write 5,000 words per day. I NEED to finish this NOW!" then remember:
There's a million bajillion and one resources out there that will tell you how to write faster. But writing faster may not be the key to good writing or writing what you want.
There's a balance you have to strike between putting words on the page quickly and writing the story that you want to be writing no matter how long it takes. Sometimes writing slowly is where it's at. Don't rush your writing. You can force yourself to do it every day (or a couple times every week or whatever your schedule allows), but don't force it to come out too quickly, or else you won't like it.
Don't go to war with yourself and your writing because you're rushing to be the first, the best, or the one-and-only. Take your time. Slow down and smell the roses (literally—you should be paying attention to details in your work). Write what you want to be writing, on your time schedule, and your writing will only grow stronger.
Do you feel rushed and/or paralyzed because of this Writer's Great Space Race? How has this impacted your writing? What suggestions would you have for getting out of this competition and refocusing back on writing? Which of these six thought-trains do you fall most into?