Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Holding My Horses

There are a lot of ‘how-to’ books about how to become a writer, i.e. one who produces regular output of writing with the intention to publish. Whole chapters dedicated to the disciplinary aspect say to—

Write every day [many successful writers don’t)
Write until you have produced X-number of words/pages (Ditto^)
Set a time and don’t vary nor let anything get it the way (Ditto^)

{I will admit this last one is one I have found to work for me. I’m a five-days-a week morning writer.}



But what I have not found in any of the mavens' sites or books is the suggestion to not overdo it.
 Of all the things I have learned about myself, this one has been the most helpful.
 

So here it is:

No matter how inspired I feel and how well it’s going on any given day, this is not a horse race. I set a maximum of pages/word count/time that I will not exceed.

Because there is no reason for a self-caused burnout. I’m in here for the long haul.



For me, this has meant a personal minimum and a maximum output. This is not a fixed output, because novels and picture books are different in this regard, and I write both. But for either, I have come to understand how important it is for me to hold my fire and my horses. 

I intend to write for as long as my life and focus allows. I hope that will be many more years.

And you know what? Of all the how do I do it, this one is the hardest, especially at times. But it turned out to be the most helpful. I doubt I would’ve braved a second, third, or fourth novel without sticking to not overdoing.


Here's to a productive lifetime. Understanding how you work, and finding what works for you.

12 comments:

  1. Oh, what a wonderful post. I tend to fail at the first two pieces of advice, too. What I have been good at doing is choosing a piece of work and sticking with it no matter what until it is done. (I'm currently in that mode with my revived WIP). But I also tend to overdo, once I get going. And you are so right: to stay in it for the long haul, you can't burn yourself out.

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    1. Stick-to-it is something I also learned, having spent too many years with half-done and then abandoned projects.

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    2. Me, too. I didn't always stick to my WIPs. Finally a writing teacher told me, "The one work you can be sure no one will ever publish is the one that sits unfinished in your file cabinet." True, dat.

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  2. Interesting. I really liked your closing--"Here's to a productive lifetime. Understanding how you work, and finding what works for you." Because I think each of us is different. For myself, I don't feel the need for the 'don't overdo it' mantra. But then I don't write novels, so maybe I'd feel different if I did. I'm glad you've found what works for you.

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    1. Of the people I know, you are one who does not need this advice, indeed. You are a steady and always productive person. I doubt you have many half-done creations in your closet, Ev. I don't anymore, but you should have seen the closets of my younger years...

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  3. Knowing and understanding your own process is so important. I didn't think about overdoing it. Ever. I'm always struggling to doing the minimum, lol, and it's so rare to be in that zone, that when it comes, I take it. Now if I could figure out how to get into that zone on command...

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    1. Well, that zone may not be the kind you can raise on command. ;)

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  4. Well, I have dozens of half-done creations on file, but for me I like that - there's always something else to work on when my interest in another project wanes. And cheers to another five-mornings-a-week writer!

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  5. I'm another one who doesn't have to worry about overdoing it, underdoing it--yes. That's great some of you can write five mornings a week. My schedule is too varied to keep a routine (my excuse anyway). One thing I do usually do is pull out old projects for revision rather than having them go to waste. Great reminder about it not being a horse race, though. Better to enjoy the ride then to rush from one duty to the next.

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  6. In a few decades of writing, it never occurred to me to put a maximum amount on my output. If things were going well, I didn't want to stop, unless I had to or suddenly remembered to eat, etc. "Maximum" is a new concept for me. I feel the same way as a fiber artist. If I'm on a roll, I'd rather not quit.

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  7. Good point about not burning out by scheduling a maximum.

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