Sometimes I feel like I’m too harsh. Too tough. My writing advice is supposed to be motivational, a “kick your struggling butt into action” kind of push. People need that. Too many writers are hand-held and participation-trophied through their early writing years and have no idea how to handle the “real” publishing world once there’s no one looking out for them anymore.
They need someone to tell them to shape up and get to work. I love being that person. I have very little tolerance for excuses and nonsense. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you likely already know this.
Butt here’s a time and place for that kind of talk. Not every word of advice you get from this blog has to be in-your-face “write or you’ll never succeed.” I forget that sometimes. I’m hard on myself and sometimes too hard on you too. Every once in a while I have to take a step back and let my gentler side take over.
So this is a nice post about how awesome you are, because you are. We all are. Because we are all, whether it feels like it or not, doing the best we possibly can.
All joking aside, being a writer is hard. Like, extremely challenging. It’s not just that the act of telling a story with words is in itself a treacherous hurdle. Trying to do the writing things while also doing all the other responsible adult things is so difficult that I’m pretty sure no one actually has this whole “work-life balance” thing figured out.
Every writer has their own hurdles, their own obstacles they must navigate through in order to emerge successful. And some obstacles are almost always changing while others remain constant, dull aches that keep nagging at you no matter what you do to try to suppress them.
Think of how you feel when you’re at your “best.” It’s a pretty great place to be. You’re getting everything done, checking tasks off your list left and right. You wake up early and get half your writing done before the sun even comes up. The words are just flowing out of you almost effortlessly. You could keep writing all day without stopping, it seems.
Today, your “best” will look a lot different than yesterday, when you could barely get out of bed 20 minutes after hitting the final snooze on your alarm because you were just so unreasonably tired. Just thinking about writing filled you with a sense of dread unlike any you’ve felt in a very long time. You did, toward the end of the day, finally sit down and write a few hundred words. But that’s all you could do.
And tomorrow might yield very similar results. You can do a little, but that’s it.
Does it feel like your best? Probably not. Does it feel like you could work harder, longer, faster? It always will — as creatives we always want to do better than we’ve done before or are currently doing now. Your “best” will almost never feel good enough because it’s hard not to compare your progress to someone else’s. It’s hard not to look at someone else’s accomplishments and ask yourself, “Why am I not doing that?”
So maybe it’s time to figure out a new way to “calculate” what your best looks like on a day to day basis — since, let’s be honest, just because you wrote 10,000 words one day and still had time left over to cook dinner, do the laundry, and take your dog on not one, but TWO walks does not mean this is a feat that can or should easily be repeated.
On a good day, maybe you can write two thousand words. That’s a reasonable amount, will count significantly toward your goals and will probably leave you feeling pretty good about yourself by the time you finish the work.
But maybe on a really rough day you can crank out 250, maybe 500 words if you’re lucky. That doesn’t feel like much and when you look at that 10,000 word day you might feel discouraged because you didn’t even come close. But today, 250, or 500 words was your best. It was your minimum. You did all you could do. Could you have done better? Perhaps. But you didn’t. You wrote what you wrote, you tried, you didn’t just give up.
You really did do your best. And your best WAS good enough. “Good enough” means you made an attempt. You faced the task in front of you and you said, “Okay, so maybe today I don’t have the energy to write as much as I want to write, but I’m going to put in as much effort as I can and see what happens.” And you did. You wrote words and walked away having accomplished something, no matter how small.
Many aspiring writers get discouraged when they face big or even small tasks and start to doubt whether or not they can — or even still WANT to — do it. They get so discouraged, in fact, that they just shake their heads and decide they’re not going to try to write anything at all. What’s the point? They ask themselves. If I can’t do the best work I’ve ever done, why should I even try?
The answer to this rhetorical question is simple: You should try because trying is how you succeed. Not trying at all is how you fail. Writers are so afraid of failing, but they push themselves closer and closer to that outcome every time they choose not to write because of this excuse or that one.
So what if today your best is technically the worst you’ve ever done? “Best” is not a constant. It is always changing depending on how we are feeling and what else is going on in our lives. Don’t get discouraged when you start feeling like you should be doing better than you are. There are times you will be able to focus on improving. There will be plenty more times you will only be able to focus on getting the work done.
Pay attention. Decide what you need to focus on today, what your “best” looks like, and get out there and Make Writing Happen. Whatever that entails, whatever it takes. Walk away from your completed goal knowing you did all you could, and today, that was enough.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.