The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.
Starting something new is hard.
Sticking with it for the long-term is even harder.
As you’re learning to write, and as you’re figuring out how writing fits into your life, you’re going to find yourself worrying about a lot of things. This is normal. But it doesn’t have to ruin your dreams.
You’ll wonder if getting past the ‘beginner’ stage is even possible. There are moments when I’m practicing the violin and listening to and feeling all my imperfections when I find myself wondering if it will ever get better than this. If I’ll ever get better. What if I’m trapped in this stage of “doing okay but not great” for the rest of forever? What if no matter how many hours I play, nothing ever changes?
Writing and other creative outlets aren’t as easy to track, in terms of improvement, as you’d think. You can look at a story you’ve written and judge whether or not it’s as good as someone else’s or better than one you wrote before. But from day to day, you can’t tell whether or not you’re writing better today than you did yesterday. There aren’t specific “levels” of skill that you can check off or clear as you go.
And because so many of us are so dependent on the instant gratification that comes with activities like posting to social media, our impatience makes slow progress nearly impossible to tolerate. We can’t easily tell whether or not we’re doing better, so we get frustrated. Maybe we start to panic. Worse, some of us simply don’t want to face the pressure and give up.
Worrying about being stuck at the same skill level doesn’t make sense if you’re regularly putting in the practice time. If you’re letting this kind of frustration keep you from progressing, then you might need to come up with a different way to track your “progress” — such as logging how many days a week you’re sitting down to write, how many words you’re writing, or how many hours you’re spending with a particular story, for example.
You’ll focus on the less important things — because those aren’t the hard things. I always use custom book covers as an example here, because I’m one of many who have been guilty of spending hours designing potential covers for their unfinished books instead of, oh I don’t know … finishing the books?!
Writing is hard, and whenever we hit a creative wall and find ourselves face-to-face with a challenge, it’s not uncommon for us to turn away and pick up something that feels less challenging. We turn to the easier thing because it’s easier. This not only means we’re failing to make progress in our work, but we’re also focusing valuable creative energy on something that doesn’t need our attention right away or ever.
We worry about things we feel we can’t control, and so we attempt to take back some sense of control by latching on to something else — sometimes something that’s technically related (designing a cover for the book you’re writing) but actually doesn’t contribute to finishing your current project (writing the first draft of a book, for example) at all.
If you’re going to overcome the roadblocks stopping you from writing, you have to face them. You have to look at them from all angles, figure out how to power through them, and work your way through that solution until you’re on the other side of it. Focusing on the “less important” is not a solution. It’s an avoidant form of procrastination, and it’s not helping you enhance your writing skills. Probably.
You’ll let other people’s opinions slow down and even stop you. Have you ever stopped writing something because someone around you unknowingly said your idea was stupid? I have. I’ve stopped writing books because someone just happened to mention a similar idea they didn’t like, not even aware of what I’d been working on behind the screen.
You shouldn’t let these kinds of things change your trajectory. As a beginning writer, every idea counts, and the more you train yourself to throw away a potential story at the first sign of trouble, the harder it’s going to be to teach yourself how to push through doubt and hardship and write the things even when the things are difficult to write.
People are going to tell you to your face that they don’t like your work, they’re going to pick it apart and let you know everything they’re confident is wrong with it. Loved ones are going to tell you they read your work even when you know they don’t. Strangers are going to turn criticisms of your writing into personal attacks. These things happen. It’s the reality of the business.
If you let every comment and criticism, opinion and the like influence what, when, and how you write, you’re going to end up spinning in circles trying to please every potential reader on the planet. You can’t. It’s not possible. Even on a blog like this, which tends to lean toward the positive, there are still people who come in and find a way to turn everything I say into a negative. I keep doing what I do. Their negativity doesn’t change what this blog exists for.
You’ll worry about all these things — why it feels like it’s taking you forever to progress even a little bit. How to submit a book to a publisher before you’ve even written one. Whether or not your story is “good enough” when the definition of this metric is as non-specific as it gets.
You’ll worry. But you shouldn’t. You’ll worry, but you don’t have to let it control you.
You chose to start writing in the first place. Choose to keep going no matter what.
Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.