How To Be Content With Your Writing Pace
As writers we want it all.
As writers we want it all. Fast output, lots of publishing, great reviews, a big audience and money in the bank for our work. In pursuit of this, you might place unrealistic expectations on yourself and then feel crap because you can’t meet them.
Don’t compare yourself to others
You watch other people post blog after blog and they get a tonne of likes and comments. Maybe you know an author who is publishing their next book just six months after their last one came out. You feel that if they are writing at that pace, then you should be too.
It’s great to be inspired by other writers but comparing you to them isn’t always helpful. We tend to compare the worst of ourselves to what we believe to be the best of someone else.
Maybe they don’t need as much sleep as you. Or perhaps they’re miserable with insomnia and that’s why they write more.
Maybe they’re younger. Twenty years ago, I could get by on less sleep and toil for longer hours. Now I need a decent amount of slumber and I’m more of a tortoise than a hare in how I approach work.
I read a blog recently from a writer, podcaster and publisher who I have always called a human dynamo because of the amount she produces. In the article she admitted that she was working too hard to block out dealing with grief. As her physical health crumbled, she knew she had to slow down and address her mental and emotional issues.
Create before you consume
I follow a lot of authors on Twitter and every time I look at my feed there’s always someone with a new book out or being traditionally published or winning an award. Writer envy is not a useful emotion. Marie Forleo has a great tip to help your productivity and your mental state – create before you consume.
These days, we are so wedded to our mobile phones. Nearly everything I read about eliminating distraction and increasing productivity is about prizing these electronic contraptions from our hands, and eyes.
Don’t pick up your phone and get lost in social media, emails and news first thing in the morning. Write or journal or meditate instead. Start your day intentionally not by getting waylaid by everyone else’s agenda.
It was twenty years ago when I first started writing in the morning before work. I used to love the feeling of being guilt free by 7.30am because what ever happened in the day after that point, I had written another page of my novel.
If you could write just a paragraph before getting sucked into the technology vortex, wouldn’t that feel good?
Even if you are consuming useful stuff, still exercise caution. I write on Medium as well as Substack. Every morning around 7am I get an email from Medium with articles for me to read. The topics are nearly always about blogging and how to build an audience.
Even though I have trained myself not to look at my phone until I am dressed, when I scroll through this Medium email it can make me feel inadequate and give me a sense of fear that I ought to be doing more.
Sometimes I get sucked into reading these articles, sometimes I wait till later then carefully choose just one or two to read and sometimes I delete this email straightaway and get on with my day!
Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure
Maybe you want to crank out 2000 words a day because that’s what Stephen King prescribes in On Writing. Instead, you do what you think is a measly 1000 words and castigate yourself. How can you ever call yourself a proper writer if you don’t write fast. If you feel wretched enough then that might even cause you to think ‘why bother’ and stop writing.
But if you lowered your expectations to 1000 words, or 750 words a day or 500 and did it consistently, then your work would progress steadily and you would feel better about yourself.
What if you are not a bestselling author but you still published a novel? Celebrate the achievement that your book is published.
What if you’re not a published author yet? There’s something about having your work in print that makes you feel like a ‘proper’ writing but not having that doesn’t make you a failure. Rejoice that you write regularly or that you have a finished draft of your novel or that you are ready to learn the ropes of self-publishing.
What is your natural writing rhythm?
Prolific writers spend a lot of time writing. The number of hours with your butt in your writing chair is directly proportional to quantity of output. Yes, some writers can do thousands of words a day or spend 8+ hours a day being productive, but most people aren’t like this. Don’t give yourself a hard time for being a gentle plodder.
What is your natural writing rhythm?
For two years I kept a log of how many minutes at day I spent writing. The majority of those daily entries are for between 15 and 60 minutes. I used to work part-time, three days a week, so on some of my non-working days I managed more than that. But even on those days I had to spend time supporting my elderly parents. Often, I only managed an hour first thing in the morning and then it was on to my other responsibilities.
Even over the last few months where I haven’t had a day job, I still only work and hour or two a day on my fiction. That seems to be a good rhythm for me. I do a section of the narrative, make progress and then my energy seems to come to a natural stopping point and I pick it up fresh the next day.
Only count what is in your control
Yes, you want more sales or more podcast interviews or more views on your blog, but those metrics are external to what you can control. Set goals for the factors that are within your control – how many words you write or edit, how many podcast pitches you send each week or how many blog entries you publish.
Make the goal realistic and remember to congratulate yourself for completing it. Some people like to have a regular goal, the amount they must do, then a stretch goal, which is still achievable but is an optional extra.
Writing is an exercise in patience
Writing is an exercise in being patient. Even full-time writers have more ideas and would-be plans than they will ever get around to doing.
If you are writing then you are changing yourself and growing. Creativity is a process not a destination.
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