Saturday, February 26, 2022

Writer, Know Thyself AKA Don’t Fight Who You Are

Scott D. Parker

The year 2022 has been rather productive even if that productivity hasn’t always generated new words. It has, apparently, yielded greater clarity as to the type of writer I am. It also meant I had to struggle through some thoughts that really got me down.

On New Year’s Day, I had the idea that I wanted to write every single day in 2022. That lasted 41 days, longer than some folks do with their resolutions but it still stopped. Part of the reason was that I was a bit haphazard in what I was writing, but I think I learned something about myself in the process.

I thought it would be fun to write some short stories. I also thought I could write 1,000 words per day. I busted out the first one in only three days. Then I jumped on a second one, knocking it out in about seven or so days. Then a third. I then shifted to writing chapter 29 of my current WIP and finished up that chapter. But I wasn’t sure where to go next with the story. With the 1,000-word-per-day goal hanging over my head—when I really wanted to stop, re-read the WIP, and determine where to take chapter 30–I left the WIP and started a fourth short story. The thing was it wasn’t as good as I thought it could be. I was literally stringing words along just to get to 1,000, and I wasn’t writing what I truly wanted to write (the novel).

Dissatisfied with my output, I ended the 1,000-word streak. Then I ended the writing streak. And, to date, haven’t started it back up. Why?

Well, because of burnout, I'm guessing. I looked back on my 2017 writing calendar. I wrote three Calvin Carter novels in three months. Each time, I finished the books with days in the month to spare and I took a break. In January, I had about 5 days. In February, it was only two. I finished the March book on 28 March, giving me a three-day break. As you can see, I built in breaks. They were my rewards for a completed novel.

Then, in April 2017, I quit Calvin Carter Book 4 on Day 15. Back in 2019, when I was using NaNoWriMo to write a different novel, I ended up coming to a dead end—no, not a dead end; a 'which way to go?'—and I never got back on track. But that was in early December, after I’d successfully reached the NaNoWriMo threshold in November of writing 50,000+ words in that month.

All this is to say that it looks like I'm the type of writer who needs to have breaks built into my schedule. All the more power to those old pulp writers and modern ones like James Reasoner who can just keep writing, but it appears that's not me. Which is kinda sad because I'd like to be that kind of writer, but I guess I'll have to fall back on the mantra of Writer, Know Thyself.

When I stopped my 2022 writing streak back on 10 February, my failure really got me down. Why bother writing? was a common thought that ran through my mind. Why indeed? One more voice in the cacophony of writers and all the other content vying for people’s attention. I started to write down my thoughts and instead of zeroing in on all the bad stuff, I turned it around and started to count my blessings.

I am in the enviable position where I have a day job that provides me and my family with monetary income, health benefits, and stability. That affords me the ability to write what I truly want to write and make it the best I possibly can. You know, as opposed to having to write something simply to put food on the table and keeping the roof over our heads even if those subjects are less than exciting. Again, major props to those pulp writers of all the decades who really did have to churn out the words in order to provide for their families, even if it was the fifty-eighth Shadow novel or sixty-fourth Doc Savage book or even the two hundred and sixteenth novel in the Longarm series. (Or Destroyer. Or Executioner. Or Trailsman.)

By slowing the pace down to a steady constant rather than the frenetic pace I was keeping earlier this year, I should be able to be like the tortoise in the old rabbit vs. tortoise fairy tale. Yeah, I’ll get to the finish line with the content I have the time to write. Yeah, other writers will do better [Pick your metaphor: they’ll reach more finish lines than I will or they’ll reach the finish lines with more books] but I can’t control them. They have different environments and situations (and genres?) than I do.

Which means what I do will be more difficult. Yay. It means I might not have the success of others. Sure. But it also means I’ll be able to carve out my own path that is uniquely my own. And that is good. Again, with a foundation of having a day job to provide stability, I can keep going at my own pace.

I still have the goal of completing twelve short stories by year’s end. I’m a quarter to that goal already. And I have my three novel WIPs that’ll keep me going. But I’ll build in breaks. Evidently, that’s the kind of writer I am. Better to acknowledge it and run with it as opposed to fighting it and getting depressed I’m not a different kind of writer.

I’ll be back on the writing wagon come Tuesday. It’ll be a new month and I’ll start up again. I’ll move forward, finish the next project, and then set everything aside. The break probably won’t be the two weeks I’ve given myself in February, but it will be a break.

So, fellow writers, have you had a heart-to-heart with yourself to help you realize who you are as a writer? What steps did you take? I’d love to know as writing—and all creative outputs—are a constant work in progress.

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