August 22nd, 2011

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How to Write a Book in Six Months — the Being Nice to Yourself edition

Originally published at Cassie Alexander. You can comment here or there.

So the second after I made the "Oh, I'll do these once a week," promise, all my potential topics completely evaporated on me. Did I beat myself up about it? No. I knew something would come. And then I realized that's really what I should talk about today.

It is so so easy to be negative about your writing. I mean, why wouldn't you be? You give it to your mom, she reads it and makes a face because she doesn't get why you have to have aliens and starships. Your friends think you're a bit odd, since it's not the plot of Halo. You send it out to magazine editors, book editors, or agents, as the case may be and are met by stony silence, form rejection after rejection and/or an email six months later that says "We liked this, but we we're sorry to announce we just closed."

It's enough to drive you crazy from the outside alone. What I would counsel you to worry about, is negativity from the inside.

(I know some people -- I'm looking at you, Ferrett ;) -- who think that negativity helps. It just may. But I know for me, and I think for most of us, it doesn't. We don't have the strength to overcome it or use it for fuel like that.)

When you're faced with rejection on so many fronts, it's very easy to internalize it. "Why should I write this? No one cares about it. Everyone hates what I write, anyhow." And you'll be given opportunities to voice those things, not only inside yourself, but to other people. Or maybe you're the kind of person who wants other people to give them compliments to make them feel better. (Oh, come on, we've all done this at least once or twice.) And so you're all, "My book is shit," just so other people will run to rescue you from yourself and say, "No, it's not!"

Don't do either of those things. Please.

We all have bad days, where the writing is shit, the plot is a mess, and who the hell called this character Grimelda six hundred pages ago? But you know what you need to do? Trust it, and go on. Trust in your ability to fix it later, to go on a walk and shake loose that plot, to think of a better name for that character in the shower. It's all in you already. Really, it is.

Don't focus on the bad. Don't spend energy telling yourself how much you suck, even if at that very moment it might be true. I'm not asking you to hide from the truth -- it's OK to admit you're having a bad day. But when you start spinning off into a death spiral that results in you questioning your avocation, choice of spouse, why you were even born -- PULL UP. And stop that. Right now.

There was a time when I used to think it was OK to beat myself up, that it was part of the process. All the cool kids were doing it, and sometimes a good wallow feels fantastic. But each time you visit the mud pit of negativity, the pit gets a little deeper, and it's harder to wrestle yourself out of the ooze. Eventually you'll need a snorkel to breathe, and won't have a chance in hell of resurfacing.You'll start telling yourself you suck before you start to write, instead of afterward, and then you'll start telling yourself you suck every time you think about thinking about a plot. The negativity will own you, through and through.

It'll kill your career before your career even starts.

Now, since the title of this post is How to Write a Book in Six Months, not Generic Advice -- let me intersect the two points. If I sat around and had negative thoughts before every time I had to write do you think I would finish a book? Hell no. Not any book, muchless one in half a year.

What you'll learn to do in time -- and training yourself to be nice to yourself requires time! --  is trust yourself. Not with the blind confidence that we all feel when we began before we knew any better, when we all thought we were the next William Gibson (if you were me) but the, "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this," chugga-chugga of a train pulling up a mountain, knowing it might take time to get there, but we really are going to arrive.

If you trust yourself, and be nice to yourself, everything good will follow.

More later, next Monday, and your usual word count posts in between ;)