My guest today is Stephanie Burgis, award-winning author of short stories and novels that mix the genres of fantasy and historical.
I’ve know Stephanie online for a couple of years and I’m continually impressed by her productivity. No matter what is going on in her life, she seems to pull amazing word counts out of the bag with an astonishing regularity.
Stephanie is also a generous and supportive member of the writing community, and it was wonderful to get the opportunity to speak to her.
The wonderful short story that made me sob (available free to read on the Daily Science Fiction site): Dancing In The Dark
I share my recent difficulties with getting back to writing after a short break, and a technique for introducing a little kindness into the way you speak to yourself when struggling with writing (or anything, really!).
I also answer my first listener question (sent in by @evergrowinbrain – thank you!).
‘I do wonder if forcing words out ever becomes good stuff and if you keep tabs on which bits your write ‘under duress’ and which bits were easy.
Are 500 rubbish words still better than no words at all?
Or do they not count if they aren’t good?’
My experience, for what it’s worth, is that by the time I’ve finished the draft and let it rest, I can’t tell which words came easily and which did not.
I slogged my way through 50,000 words of a book once before deciding that life was too short to spend this amount of effort on something I hated. I put the book in the metaphorical bottom drawer. A year later I read it with surprise and pleasure. There was lots of good stuff in there.
So, to answer your question, I don’t think the quality of the words matter for two reasons. Firstly, you are too close to assess quality at the time; you need to finish the project and let it rest before you know.
Secondly, it’s all practice and you should count all of the words you write. You might end up deleting them, but that’s okay; sometimes it’s necessary to write the wrong words before you get to the right ones. And you should definitely get the credit for the work!
The only thing I would add is that if you are finding every single writing session a horrible slog, then it might be worth considering whether there is something wrong with the big picture. It might be that you’re trying to write a book for the wrong reasons, or that there’s something wrong with your plot or character motivation.
I do hope that answers your question, and thank you again for writing in.
If you have anything to add to my answer – or an alternative opinion – do let me know.
And if you’ve got a writing-related question that you’d like featured on the show, don’t hesitate to ask.
Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a review on iTunes.
I’m thrilled to have YA author Keris Stainton as my first guest. I met Keris in an online writing group many years ago, and I have been delighted and excited to watch her build a successful career as a beloved author of YA fiction.
One way to tackle a fear of failure (or, its equally prevalent and powerful cousin – fear of success) is to stop focusing on the outcome of your creative work.
When we think ‘today I’m going to write the next chapter of my book’ or ‘I’m going to finish that short story’ we’re inviting a terror spiral that goes something like this:
I don’t know what happens next in the story and the characters feel kind of flat which means – argh -I’m wasting my time with this piece and I ought to start something new… But that means I’ll never finish anything and be a Real Writer, and if I do finish it what if it doesn’t sell? Or what if it does sell and then people actually READ IT? Uh-oh, I’d better take out all the blasphemy, my mum won’t like that. And, I can’t write that scene I was thinking of because it’s twisted and everyone will think I’m a horrible person. Perhaps, I’ll just go on Twitter…
Instead, try this: Today I’m going to practice writing. I will write 300 words because that’s how you get better at writing, by doing it.
Or: I will write for one hour, because I’ve been managing 50 minutes for a while, now, and it’s good to push myself, to stretch my goals and improve my concentration.
Every time you catch your mind throwing out an end-result-related thought (such as: ‘If I write 1000 words I will be halfway through the book’ or ‘is this YA or Crime Fiction?’) gently push it aside and think something process-related. It takes practice, but I promise you it helps.
Over time, you will naturally focus more on the process of writing which will help you to be more ‘in the moment’ of your creative work and to be more productive.
Here are some more examples of ‘process-thinking’:
I will write some sentences today and each and every one will make me a better writer.
I will write for at least ten minutes today and will work at extending my focus for longer periods until I can write for thirty minutes at a time.
Okay. I’m working on this scene. What are the characters feeling? Where are they? What would happen if I changed the setting? Or the POV? I’ll try it three different ways and see which I like best…
I’m stuck. I’ll just do some free-writing on another project because all writing is practice.
What do you think? Do you already focus on process-over-outcome? If not, are you willing to give it a try?