He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.
You’ve probably heard me talk time and time again about persistence, in life and in writing. As I sit here at my laptop, I’ve already had a pretty busy morning. I didn’t get as much sleep last night as I would like. I have this tax issue to deal with, and trying to pull records from three years ago is a pain in the rump. And there is still a laundry list of things that I need to do before I can really get started, and then again after I finish. I call this a busy day.
In some respects, my busiest days can end up being my most productive. Having limited time to get my writing in forces me into the proper mindset. I know that I have an hour or two, and that’s all I will get. Needless to say, when I sit down for that hour, muse or not, I’m going to get some words on the page.
I talk a lot about first drafts also, but persistence doesn’t stop there. It is a continuous theme in any kind of artistic or entrepreneurial pursuit, and I’m going to break down all of the things that I need to stay persistent with as it applies to my writing here, but you can expect similar themes in other endeavors.
The First Draft
Finish the Damn Book! discusses this part pretty thoroughly. If you want to be a writer, then you need to be committed to writing, every single day. The same is true with painting, sketching, sculpting, or playing an instrument. A long time ago, I used to be a pretty decent pool player, and I spent four hours in pool halls every single day, with at least an hour spent on nothing but repetitive drills. The only way to stay sharp is to stay practiced. When it’s an A game you are talking about, it requires constant practice and refinement. Building up basic skills is easy, staying ahead of the rest of the top 1% is another story altogether. Those at the top of their game in anything do it everyday. This is the tenacity that you must have to improve, or even to maintain a higher level of anything. It must be done every single day.
I’m no great marketer, and I’ll be the first to admit it. But you know how you get better at that? By doing something everyday. For me, some days that means putting out a single stellar tweet. Other days I might be planning a month long stream of memes and tweets. Sometimes it’s just shuffling keywords around. But I keep at it, a little every day, trying to learn the ins and outs.
In some ways my approach is the same as it was toward my first book. I read articles, learn stuff, try stuff. It isn’t my primary focus, but it is most definitely something that you will have to contend with and stay on top of after you put the book out.
If I’m stuck in editing mode for a month, I really start to miss how wonderful a first draft can be. My editing months tend to be the times when I put out the most short fiction and dedicate time to other areas of my writing journey, like the aforementioned marketing. Something about hitting the keys or breaking out my favorite pen just excites me in a way that I don’t think editing ever will, and regardless of whether I’m going to spend $1000 on a professional edit later, I still need to put the work in on my end.
If you are really committed to your storytelling, then you will realize how important this is, and you will set aside the proper amount of time to devote to it.
Short works are my specialty, but I can dissect stories from anywhere and scan them for things that the author is doing that either work or don’t work. These might be news articles that I’m picking apart, movies, shows, or anything else. I learn every time I open my eyes and ears to a story, whether it’s a friend telling me a joke, or a long novel read. Stories are literally everywhere, and to limit yourself to only learning from a particular group of them, you are cutting yourself off from a world of experience.
At the end of the day, a story is a story, even in nonfiction reading. Blog articles, podcasts, and youtube videos are equally important. Story creators are committed to telling stories in all forms.
Fighting through Distractions
Writer’s write, they read, they edit, they examine, and they question. Everything. And it doesn’t matter what else is going on in the world. If you wouldn’t take a day off of the day job for it (and even if you would in some cases) then don’t take a day off of your artistic pursuit. MAKE TIME.
I don’t know about you, but my brain is always trying to trick me into doing something other than writing. There’s always something that seems more important, or emotional states that come about in everyday life. There’s always an excuse. Excuses are everywhere, while muses are few and far between. They are something that you will have to learn to cope with.
You can’t be afraid to say, “Everything’s gone to shit, my mind is mush, but I’m going to write something anyway. I need to write.” Or sing, et all.
We are talking about language here, and while this is typically written language, there is nothing that can truly stop most people from getting some words out. Pens and paper are everywhere. Our phones connect us to everything. We can make all the excuses we want about having to retype something later, or putting things out in the wrong format, or whatever. But there are few things in life that will render you incapable of telling stories. Writer’s make a commitment to not let sickness or weariness or handicap stop us from what we are doing. If Stephen Hawking can write books, so can you, and if he wanted to find an excuse, his would be better than yours.
Persistence is the Key
You are going to come across many hurdles in your writing life. You are going to be told repeatedly that your stories aren’t good enough. People are going to remind you of how much money you are not making. How fleeting it is. You are going to go through depressive states, and wonder why you even bother. You will take financial hits on dead-end marketing strategies. You’re going to fail. Count on it.
You’re going to fail again, and again, and again, and it’s going to hurt. There are going to be times when all you want to do is talk to someone about the latest and greatest bag of flaming shit left on your writing doorstep. And guess what, nobody is going to be there to listen. There are few that understand the pursuit of passion in the way that you will when you devote all of your spare time and energy to your art.
There are plenty of writers, believe it or not, that are social butterflies, and still feel alone when talking about their art. Even with other writers, we are all at different stages in the process, and things don’t jive as often as we would like. A person committed to their craft will find loneliness in a meet-and-greet in the middle of Times Square.
It’s not easy, and nobody said it would be. But if you want to improve, the only way is by running the same gauntlet over and over and over, every single day.
Good luck, and may you be kissed by a muse today.