Perusing NaNoWriMo’s forums I keep coming across variations of an interesting, and generally unanswerable question for all artists – but one I swear seems to come up more and be more vehemently … argued? among authors (writing advice books, other writing forums, etc.): how seriously to take the writing? What priority should it hold in your life? And other similar veins of thought.
Now, really, as with all things – no one can tell you what works for you; they can only say what works for themselves and you may take it or leave it. So I offer my advice, my ‘what works for me.’
Take the story seriously. Not as in ‘the story should be serious’, just that you should care about staying true to your setting and characters. A criticism I saw once of Twilight is that the personality and behaviour of the characters is what it must be to satisfy the whim of the moment – to visit the realm of hyperbole, for the sake of make a point, if you have someone a professional dancer in chapter 3, they ought not be unable to dance when asked in chapter 33, or in chapter 3 of the next book.
The work itself? Writing is a labour of love. Writing pays worse than waiting tables. I’ve seen it argued that slavery is a higher paying job. Unless one is the proper mix of prolific and lucky (mostly lucky) wealth will not be yours; you will want to keep that day job. As such, treat it, maybe not so much as a hobby, but rather as … a joy. Take pleasure in it.
Family, and life should take precedent. If you truly love telling the story you have to tell, then you will tell it eventually. Keep your promises, certainly. If you have promised your fans a book a year, put out a book a year – or else apologise and give them a good reason for tardiness. If you have made no such promise, then write as you may. I tend to find myself in a point between these to places; I have made no specific promises to my readers regarding the frequency of Now & Forever’s releases, but I have made a promise to myself – that can be just as important. So far I’m keeping that promise, but I fear sometimes I shan’t continue to do so. We’ll see.
Even if you are so fortunate as to live on your writing – if you force yourself to write in such a manner as to impact your quality, what favour have you done your readers? What favour have you done yourself in the name of word count, to sacrifice happiness, health, and time with those you love to stress over a chapter simply because you’ve decided that writing should be a 9-5 job the same as any other? Or, as I’ve seen it suggested on a few of this year’s pep talks, a 365-day a year project – weekends, holidays, sickness and health; being married to your work, be it writing or banking, is not healthy. Writers of that sort are infamous for dying young in suicide or drowning in a bottle of whiskey.
I am motivated by my own curiosity of what happens next. I am motivated by my characters’ clamour that I tell their story. I am motivated by a personal sense of perfectionism that hates to leave things unfinished unless it is absolutely indisputable that they cannot be finished. Not everyone is.
I know a woman for whom NaNoWriMo is the biggest boon to her word count. She writes throughout the year, but does far better during NaNo events. This has to do with her own personality and the presence of the NaNoWriMo.com progress graphs – she has OCD, graphs make her very happy apparently. Still, 50k words in a month – 1667 per day – is not really so much, an hour’s work or so when feeling inspired, a few hours if you sit down and put your mind to it … if your issue isn’t writer’s block so much as a need for an excuse to put aside the browser and stop wiki-surfing.
We’re all different. A writer I adore rents an office, one she goes to for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in order to write. Why? Because if she doesn’t, she forgets to write; she finds an hundred other things to do besides write. She wants to tell her story, and she likely would tell it eventually, but it may take her decades to write a single novel – and she was writing for contract, this was not an option, nor was it personally one given that she had more stories afterward that she wished to tell. Some writers have an office at home, a place to shut out distraction and find a little peace to work – understandable, it can be very difficult to produce quality work if you can’t keep a coherent thought for 30 seconds running. Still, office, or a hammock in the backyard with pets and children running and screaming – write as you will, and as you may, but don’t forget to live; one who forgets to experience life, is one who will have a harder time expressing and illustrating life in her work.
There are those who will argue with me: “But Ray Bradbury siad you must write every day” and such like. Yes, he did. He also said to read things, any random thing that strikes your fancy, pick up books on anything that interests you, and to live. He may have been speaking hyperbolically. Also, maybe that worked for him – he seemed to recognise that, sometimes, you spend a few hours staring at the page trying to write and getting nowhere, but at least you tried, and other times you write 200 words in 12 hours of endless struggle, and then the next day erase it all to replace it with 3000 words of the most fantastic prose you ever saw. No one, no one, no one, can tell you how to write, when to write, how much to write, what to write … well, I suppose if you write for hire, then the person who drew up the contract can, but then there’s the argument that you can refuse to sign said contract … never mind that, though, only you can tell yourself that. Just as it’s your story, it’s your life that you’ll be writing it around; what is important to you? If the story is more important than your children, or your spouse, your health, or the state of your home – then, so be it, just be sure you are aware that such an attitude will have consequences. Be sure that your novel, or poetry, or screenplay, or whatever, is worth it to you.