Monday, February 17, 2014

Writing for the long haul.

Penny Reeve is the author of more than 15 children's books.
She returns to CWD today to guest blog about writing for the long haul. 
  
As a published children’s author I’m often asked the question: "When did you start writing?" Now, most authors I know understand there are several answers to that question. There’s the academic answer: "I started writing in preschool." There’s the artistic answer: "I've always dreamed of becoming a writer and wrote mountains of soppy (or morbid) poetry when I was a teenager." And there’s the answer most people are really after, the details about when you started writing for publication. My answer is 14 years, and to this I tend to get quiet raised eyebrows in response. I haven’t yet figured out why they go quiet at this stage but one of my suspicions is that the 14 years of hard work with little to show for it (financially or fame wise) causes their illusions of author grandeur to be slowly dismantled. Typically, at this stage, the conversation turns by their direction to other topics. (Like ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ or ‘Are you still writing?’ or 'How old are your kids?')

The interesting thing is that if they were honest enough to admit their thoughts (their doubts about the legitimacy of such a passion etc) I would probably share them. I certainly didn't imagine myself 14 years after the acceptance of my first manuscript with the attitude that I now have. Somewhere between that first publication and my last the ecstatic excitement of the unattainable goal was replaced with a more solid work ethic. And I don’t use the word Work lightly. I’m sure many authors know what I mean: that dogged perseverance, the dodging of self doubt and of hopelessness for well written, well placed prose. Yes the thrill remains, and leaps of faith are often tested and blessed, but when I am no longer ‘waiting for the right inspiration’ or ‘working at my own pace’ the writing journey feels remarkably different to what I imagined it to be as an emerging author.   

There are, I think, a number of habits that become crucial to writing as a long term commitment. (And, I’d love it if other authors could share their tips for perseverance. Please comment below.) Here are some of mine:
1)    Write. It seems a ‘no-brainer’ but writing for the long haul means giving up the illusion of writing when you feel like it. You need to train your creative mind to deliver the goods (even if they’ll require a significant rewrite) whenever you sit down to work.

2)    Watch over-commitment. An over-committed writer cannot find time or mental energy to write. This balance will be different for each writer’s personality, but with the necessary pull towards marketing and other ‘authory’ demands we need to learn to guard and prioritise time so the writing actually gets done.

3)    Don’t procrastinate. Yep, I’m writing this one for myself. I am very good at procrastination! But I can’t afford to be (and if I’m honest, neither can my family!)

4)    Set challenging but realistic goals. Look ahead at what projects you want published next and make a plan towards that goal. Push yourself creatively but also be realistic about what can be achieved. (For example: the year my youngest arrived I did very little writing, this year he’ll be in preschool three days a week so it’s a different story, literally.)

5)    Refresh, recharge and remain stimulated. Don’t let your inspirations dry up. Meet with other authors, meet with other non-authors. Go places, read widely, feel deeply. Don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut but allow enough creative input so your creative output can remain fresh and relevant.

6)    This may be a bit controversial, but I believe we need to give ourselves the permission to stop writing. For me this is both a challenge and a blessing. I love writing and often describe it as ‘my heart thing’, but if I ever love my writing more than my family, more than my faith family, more than my Heavenly Father, then the priorities will be wrong. There may be a time when I will need to slow down, or perhaps stop aiming for publication (be it for a particular story or for a season). I need to hold lightly enough to my writing that I can stop if I need to. I am an author – but that is not all I am.

To find out more about Penny Reeve and her books visit www.pennyreeve.com  or 'like' her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pennyreevethepennydrops

25 comments:

  1. What a great post. Thanks for those insights Penny. I find I sometimes spread myself too thin across lots of different writing projects and then it's easy to let the big one slip (must get back to that novel). Thanks for the reminder about the importance of persevering even when we don't feel like it.

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    1. It is SO easy to spread our writing selves too thin! But some projects require a more dedicated approach. Hope you find the time and space to get back into your novel!

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  2. Great post, Penny. Lots of good advice. Sometimes I have to convince myself that I am actually a writer - usually I see writing as something I do when I'm not doing everything else. I like your outlook. I might become a writer after all.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Meredith. Had to laugh at you deciding to 'become a writer after all'. We all know you've been a writer for a long time already. :)
      Having said that, I don't think many of us are 'just' writers. We all probably have a variety of roles and writing is just one of them.

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  3. Penny, funny how we need to keep reminding ourselves that "writers write". It seems many writers can't stop writing, but others of us find plenty of ways to procrastinate.

    A good post, Penny, to start the week.

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    1. Thanks, Ian.
      Am I reading between the lines that you are a fellow procrastinator?
      (if so, and your reply to this comment could appear to be another reason to avoid the project needing your attention, feel free not to reply. I'll totally understand.) Smiles.

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  4. Thanks for a great post Penny. I like your list. I like it's balance of priorities - taking one's writing seriously while realising that there is more to life than writing. It's interesting hearing established authors (someone who has 2 or more published titles) still having to remind themselves that she or he is a writer. I'm looking forward to the day when one of my manuscripts will be accepted for publication. In the meantime, I keep writing, learning, connecting and writing, writing, writing.

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    1. Sounds like a good plan, Jeanette. Write, write, write. And connect and get feedback and develop good habits now for the longevity of your 'career'.
      Blessings!

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  5. useful information well presented. Sounds like you've got the balance right Penny.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rachel. Glad you found the post useful.

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  6. Hi Penny,
    My answer is 14 years, at this stage, too, for the same reason you said. And when people ask, I get the same silence and raised eyebrows, presumably for the same reasons :)
    Your tips for perseverance are good ones. We have to be a bit like pit bull-terriers.

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    1. Hi Paula, I suspected you'd been at it for about the same amount of time as I. Funny that you get similar responses to the questions too. We do need a fair whack of that perseverance stuff, don't we?

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  7. As others have already said, a really wise, well-balanced post, Penny--thanks so much. I certainly affirm your point re needing time to refresh and recharge and love your advice to 'go places, read widely, feel deeply'. As for the question people often ask you re how long you've been writing, a related question I am often asked (if people are game enough!) is how financially rewarding it has all been! Now how would you answer that one?!

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Jo-Anne. Yes, I too get the occasional game person asking about the finances and my usual reply is a roll of the eyes, a light chuckle and 'Well, I'm certainly not in it for the money.' Which, these days (when I'm saying it in front of a table of 18 brightly coloured covers) raises another set of eyebrows which seem to imply they either doubt I'm telling the truth, or that they seriously underestimated how little authors must make per book. usually by that point in the conversation I realise that they don't understand they whole process (the love of creation, words, stories, books, readers etc) and figure we can talk about something else. So then the subject changes, and this time it's usually by my doing. :)

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  8. Thanks Penny. The two I most relate to are: not over committing and read widely. Sometimes I think if I didn't read I'd have nothing to say!

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    1. Hi Susan. I love it when I get to the end of a book and it stirs my desire to write even more! There are a couple of books I've read recently that have done that to me. I wonder if authors can ever be 'over-committed to reading'!?
      :)

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  9. Coming late and enjoying all the comments and your wonderful post, Penny!

    I love the way you just put down all the same struggles we as writers face. And we can all sympathize with some of the comments we're supposed to field. I've found not many folk understand the sacrifices involved to us "wealthy" authors!

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  10. Ha, ha!
    I'd say that the 'wealth' is worth it, even if a lot of people don't understand its value.
    Thanks for your comments Rita.

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  11. Hi Penny, your blog is so full of positive ideas, encouragement and down-to-earth wisdom. I think the idea that I need to focus on the most is prioritising. So many projects have potential, but keeping the main thing the main thing is what gets the most important tasks done. On another note, I saw myself as coming to writing 'late in life', until I worked my way through 'The Creative Call' (Janice Elsheimer). The book opened my eyes to the many times where, from my earliest childhood, God was developing the 'writer' in me. Never-the-less, it is only as I have acted on that call, that I have truly become a writer.

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    1. Hi Cathie,
      I'm sure I replied to your comment earlier - but it seems to have disappeared! The book you mentioned sounds interesting, I'll have to keep my eye out for it.
      I also find it a challenge to keep on track with the right project. Priorities are always tricky to juggle, but so important to keep in the correct order. Happy writing!

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  12. Lovely post Penny. Well done on your 15 books. That's awesome. I've been writing for 7 years and have only 1 published book to show for it so far. :) I loved the way you ended it. Thanks for the reminder that you (and I) are more than an author. That there are more important aspects of our lives - like our faith and our families. Very good insight! Loved the picture of you behind your book too!

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    1. Lovely to see you drop by, Anusha!
      I wrote the last point knowing how easy it is for me to get my view out of focus. There is also something freeing (on the days when it all feels too hard) to know there is more to me than writing and books. And God treasures me regardless of how much or how little I am published.

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  13. Hi Penny, thanks for sharing your wisdom from 14 years of writing. As one who is very new to writing with an aim of publication I do really appreciate being able to read people's journeys who have so much more experience.

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    1. Hi Linsey!
      I still find it helpful to read of other authors' tracks to publication, and their survival tactics once in print - especially those of authors I admire and respect. I wonder if it's the solitary occupation of writing that makes us more hungry to know how other people manage it?

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  14. Reading the date of my reply only illustrates the challenge we face. With so many demands on our time in this industry now we have to put the things you mention into action.

    I particularly find I have to plan and review my priorities regularly, or I am pulled in a zillion different directions, watering down my value efforts. Making a not-to-do list of all the things that are not that important and a file for someday items (which often means never) has saved me much stress and freed me up to be more creative. I too, try not to shake my head when someone mentions about the idea of making a living writing or illustrating books.

    Perhaps if the public knew the work involved they wouldn't think twice about buying books and supporting literacy efforts and the creators much more.

    I return to my 10cents per hour job - that I love way too much for my own good :-)

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