Writing presents a unique dilemma compared to other jobs. There are few markings of success by which to judge ourselves on along the road to publishing.
I worked at Starbucks before I had my first little one. Every day I knew exactly what needed to be done, and when. In the morning iced teas and coffees required prepping, grinders needed filling, and pastries were stocked with a set number of goodies, each placed in an enticing display. In other words, there was a clearly defined checklist, and when the list was accomplished, it felt good! Then there were the drinks. To this day I still can put my body through the motions of making a Frappuccino. Fill the Blender with ice, three pumps of white mocha, three pumps of “Frappuccino Sauce” and milk. Then I blend, pour, and finish with a beautiful crown of whip cream. I knew when I did it right because it looked beautiful, and the customer was happy (well…most of the time).
Unfortunately, writing isn’t like that, is it? Sometimes I trick myself into thinking that it is. I will happily create a checklist of chapters, scenes, and themes and feel that same sense of satisfaction as I check them off after a productive writing session is over. I try to quantify my work by setting out to write a certain number of hours or words in one sitting.
Unlike a frappuccino, a story is never really good enough or finished. All the checkmarks in the world won’t change that within each “completed” chapter, scene, or theme any number of concepts and ideas can change. After a healthy dose of editing, one scene is likely to meld into different one or become it’s own entirely, making the checked-off scene it used to be completely unneeded anymore. This makes it difficult for any check on the checklist to feel satisfying.
Personally, I think this is the root of any writer’s block I experience. If I never feel a sense of accomplishment, or see any concrete signs of progress it’s hard to convince myself to keep on writing, and then some of these negative thought cycles start:
"Any work I put into this project is taking me nowhere but a downward spiral."
"The more I work on it, the muddier it will be"
"If I can’t see the end to this project, if it will always change, always need improvement then is it even a project."
"How do I know that the work I’m doing is worthy if it can’t be even measured?"
There are ways to combat those negative thoughts, and while the checklist approach may never work there are some tactics that can help us as writers find a way to measure our progress.
Cute maxims that help a lot of people when this feeling of panic starts to creep up, bringing the inevitable writer's block with it. To remember that each word, is “sand in the sandbox” helps writers train their mind that no work goes unnoticed, and all work helps directs them towards an end that, like a finished sandcastle, is in fact accomplishable.
But what can we do as writers when even this leaves us feeling like we have nothing more than a crumbling pile of sand?
An intriguing experience reminded me that perhaps the best quantifier for an unpublished writer is to share, share, share their writing.
I recently reread a short story fluff piece I wrote back in 2010 when I was a freshman/sophomore in high school. My friend had a crush on this boy who she met at a dance class, and then only saw here and there mostly in passing since they went to different schools. Though few and far between, their conversations left her fascinated. Of course we talked about the crush, as high school girls were wont to do, but writing about it was fun, and made her smile.
Rereading the story years later was a considerable quantifier for me, and in ways I didn’t expect.
See, when I wrote this piece, I knew nothing about writing fiction. The grammar, and dialogue and the loose, convenient plot points in the story make me cringe now. I know that if I wrote this with everything I’ve learned it would be a much stronger piece. Seeing right in front of my eyes just how much I’ve grown and learned over the years proved to me that maybe the spiral I was riding was not downward at all, but upward. As I learned and progressed through life so did my writing. I was getting better!
Also, reading this reminded me of the sweet girl I used to be.
I was a hopeless romantic, and I loved to write. It seemed to come so easily to me back then. I used to keep sticky notes on the inside of each class binder. Whenever a little sentence came to me, I would jot it down and doodle around it and stick it in my binder until the whole plastic cover was filled. I loved each sticky note, and other people loved them too. Girls sitting next to me would read them and point out their favorites, and asked for some of their own. So what if I didn’t know all the tricks for writing a good short story? I didn’t know how many words qualified it for a short story, or how many scenes it needed, or what the character arch should look like. I didn’t seem to need qualifiers in my writing, I just wrote, and I shared it freely.
I miss that. I want to be the kind of person who writes things just because I love them, really really love them in the way that comes from full self-confidence and no inhibitions. I want to write words just to make my friends smile again.
I don’t think I worried about whether my writing was successful back then because:
1. I did it just to make me and others happy 2. I shared it regularly.
By sharing it, I was able to see people enjoy it.
Isn’t that the point of writing anyways? To create work for other people to enjoy? And yet we horde our work and never let anyone see it, always secretly wondering if it’s any good.
So here’s my challenge to you, and to me. Let’s share our work. All of it, the good and the bad, but especially the words that we love. Even just a sentence of it. Over the next month, let's look for ways to put our work out there. I wager that as we do, we will discover all the marks of success we need, and we will feel the progress we’re making in our craft more profoundly.
There are a lot of ways to share. #1linewed on twitter is a fun way just to share your favorite lines.
Writerscafe.org, Medium, and Wattpad are great for short stories, personal essays, and poetry.
There is also something to be said for having a perfectly visible corkboard displayed in your home with sticky notes on it for guests and family members to peruse.
We would love to read your work! If you take on this challenge post a link to your work or a picture on any social media and include #writingthroughbrambles so we can see the wonderful things you create!
Writing can be hard since there’s no measuring stick to help us know that we’re on the right path. Our work can be risky and vulnerable. I believe this challenge to share more readily will be a positive change. I would love to hear your experience with sharing your own work. Do you agree? Has sharing your work helped you gain confidence? Where are your favorite places to share?
** Also quick reminder of another opportunity to share your work: Writing Through Brambles is publishing an anthology, and submissions are open until October 1, 2018. **
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.