Write, Write, Write: The Pressure to be Productive
By Zachary Jernigan
Of all the writing advice I've heard since 2009—the year I consider myself to have entered the writing "community"—the most practical is simply WRITE. Write, as often as you can. Write, when you feel like doing it but also when you don't. Write every day.
Write, write, write write write.
The reasoning is sound. Professional athletes train nearly daily in order to keep their muscles hard, their reflexes sharp. Why should the building of writing muscles be any different? You only get good at something by practicing.
It all makes sense. It does, obviously. It's so clear it's almost stupid.
And yet I hate it. I think it can be counterproductive to tell someone to always write, and I'll tell you why.
1. Reading is just as important—probably more important—than writing.
Oh, how often I've read this question in an interview, "What do you read, Writer Person?" only for the author-in-question to respond, "Well, I write so much now that I don't have a lot of time to read."
Ugh. Are you serious? I can't possibly see how that won't have a deleterious effect on your writing. Reading, after all, is how you become discerning about literature; it is how you develop taste; it is, in short, how you learn to tell the difference between crap and genius.
In order to aspire to something, you must have a goal in sight. You must read. If you're running a race only against yourself, don't be surprised when reviewers start noticing your little solipsistic game. Don't be surprised when people start accusing you of becoming a fossil because you've failed to remain aware of what others are doing.
2. Periods of reflection are good for you.
Just as reading is necessary to keep your brain from becoming self-referential mush, periods of reflection are necessary to understand the course you're on. It's all fine and good to be productive, of course, but don't forget that quiet moments ground you to the reality of being a writer. Use such moments to question whether or not you're on the right track, if that plot point or character motivation makes any sense.
2. Writing uncritically, day-in, day-out, can cement bad habits.
I know a lot of writers at this point, and one thing I think I can spot is a lifetime writer—that person who's been writing since they were little. Almost always, they have quirks that reveal how much they've carried forward from youth. This isn't to say they're not good writers, but it is to say that they reveal weaknesses different from those people who started writing as adults.
It's a matter of being uncritical, of being so enthused by writing as a child that you don't question the method of writing. This can happen to adults, too, of course: Sometimes you get taken with what you're doing and forget to turn the critic on.
But the critic must be turned on if you're to become good at writing. Use those moments of reflection I mentioned above to criticize yourself—compassionately, yes, but also with as much objectivity as you can muster.
Above all, don't get caught in the self-deception that simply because you're writing, you're improving. Be an editor, now and then. Stop and look and really see what you've accomplished.
4. Understanding why one writes is important.
Too often, I think we view productivity as a virtue in and of itself, when in reality work for the sake of work is just that: work. There is more to which one should aspire, frankly—and that is truly transformative effort.
Writing every day, as much as you can, can keep you from understanding the very reason you're writing in the first place. Don't get so caught up in the act of writing that you forget what it is you wanted to accomplish. Don't be that person in the Lifetime movie who's so intent on achievement that they forget who they are.
Just like a good Lifetime movie, writing is about LOVE. It should be difficult and sometimes heartbreaking, but in the end it should ground you further to the underlying reality that what you do is awesome.
5. Always writing can blind one to one's emotional reaction.
Say you sell a book, as I did last year. You're thrilled. You're jumping around the house.
The first advice you receive (after the congratulations) is, "Don't rest on this achievement. Write the second book. Now."
You... Don't know what to do. You—and yes, I'm giving up the pretense that I'm referring to anybody but me in this example—are crazy excited and tired and, yes, lazy. Suffering through another book is the last thing you want to do right now. It'd be nice to rest on your laurels a bit, you think. So, you procrastinate. Or, as you put it, you wait for a compelling reason to write again. You like the pressure of a deadline, blah blah blah.
But... on a deeper level that can feel suspiciously like self-justification, you know how valuable it is not to ignore what you are experiencing. It's your first novel sale—a big deal, the culmination of a decades-long dream—and you want to experience the aftereffects of it. You don't want to be so consumed with achieving the next goal that you don't give the current achievement its proper due. You want to consciously come to terms with what you've done. You want to feel the gratitude that the moment deserves.
You want that moment of reflection, so that years later you'll be able to look back and know you felt it happening. You don't want all your memories to be of sitting at your desk, always chasing the next big thing.
Big things are happening now, for everybody. Give yourself room to appreciate them.
Please don't misconstrue me here, Qwilllery folks. I'm not advocating that you shouldn't write if that's what you're drawn to. By all means, write as much as possible.
Nonetheless, you should also question whether or not you should be writing to the detriment of other things. Question if a portion of your time could be better spent reading that challenging book, or taking a walk to resolve that plot issue.
More than anything, don't write for the sake of writing. Write with purpose and love. Know, as best you can, what story you want to tell and why.
Thanks for reading!
About No Return
Night Shade Books, March 5, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
On Jeroun, there is no question as to whether God exists–only what his intentions are.
Under the looming judgment of Adrash and his ultimate weapon–a string of spinning spheres beside the moon known as The Needle–warring factions of white and black suits prove their opposition to the orbiting god with the great fighting tournament of Danoor, on the far side of Jeroun’s only inhabitable continent.
From the Thirteenth Order of Black Suits comes Vedas, a young master of martial arts, laden with guilt over the death of one of his students. Traveling with him are Churls, a warrior woman and mercenary haunted by the ghost of her daughter, and Berun, a constructed man made of modular spheres possessed by the foul spirit of his creator. Together they must brave their own demons, as well as thieves, mages, beasts, dearth, and hardship on the perilous road to Danoor, and the bloody sectarian battle that is sure to follow.
On the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the travelers, Ebn and Pol of the Royal Outbound Mages (astronauts using Alchemical magic to achieve space flight) have formed a plan to appease Adrash and bring peace to the planet. But Ebn and Pol each have their own clandestine agendas–which may call down the wrath of the very god they hope to woo.
Who may know the mind of God? And who in their right mind would seek to defy him? Gritty, erotic, and fast-paced, author Zachary Jernigan takes you on a sensuous ride through a world at the knife-edge of salvation and destruction, in this first installment of one of the year’s most exciting fantasy epics.
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Too much of anything, including writing, is not healthy. I get that loud and clear. You must write if you want to write, but not only write.
Well, thanks right back, Paul!Delete
I'm glad we agree, and that (apparently) my point was clear. I was a little worried I came across as preachy in this. And, given that I haven't been in the publishing world all that long, I think such a tone is unwarranted. Hopefully I'm just imagining it!