I haven’t written a short story since 2016. Honestly, it’s shocking to even just write that because this fact upsets me. It’s really been 3 years? I know I wrote a novel somewhere in there (THAT I STILL HAVE YET TO FINISH EDITING) but I seriously couldn’t cram in a story or two in that time? Really? Really? What happened to my writing goals?
I really don’t know how a lot of writers maintain consistency, but I guess there’s no time to figure that out quite like the present. Especially now that I’m not working my full-time retail job. I’ll just be straight up honest and say that while doing the stay at home mom thing can be very grating at times, not having a place to be or a designated hour to wake up every morning makes a universe of difference. I stay up until 2 AM every damn night.
I’m really not the best writer to be doling out writing advice right now, but I’m just gonna do it anyway. I mean, sure I’m crap now, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t good at one point.
The key to writing like a pro (what is a pro writer, anyway?) is consistency, so I might follow my old rules for a few months until work gets too hard or I get pregnant or Rockstar puts out a new video game. Those are my flaws. You’ve likely got your own. Chances are, you’re reading this with the hope that I can motivate you.
Well, here we go. Let’s do this together!
I’ll just tell you straight off that writing really feels like addiction when I’m really immersed in it. Other writers will definitely vouch for me. Those late nights? The coffee? That space I can carve out solely for me and the little world I’ve established? The sound of the keys tapping? The playlists I make full of story-appropriate songs? Even the way my story functions when I’m not actually writing. Plot mechanics keep ticking. Characters speak to me. Their voices are background noise when I’m cooking and cleaning and walking to work and back. To write a story is to exist in two places at once.
The “Writer’s High”. I was writing the second draft of my novel the last time I experienced it. Then I got pregnant and it faded for nine months. I need it back. I want to get high again. Unfortunately, sometimes I need more than just the need to experience the high to actually get there.
Fortunately, one of my writer friends recently became an editor at a small press and put out anthology call. And the theme is right up my alley. So, I read the submission call and concocted a plot. Then I started writing. And then, well, I got bored.
Find An Alternative Energy Source
If you’ve read Vile Men you know what I like to write about. Darkness. Crime. Sex. I still love all those things. For some reason, I just can’t write them anymore. At least not in that combo. So this anthology call added a specific element to its call. Said element required me to examine the characters I always write about (let’s not lie: they’re pretty much all hetero white Gen X/Millennials) and try to diversify a bit.
It took some time. It was hard to accept my limits at first, but then I took a month and did some research. I joined some new Facebook groups. I injected myself with some new perspective. My protagonist slowly started becoming real. Then one night, while I was sitting in front of the computer, she started speaking. In her voice.
I started writing.
Yes, I’m still writing my standard affair. People are still gonna get it on and people are still gonna hate themselves, but honestly, just having this new challenge is very interesting. (Honestly, I’d love to share more about my new “drive” but I’d rather keep the cards close to the chest until I finish this story.) Seeing things from a different place really does help you rewire your work, though. So start following some disabled Youtubers. Listen to some LGBTQ+ podcasts. Follow some people on Twitter of different races. There’s so much else going on that might inspire you.
Dissect Unproductive Things
Before I got heavy into short fiction in 2010, I played a lot of video games. I was never much of a gamer, but I liked the idea of being more into it. I liked the freedom, the stress relief. Unfortunately, for creatives, gaming sucks up a lot of free time when you could be actually doing some work. Work, which shockingly, is also stress-relieving.
So yeah, I might have almost finished Skyrim at one point, but I literally can’t do that anymore. I don’t even watch my husband game anymore. I have to write instead. My only exception is when a new Red Dead Redemption game comes out, or a Grand Theft Auto game comes out. Because I’m a garbage gamer and I’m a sucker for Rockstar and I like having trouble opening drawers and shit.
My point is, recognize what you need to cut, what isn’t productive. I can still game, but I can’t play all the games. I also can’t crochet as much as I want. Like I’d love to make a bunch of crochet blankets but they’re too much of a time-suck and I have too many damn blankets in my house anyway. It wouldn’t be a productive use of my time (even though my son’s bedroom does need more rustic cable-knit crochet pillows – my current WIP!).
One of my writer friends recently shared his “writer rule” on Facebook. He works full-time and has three kids, BUT he always ensures that he spends one hour writing every night, and he must 300 words. I read that and thought about how damn reasonable it was.
Granted, I might have some trouble with the “rule” when I go back to full-time work in a year, but for now, I’ve allotted myself one hour every night and I have to write at least 500 words.
It’s been insanely easy. The hour goes by fast. Sometimes I write 600 words. Sometimes I spend two hours working, or I work until the baby gets upset or my coffee runs out.
Editing is a bit trickier to “count”, but I like to leave my “Project Targets” window on Scrivener on. I’ll cut words. I’ll add a few. Essentially, if that word count bar is fluctuating, I’m getting work done.
Most of my adult writing life has been plagued with inconsistency. I recall once in high school I made a goal of writing two short stories a month. It was a goal that I actually manged to stick with all year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until LitReactor’s WAR competition (an NCAA style bracket writing contest) that I was churning out work on a regular basis. Most of the stories I wrote during the two WAR tournaments ended up in Vile Men. I wrote a few more stories and published them here and there.
Then it was time to write a novel and I put short stories aside for a while. Maybe for too long. I’ve definitely missed it. I’ve clearly needed these writing goals.
I’m sure MOST writers struggle with writing work on a regular basis. Between my job and my kids and cleaning my bathroom, I struggle with keeping up consistency. Anxiety gets in the way. So does health. Sometimes I’m way too damn tired to stay up at night. I think it’s okay to cut myself some slack, but I do often struggle with not feeling like a “real” writer if writing isn’t something I’m doing every day.
I’m just trying to get back on the horse. As I’m sure we all are.
So, How Are You?
Are you in the same boat, or am I a total fraud doling out advice while not writing? How long do you go between stints? How do you motivate yourself? Do you drink when you write? Do you drink Americanos as I do? What are your writing goals? Feel free to comment and share. Let’s get high together.