Your Best Work Might Be Good Enough

Journey Notes for Writers: If you’ve been working on your novel for a long, long time and not really getting there, here’s a thought: Are you really doing your best?

If all you want to do is write novels, but you’re not sure you have the skill or talent, then are you (unconsciously) doing only half as good a job as you can? Is it possible that instead of doing your very best, you’re “trying really hard”?

It’s easier to be “trying” or “working on it” than it is to find out that you don’t have what it takes or that the world just doesn’t like your brand of fiction.

So instead, you keep on plugging on. Year after year. Attempt after attempt. Always learning and “getting closer”. But never really getting there.

You know what I’m going to say next so I apologise for being obvious – but your best might just be good enough.

So what do you have to lose?

Creating a Novel v.s. Building a Story

Today has been a mellow, peaceful Sunday spent reading, napping and catching a movie. Between The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Rules Don’t Apply (movie with Warren Beatty), I had a realisation.

How-To v.s. Content
On my Road to Writerville I’ve read countless How-To books on everything from character to plot to dialogue (some of it even stuck). Today I realised that I have been so busy focusing on the How-To that I’ve neglected content.

My research on the subject matter of my books has never been as deep as it could be. I’ve been more focused on creating a novel than building a story.

A balance has to be struck
I’ve never agreed with the “write what you know” maxim which is probably why I focused on technical how-to so much. I don’t want to write what I know – I want to write what I’m fascinated in. But just because I’m fascinated in something, doesn’t mean I know enough about it to write convincingly.

Wild Write Your Passion
In one of Natalie Goldberg’s books she says (I paraphrase) “wild write your passion”. What she’s saying, I think, is that the more you write, research and live your passion, the deeper the colour of that passion will seep into your skin so when you do finally sit down to write, you will be writing what you know.

Reading “How-To” books will only take us so far. After that, we have to move on from meta-writing and get interested in the real world.

My favourite quote is still from Henry David Thoreau: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

Have an excellent day.
Tina

Tell the Truth

Tell The Truth - a blog by Tina Konstant for people working on being a professional writer

There is so much advice telling you to “fake it” till you make it, but what if you just told the truth?

“I’m a one-man band working on a cool idea I’d like to tell you about…”

“I have a passion for making chandeliers out of tin cans and you’re my very first commission…”

“I’m knocking my pan in to get my first novel out which I hope the world will love! While I do that, I’m writing everything from short stories to articles to blogs! Glad to have you along for the ride…”

We get enough nonsense and half-truths from politics and advertising. So why add to it?

There’s a vulnerability that comes with telling people exactly where we’re at. It cracks the illusion that we’ve got it all sorted – that we know what we’re doing. Most of us don’t. We’re all working towards our visions and goals. So what’s wrong with saying so? Why do we have to be professionals from the start? What’s so bad about the learning curve?

So be honest: Where are you on your journey? Take comfort in the fact that there will always be others ahead of you and others behind you.

When people know the truth about where you’re at, they’ll know what help and support you might need.

Above all, have fun.
Tina

Procrastination gets a bad rap

What if procrastination isn’t a bad thing? What if it’s a critical part of the creative process? I’m not making excuses for either of us, I’m just asking the question: What if there’s a reason you’re not forging ahead with your cunning plan?

Here are more questions… Instead of beating yourself up because you’re not “getting on with it” ask yourself: What’s missing? Am I ready for the fallout if it goes wrong? Am I ready for the fallout if it goes right? Is the idea ready? Is the idea big enough/small enough/clear enough?

Maybe it needs to stew a little longer?

And there you have it…

Maybe the thing you’re avoiding just needs to stew a little longer. Maybe the idea is a good one, but you’re missing a key ingredient. Maybe it has to sit in its juices for a while to mature before you put it into the world. Maybe procrastination isn’t procrastination at all… maybe its being patient.

Have a most mellow day, folks
Tina

P.S. Here’s a TED talk I think you’ll enjoy. It’s by Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

 

 

You’re your own writer. Do what works for you…

When you’Write your own way - Tina Konstant on Writingre up a ladder, any ladder, it’s natural to look at people who have made it to the top already, see what they did to reach those lofty heights and copy/model/emulate… call it what you like… 

In a writer’s world, that could mean taking advice from one successful writer and getting up and 4 a.m. to write for three hours. That’s “Golden Time”. Or, taking advice from another author and sitting at your desk for eight hours straight regardless of what comes out. Perhaps you’ll follow the time honoured wisdom of writing every day no matter how you feel. Or do a Dame Barbara Cartland and write in bed (I think that’s the myth).

The trouble with doing what other people do, is that that’s what OTHER PEOPLE do.

If we all did what other people did, we’d end up with nothing original. Now, I tried working at 4 a.m. and quite honestly, I was too irritable to write a damn thing. I tried to write in bed, but fell asleep. I sat at my desk for eight hours and got a sore arse.

What other people do doesn’t work for me and most likely won’t work for you, because watching other people up their own ladders and copying what they do only gives us a small piece of their personal puzzle. We only see what stands out.

There’s a successful climber who wears orange. So you wear orange. There’s another one who sings Yankee Doodle. So you sing your heart out. What you miss is the single common factor they all have. They’re all taking one step at a time in an upward direction.

So it doesn’t matter whether you write in bed, an office, on a beach, in a coffee shop, or on the back of your hand. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at dawn, noon or dusk. It doesn’t matter if you drink white tea, black tea, green tea or coffee. The single thing that all successful writers do is WRITE. One word at a time.

It’s that simple.

How you do it is up to you.

So do yourself a favour… Look to yourself. What works for you? What fits in your world?

Instead of trying to mimic your hero’s habits, read their output and produce your own in your own time and in your own way.

Your best writing time might be at 11 p.m. on your neighbours roof. You might like to write by hand and type it in later. You might like to write unplanned. You might like a cappuccino at your elbow. You might like to have three projects on the go. You might like to take days off from writing every now and then to let things soak. You might like post-it notes. Maybe your best work is done in the bath.

It’s about time you perpetuated your own myth, don’t you think?

Be happy, enjoy, hang with the bats.

Ideas, ideas and glorious inspiration!

hMy bet is you’re not just a writer. You’re also an employee, a parent, a cleaner-upper and a dozen other things, which doesn’t leave much space for inspiration because you’re too busy fussing about what keeps money in the bank, your job secure, your kids safe, your dogs fed, your grass short, your garage clear… you get the picture. In our normal lives, there’s very little time for inspiration because we’re too busy dealing with the mundane. So if you’re starved of ideas, take a moment to look at what’s going on in your head.

Do yourself a favour… Take a moment to sit down with no distractions (I know, you might have to go to the toilet to do this – and even then, there’s no guarantee) and write down everything you THINK about every day. Not the stuff you do, but what you THINK about. What fills your head? What do you plan, worry about, fret over? Here are a few examples:

–     When to walk the dogs
–     Sorting food for animals and humans in the house.
–     Dinners for the next week
–     Mail
–     Finances
–     Space
–     Grass cutting and lack of it
–     Cleaning the car
–     Sorting the house, garage, office
–     The boss or your staff
–     The job, the need to get one or change one
–     Kids uniforms
–     Issues at school
And the list goes on forever…

Now, have a look at that list and be REAL about when you actually DO this stuff and how often it needs to happen.

–     Walk the dogs? Once a day. Do you really need to think about it?
–     Feed the animals and the people in the house? Plan a menu, write it down and move on.
–     Kids to school? Morning.
–     Household admin? Once a week.
–     Cut the grass? Saturday morning. Again, do you really need to think about it?

You get my drift?

We might only need to do something once a day or once a week, but we think about it ALL THE TIME!

Instead of thinking about characters, story lines or learning something new and inspiring, we’re filling our heads with administrivia.

Instead of smelling the dish we’re preparing so we can let our characters do the same in the next book/short story, we’re thinking about a grocery list!

Ideas and inspiration are like orchids in a hailstorm. If all you do is rain hell down on them, they’ll have no space to grow.

So monitor your thoughts. When you find yourself fretting, pondering, stressing or re-hashing routine stuff, say instead: “Thanks, got that, I’ll deal with it when I need to. Now for something more interesting…”

Have fun today folks. Give your head some space and inspiration a chance.
Tina

What does Patience have to do with Procrastination?

What does patience have to do with procrastination?Over the last week we’ve talked about procrastination a whole lot on Facebook. Why? We needed something to do instead of what we should be doing, and talking about procrastination seemed appropriate. Oddly, having thought about the subject considerably, we came to a somewhat unexpected conclusion.

Procrastination is more about a lack of patience than putting off what you should be doing.

Think about it for a moment… Think about what you put off doing (I’m not talking about little admin jobs you let build up until they bite your ass, but the things that really matter). These things typically take up a lot of time, the results aren’t immediate, the outcome might well rely on the approval of others, that approval, if not received, could extend the completion of that project.

So take your novel as an example. Think about the time it takes from idea to draft, then from draft to final edit, then from final edit to submission. Then, once you submit it, you have to wait some more. You might or might not get the deal you want. If you don’t, you have to get back to work and wait some more. It’s a long process. It takes time. So instead of diving in and doing it, you do other things. Things that do have a guaranteed outcome (sorting the shed, doing the laundry, building a website, cutting the grass…).

Because the truth is, we don’t do NOTHING when we procrastinate. We fill our time with things we can finish quickly and easily. We get busy and we stay busy. Finishing things we can control feels good. Finishing them quickly feels even better.

So what does patience have to do with procrastination?

If we had patience, we could wake up in the morning and accept that the thing we want to do will take as long as it will take. When you accept that, starting doesn’t seem so daunting.

Patience is the thing that allows us to slow, think and love the ride. It’s the state of mind that allows us to enjoy the views of the journey we’re on. It’s the feeling of calm in a world full of chaos. It’s the acceptance that we are in charge of our daily actions and that freaking out over how long it takes us to get there will do nothing but delay us and give us an ulcer.

So be calm today folks. Be patient with yourself. Some things aren’t meant to be finished in a day or a week or a year. Some things take time. The more impatient you are, the more you will procrastinate, and the longer it will take. So be patient, accept things as they are, pick up your pen, and get to work.

Kick back and watch the grass grow. It will take as long as it takes.
Tina

Writing Retreats: A writer’s place to be

Addo Reach and Hein's Cottage - writer's retreatJust spent a couple of weeks with family in South Africa. My mother’s house, a Bed & Breakfast in a little town called Alicedale, about an hour out of Port Elizabeth, is the kind of place writers dream about when they think about writing retreats. 

The only sound you are likely to hear is the buzz and hum of birds and bees, and random music drifting out of a neighbour’s open door. Peace and seclusion with just enough contact with the outside world to remind you it exists.

It’s in a place like this that you let go of ideas you thought you were wedded to and make new ones that seem somehow braver.

You don’t have to search for a quiet spot in this peaceful place to meditate. All you need to do is sit, and look, and listen to the early morning mist as the sun brushes against it. There’s a sigh in the air at the moment it clears the ground leaving the morning sky blue.

In the beginning, your town and city feet might itch; you’ll find yourself pacing and walking the halls, making tea and noise. Then, on your third day (give or take), things suddenly slow down and you’ll stop watching the clock or the shadows as they shrink and grow then take over for the night.

When you finally accept that nothing is going to happen – there’ll be no noise or chaos, no surprises or mad rushes – then your breathing will slow, your eyes will open and you’ll be able to reach that little bit further into the secret hiding places in your mind where the best version of the writer in you lives.

That’s a place you want to be. It’s the place you want to go to even when the world around you is mad and rushed and crazy. It’s the feeling of slow and still and quiet. It’s the sense of peace that only wide open spaces populated by little more than aloes and elephants can give.

From there, create and write. It’s exactly the place to be.
Hope to meet you there someday soon.
Tina