Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows
I'm tired of people telling me how to eat. (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)
I'm tired of people telling me to exercise. (Walk. No, walking isn't enough. Run. No, running is bad for your knees, interval training. No, you have to do cross-fit.)
I'm tired of people telling me how to think. (Case in point: the recent election. Or every day on the Internet.)
And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write. And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.
In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter. "They were the three things
in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate,
her sacred cows."
And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.
1. Meditate. This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me. However, meditating is like exercise–we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it. At least, that's how my mind works. You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself. I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator–my mind is all over the place–but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts. I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less. So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.
2. Writing every day. Stop groaning. You know it's good for you to write every day. And you know you want to. This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis. And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it. I get it, I do. It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day. But the rewards–oh, the rewards are so many! Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum. And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well. So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.
3. Use prompts. Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.) Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow. When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes. And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray. Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant. So I can see both sides of this sacred cow. I give it half credit.
4. Let it rip. Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish. Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes. This is how I write my novels. And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also. Because I've seen too many people–myself included–get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens? You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating. And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing. Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.
5. Don't multitask. Do I even have to go into this sacred cow? Multitasking is death to creativity. How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal? You can't. Period. This one stands.
Those are the sacred cows that occur to me. What are yours? Do they hold up under your scrutiny?