This quote from Theodore Roosevelt is one that has resonated with me for a while and conversations over the weekend at the SCBWI annual conference made me think about it again.
At every step on the writer’s journey there are opportunities to stop and take in the view, chat to other travellers and compare notes. This may help when looking for a smoother path or tips on how to make the journey less tiring but gets a bit more complicated when we start comparing our journeys. Every writer knows that each journey is individual, there is no one set route, but we can sometimes look at the fast walker, or the one with a lighter rucksack and special hiking boots, or the one that set off before us and we haven’t caught up with and think they have it easier.
It is hard when someone else is where you want to be. Unbelievably hard. Writing isn’t a whim to shrug off – most people are putting tens if not hundreds of hours into their stories and so the stakes are high, the disappointments real and the setbacks painful. And seeing others where you want to be compounds these feelings.
But comparisons don’t stop with other people; I struggle with internal comparison, and never more than when I’m writing a first draft. I move from polished story to clunky word tangle and panic. It is clear what has happened – I have lost the ability to write. The new story has no plot, the characters are two dimensional and aren’t even named and the title sounds like it’d put you to sleep.
All this is sort of manageable if you can keep the words coming, but I suspect that others may have the same problem as me – that when things aren’t going well, writing is hard. With all these worries and comparisons in my head, there is no room to sit quietly and listen to the story.
After several years of trying different strategies, I’ve got two things that I now focus on.
Firstly, I try to write mindfully. By this I mean, sit and only think of your story. Every time a thought other than your story comes along, acknowledge it, then let it go. Come back to thinking about your story, your characters and your world. Then, once you’ve got that story-love burning, start writing. Concentrate only on the words. Be wholly present in that story moment. This is good for drafting – just you and your story. When it comes to editing, allow in an image of your final reader – not an agent or an editor, but a child or teenager curled up with your story. What do they want to read? This helps me to keep out the noise of publishing when I’m writing.
And secondly, when I am thinking about ‘what next’ for my story, I remind myself that I am on my own path, and this isn’t like anyone else’s. Take inspiration from others going the same way, and help those who are struggling, but in the end this is your journey. It may be that others appear to be having a much better time of it, or have had a leg-up but don’t let that concern you. Focus on what you can change or influence and ignore the bits you can’t. Be happy for those who are celebrating and offer tissues and hugs to those who aren’t because without a doubt, you will have both ups and downs too.
Keep writing, courageous traveller.
Image courtesy of Freepik