The above video isn't required viewing by any means but will give you a good sense of where I'm coming from. That, and it's one of the most useful concepts I've come across as a creative (and it will help whether you're a painter, writer, actor or anything else).
I decided, maybe last week, that I would start acting like a professional. When you work in a creative field, it's all too easy to explain away bad behaviours by saying "I'm an artist". With me, those behaviours are being broke, being late, waking up late, and slacking off. Turning pro means treating writing like a job more than an art. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I'm definitely not the first person to think this (and I'm lifting it from people that have come before).
I've tried a couple different things to try and be more professional. I started writing for wikiHow, because it was so similar to a job, except I could choose my hours and how much work I did as long as I met their minimum. That didn't work out. The pace at which you're supposed to understand a subject and write a how-to article was too quick for me. I'm not a slow writer, but I couldn't keep up with the demand. I ended up feeling frustrated every week because I couldn't match up to their expectations, and all the time I spent working on their articles took away from things I wanted to do. Then again, I didn't end up doing the things I wanted to do anyway. I was so burnt out from trying to write what wikiHow wanted that I didn't want to touch a keyboard for the rest of the day. I only spent about three hours a day writing for them, and it was too much.
I tried working backwards, reverse-engineering what I wanted to do. I decided I didn't want to write copy or SEO worked blog posts for various online companies. There's nothing wrong with copywriting, except that it completely bores me. As for the blog posts you see all over the internet, so many of them are poorly written pieces that get churned out for views and traffic. They don't say or mean anything. They're repackaged words given some shine to catch the eye. If you like writing those, power to you. That's not what I'm about. So I decided I would start writing fiction. I always did it as a hobby (and I mean always, like the kid who's always drawing in the back of the class). Might as well do something with it. So I reverse-engineered it. Looked for online publications accepting submissions and saw what they wanted. Working backwards, I started trying to write things that would fit their requirements. It worked great for one story (the vampire vigilante story I wrote in two weeks, Nyctophobia), which I've now submitted and am just waiting to hear back. Beyond that, I couldn't write anything. I had a week to write a few stories that hovered around 2000 words, but nothing happened. I stifled myself and failed to deliver anything but one story last month.
Working backwards isn't the key, not for me, not for this. Copywriting isn't it either. So what did I start doing?
I started copying Stephen King.
Not plagiarizing what he writes, mind you, just the way he works. Stephen King writes 2000 words a day. I was lucky if I wrote that much in a week. Through a short internet study of other writers, of the craft itself, I learned two things. First, you don't start writing when inspiration strikes you. You start writing and then you'll get inspired. The blank page only stays blank until you put a word on it. Second, good ideas tend to stick around. I have what I thought was a good habit; I write everything down. Dialogue, themes, plots, characters, whatever it is I write it down (I even started writing during a wedding ceremony once). Turns out, that may not be the best idea. To paraphrase Stephen King (because I'm becoming a great fan of his work ethic), you can write down a bad idea and it'll stick. Good ideas do that on their own. A good idea's going to keep nagging at your mind until you write something out of it, until you bleed it dry on the page and see what comes out of it.
So as I continue trying to climb, trying to go pro, I'm going to do two things:
- I'm going to write 2000 words a day (it's been hit-or-miss so far).
- I'm going to write about what nags me, not just the last thing I wrote down.
Let's see where that gets me.