It’s All About Self-Esteem: Writing Can Be a Blood Sport
Diana Y. Paul on the challenges of being a writer—and tips for how to conquer procrastination.
Writing well is very difficult, and sometimes very painful. It tests your self-esteem. You have to build stamina to write a book, because writing can be a blood sport.
People often ask me: “Why are you spending all this time trying to write a novel?” I despise that question, since my biggest enemy is my own self-doubt. I’m a writer. I care about writing. I have to fight my way through.
Moving the narrative from my brain into the brains of my readers is no easy task. Words are my only tools. When I sat down with my idea for Things Unsaid, my debut novel, I knew my first draft was going to be a data dump, an image mostly of the main character. Then later I would start chiseling away, going over each word, adding and subtracting, polishing and refining.
If you want to write a story, you first need to write a paragraph. If you want to write a paragraph, you first need to put together a coherent sentence. And that is what saved me. I wrote phrases, which became sentences, then paragraphs, then scenes. I put myself on a deadline so that every week I would finish some scenes, gradually completing a chapter, then two chapters and so on.
I always care. And I did write, although I couldn’t write Things Unsaid every day in the beginning. As writers we have to figure out what works for us. And throw the other “stuff” away.
Writing anything is a step forward. Anything. Sometimes I have to force myself to write, so I won’t lose momentum. So here are my four tips for conquering procrastination that have helped me:
1) NaNoWriMo month (November): One of the best antidotes to procrastination. It is an online forum of writers and forces you to write every day, to reach the magical 90,000 words by the end of the month. I didn’t reach that Holy Grail. But, I did reach 30,000 words or five chapters and am now one-third way through the first draft for my second novel. I love you, NaNoWriMo.
2) Rewards: After something—anything—is on the screen. A cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate, gardening for half an hour. It rests the mind and the eyes, and jumpstarts my writing self for the next writing session!
3) Read: I read short stories for inspiration. Such wonderful writers everywhere! I also look at webinars and tutorials. Warning: Don’t let this fill up your entire writing day—no more than one webinar a week.
4) Baby Steps: I make specific mini-goals with an exact start time and end-time.
For example, I am going to work on a scene between the main character and her daughter for one hour at 11 a.m. That is a mini-goal. My realistic writing goal, in the beginning, was one hour.
If you suffer from anxiety and fear, maybe your writing dredges up hard-to- tolerate feelings. It isn’t writing itself that you dislike, it’s the emotions that surface when you write. I remind myself that putting off the writing, in the end, won’t make it more enjoyable. I’ll feel bad about myself and defeated as a writer. Writers write. If you can find a way to be more welcoming to these emotions, they may grace you with fresh energy and ideas for your muse. Write unplugged!
Diana Y. Paul was born in Akron, Ohio and is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a degree in both psychology and philosophy, and of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with a PhD in Buddhist studies. She is the author of three books on Buddhism, one of which has been translated into Japanese and German (Women in Buddhism, University of California Press), and her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals. She lives in Carmel, CA with her husband and two cats, Neko and Mao. To learn more about Diane, visit her author website at http://www.dianaypaul.com and her blog on movies, art, and food at http://www.unhealedwound.com or follow her on Twitter: @DianaPaul10.
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