Saturday, April 2, 2016

Keepin' on

Keep on keepin' on ... was a popular phrase in the '70s. It meant just as much then (as we long-time writers cruised through our youth and its traumas) as it does now. Only now, we're writing. And keepin' on can be challenging. It takes a real commitment.

Another phrase—this time from a 1981 Journey song—matters as well: "Don't Stop Believin'." I can hear Steve Perry in my head, belting out that line. In this case, I mean believe in yourself.  Without self-confidence we will lack the means to overcome writing problems. Many more writers than you may realize have encountered fear and lacked self-confidence, even after achieving publication and fame. It's part of the territory we inhabit.

I spent most of my career as a journalist, switching to fiction later in life. Creative writing was a terrific challenge until I began to take it seriously. Then I worried about writing well. And who among us ever thinks we write as well as we could or should?

I used to be a night writer, coming home from a copy editing shift at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester and spending two or three hours writing in the middle of the night. I got the bulk of a novel written that way. After awhile, and a few rejections, I put it away and worked on short fiction. I stopped "believin' " in myself.

Oh me of little faith... I believed it was good—a few agents said so—but I was uncertain what I needed to do, how to make it the best I could offer. They had said it "wasn't there yet." I had no idea what that meant. I lacked confidence, and other things were going on, so I put it away.

But as it turned out, I couldn't give it up. It wouldn't let me. I picked at it like a dog with a mangled, dirty bone, never touching on anything palatable. Pitiful, really.

At the suggestion of a writing coach I met through Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative, I switched to days—and my novel has profited from it. I'm steady again, truckin' this book into the future. I'm back.

For one thing, I'm more tired at night than I used to be. Daytime has advantages: (1) my schedule permits early-day writing (when I'm most alert) and (2) I'm becoming a more consistent editor. Distance has improved my ability to edit my novel.

Essentially, it had become far too easy to allow the rest of life to interfere. I can procrastinate like a pro. It's easy to dilly-dally with grandchildren, writers groups, meetings and other obligations. We all can. We all do. Most writers are easily distracted, and I think that's because writing is sedentary work—especially rewriting. We find a million reasons not to go there.

That's why so many writers say the first step is to put your seat in the chair!
It's important to discover whatever type of schedule works for your writing; that will vary with work schedules and family needs. Both women and men, but especially women, feel the need to ensure that everyone in the family—or even the community—has just what they want or need before they will absent themselves for a while to write. That needs to be better balanced. Writing time is sacred; you need to set it and respect it.

There's less confusion and more cohesion in my writing life now that I return to it day after day. Before, writing was like going to the gym: busy with freelancing and my writing group, I didn't mind missing a day of my own work. After all, I was still "writing," wasn't I? Whenever I returned to the real passion of my life, however, there were gaps, forgotten changes, slower starts. It just wasn't working.

I am not a strictly organized type of person. Writing nearly daily, however, has kept me focused on maintaining a reasonably loose but real schedule. I attach a certain time frame, though I can't always write at the same time daily. Just seeing the time there, on paper, draws me to the task. Keeps me keepin' on.
Aretha Franklin's call for "Respect" should be applied here: respect yourself. Become the writer you want and need to be. You're the only person who can do it.

Ann Connery Frantz writes fiction and is a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative. She writes about New England authors in the Telegram & Gazette, Worcester. Her Read It and Reap column for book clubs ( runs monthly in the paper.

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