Thursday, April 18, 2013

The real reason I write every day

When I was a kid I played the violin, and I hated it. Looking back, it was actually a terrible instrumental choice for me. Unlike the rest of my family, I'm not very musical. I have a very bad ear for tune, and the violin gives you enough rope to hang yourself twice over in this since you can literally put your fingers anywhere. I probably would have done much better with piano, where you hit a key and get a note, but by the time I started piano I was 5 years into violin and I'd already learned to hate anything that resembled practice.

My mother made my practice my violin every morning before school. EVERY MORNING. I understand now why she did it, she was trying to show me how practice makes perfect and that by sticking to something through the hard parts, they would stop being hard and I'd be happy with my progress. Unfortunately, none of these lessons took at the time, mostly because 1) I hated the violin, and so 2) I didn't pay attention in practice, just went through the motions so my mom would get off my back, and therefore 3) I never actually got any better.

I quit violin the second I got to High School and never touched another instrument. Way I saw things, I'd toiled in the violin mines for 5 years with nothing to show for it. Therefore, clearly, violins were stupid, unplayable instruments that only freakish naturally talented people could ever hope to master.

I didn't realize it until years later, but I took many of the lessons from my battle with the violin with me to writing. You see, back when I was first getting serious about the idea of actually creating a story for other people to read, people said (as they say now and have always and will always say) that I needed to write every day. I had to stick with it, to push past the hard parts and get my words, and bit by bit, all those 500 word sessions would stack up into a novel.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a true point and an excellent sentiment. If you write so many words every day, eventually you will have a novel. Many, many novels are written this way. I've written novels this way. But there's a difference between writing every day and forcing yourself to write.

I harp on the idea that writing should be fun a lot. It's one of my core beliefs. If I'm not enjoying what I'm writing, then I stop and figure out why. Sometimes, I don't write it at all (notice how I didn't say "I don't write" just that I don't write the thing I didn't like). I believe that an author's love and passion for their own work can't help but shine through the prose. That energy that consumes you when you're writing something you love gets transferred to your reader and becomes infectious. Also, it is phenomenally easier to find the time to write daily when you're looking forward to the exercise.

This is why, when I hear people talking about daily writing practice, I get a little tic in my jaw, because it makes me think of that damn violin. Not to willfully misunderstand the usage of the word "practice" here (meaning both "the act of" as well as "doing some to get better" in this instance) but the connotation is not a pleasant one for me, because that trial I endured every morning through elementary school and middle school is something that I never, ever, ever want anywhere near the joyful, wonderful event that is writing.

I'd almost rather you not write at all than force yourself to write when you hate it. You see, resentment is like grime. It builds up slowly and poisons everything around it. I know. I did this to myself a few times in the early days, forcing myself to get up every morning and write words I didn't care about. It was just like the violin. I resented the work, resented how it didn't get any easier or better. I resented my writing, and that is a horrible, horrible feeling for someone whose great ambition and driving force in life was to be a writer. I felt I was betraying myself, betraying my dream and all my work. I felt like a failure.

It was fear of this feeling, fear of losing my stories to my resentment, that taught me to stop treating writing like the violin. The only way you become a better writer is through practice and observation, writing stories and figuring out why they work and why they don't. But if you're just writing because you have to, to meet a quota, then you're like me with that violin, and you're not getting any better, which kind of defeats the whole point, doesn't it?

One of my greatest triumphs over nine years of writing seriously was learning to love my writing instead of just practicing it. I still write every weekday (I'd write weekends, too, but I have a toddler who wants my attention for some reason. Something about being a mother? I also have a house that doesn't clean itself. Jerk.) only now I refuse to write things I don't like. These days, though, I take daily writing even more seriously than I did when I was writing to a quota, but for a new and much better reason.

One of my absolute favorite sayings is that "writing begets writing." The more you write on a story you enjoy, the easier, better, and more exciting the next day's writing becomes. When I write every day, I build up momentum, like running down hill with a hang glider. Get going fast enough, and the story will lift you up all on its own and take you flying, which is every bit as awesome as it sounds. This is my goal in every book, to reach that lift off point, and the only way I get there is by writing regularly on projects I love. And let me tell you, my word counts on the flying days? Breathtaking.

Today's going to be a flying day for me. I hope you have the same.

Happy writing!
- R


Anonymous said...

This post could have come at a better time. I have been struggling. It really hit a nerve.

Well have a good insight into these things.

Thanks. :)

the superhero princess said...

I am struggling with this right now. I'm writing a novel for NaNoWriMo that I *hate*. I love the concept and would totally read the book that came from it, but I loathe -- absolutely loathe -- sitting down to write it. It isn't me and I know it. And so I've stopped writing it and instead focused on writing articles for work and blog posts. Thank you, thank you for clearly delineating when you need to use discipline and when you need to let the ship sail. This was incredibly helpful to me today.

Unknown said...

What about writing a synopsis? How do I get better at that? :P

Rachel Aaron said...

@superhero princess - this actually happens to me all the time. I have all these ideas that I know would be awesome books and I would read the crap out of, but I just can't bring myself to write them because they're not me. It's very frustrating and I totally feel your pain!

@laura there is no way to get better at synopsisesesss (WHATEVER PLURAL OMG). They all suck.

Katie said...

These words truly resonate with me. I decided to pursue a university degree in writing and I thought it would be all things amazing. We would sit around all day discussing plots and stationery addictions and classes would be exciting adventures where I'd learn about my beloved craft.

Instead, I discovered that I'd just be doing a straight out Arts degree with only one writing subject. Said writing subject was taught by writers who didn't believe in genre fiction (and who wouldn't accept that their chosen arena of literary fiction is a genre). Writing became homework instead of something I did to avoid homework.

Your success with your books has proven that writing only what you love is a solid choice. I think I'll take inspiration from that. Thank-you. :)

Elisabeth Lohninger said...

This is great! Happy flying! I need to get one of your books immediately.
Well, apart from the 2k to 10k which I read and found incredibly helpful. In fact I apply quite a bit of it to my every-other-day writing practice (not a full time writer unfortunately - or fortunately? Who knows...) Thank you for being inspiring.

KJ said...

Always love your posts and found your book 2k to 10k truly inspiring. Thank you!

Tiny1 said...

I've played the violin snice I was seven years old, so I know exactly what you mean. I hated it for years, because I wasn't playing for fun. I HAD to play it, because my Mum said so. I didn't start to like it until some time later, when I actually started to sound halfway decent and play stuff I actually liked.
It's just like that with writing. At first you sound bad and it's so frustrating, and then over time, you improve and you realise the work isn't actually work afterall :)

Hel Stone said...

Excellent post, my dear. True. We need to balance between attempts of writing every day and receiving a true pleasure from the practice. There are days when you're not in the zone, and i think it's okay. I remember myself at school where we had too many writing assignments on topics I didn't actually like. I had bad grades because I was limited to style, format, topics, ects. When I tried to use grade calculator to figure out the average grade I had for writing class it was really awful. So yeah, write only about things you feel passion for.

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I think you are right. I write every day too) It helps me to improve my writing skills said...

Sometimes we need more info to see what the writer meen. I like you writing way becouse of that) you write clear without "smart"

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