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You’re (Not) Doing It Wrong

This rambling post is one I’d been meaning to write for a while, and then I read Katy Upperman’s fabulous post On Insanity last week,* which made me want to post it even more. One of the hardest things about being a writer is quashing the impulse to compare your trajectory with everyone else’s. Or what you think everyone else’s is. And on social media, we typically see mostly the big milestones that people reach: finishing a draft, getting an agent, winning a contest, selling a book. There’s a constant chanting of good news and big news for other people through blogs and Twitter and Tumblr. Well, yay! That is awesome. Good news for one is sort of good news for all, because it means that our industry is thriving and authors are creating and readers are buying. But the steady stream of “NEWS!” also presents an illusion, one that things are happening faster, or easier, or more frequently for other people.

The thing that I’m feeling all compare-y about lately is speed, or the lack thereof (in terms of how quickly I can finish a project). The more I tune into Twitter, the more I start to think that everyone else is writing perfect first drafts in four weeks, and still blogging, tweeting, and tumblring regularly. Meanwhile I am revising . . . and revising . . . and revising the same old WIPs. Which has been driving me slightly nuts. Honestly, I am kind of a slow writer, and I’m not a full-time one. That’s right–I know that the limitations on my writing speed are understandable–it’s not like I’m slow because I keep choosing to binge-watch Nashville instead of revise a chapter.** I get that I should feel good about myself for the solid progress I am making, at a pace that works for me. The fact that I’m steadily working and meeting actual deadlines is what’s important, right? Sure. But when I dip into my Twitter feed and the blogosphere, I kind of lose that perspective. I find myself thinking, You’re doing it wrong, slowpoke.

Writing’s not easy, and everyone’s struggling with something. Comparison is an unnecessary problem, but a difficult one to fix. Is the solution to avoid social media? I don’t think so: It can be a great, beneficial, stimulating, supportive place. If there’s a solution, I think it’s to remind ourselves that there is no right way to do this–write, tell stories, create. Or, if there is a “right” way, it is whichever way is working for you. Slow and steady can win the race. So can fast and frenzied. I love this post from The Kindness Project on making time, and this line stuck with me: “Kindness, like most things, starts with yourself.” Letting go of the need to compare–that’s also an act of kindness toward yourself.

From now on, I’ll ask myself: Are you doing what works for you, right now (while still keeping yourself accountable)?
Great. Then you’re not doing it wrong.

*Uh, at the beginning of May, actually. See? I am slow (and that’s . . . okay).
**Not that there is anything wrong with binge-watching TV once in a while, or specifically watching Nashville, which is a delightful show. Please do not tell me what happened in the finale because I haven’t watched it yet. 🙂

15 Responses to You’re (Not) Doing It Wrong

  1. Love this! As someone who’s been working on the same project since November (VERY part-time) it’s nice to know that I’m not the only slow one. I think it actually makes it easier to not get caught up in everyone else’s news–I’m SO far from even being ready to query (and it seems like every day I read a post about how maybe I shouldn’t even query this project, since it’s my first) that everything about the publication process seems kind of alien to me. Right now I’m just trying to make my story work the way I want it to. I can understand how someone in the middle of publication stuff like you might feel more pressure, but remember: the only thing you can really control is writing the stories you want to tell, the way you want to tell them. Everything else is external. As I say to my students about eighty times a day, “You do you.”

  2. Dana says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I needed to read this today. I’m working on a middle grade novel right now, and it’s going so slowly. It’s good to know that, in spite of how quickly everyone else seems to be finishing drafts, I’m not doing things wrong. Thanks. 🙂

    Have a great Tuesday.

  3. I’m a slow and steady, too!

  4. Rachel says:

    There is no right or wrong way to write. I have been working on revisions off and on for this book for a year. I gave in my R&R in January, haven’t heard (even from a nudge 🙁 ) but realized two weeks ago, the book needed more work. I’m now revising again. All my CPs and betas think I am crazy (bc I revised/rewrote for a year) BUT I also know what needs to be done and I can see that now – so why not do it? I’m also 21,000 words into a WIP but it is HARD. It is not a perfect draft, even though all my CPs and betas think it is “because the language is sooo pretty!” Um. No. I write a sentence and then don’t look at it for weeks or months on end. LOL. Hopefully one day I will finish it but honestly…every book’s process is different. I drafted the beginning “fast” (3 weeks) but am now struggling to get further in the work. The book I’ve been revising/had an R&R for?? That took me 4 weeks to write the first draft… Nothing is as simple as it looks.

  5. Jaime Morrow says:

    This is such a timely post. I have been struggling with this very thing lately, and because of that I’ve been not as present on Twitter as I normally might be. Mostly I’m just sitting around here feeling guilty when I’m not working on revisions, feeling anxious because I’m not done my revisions yet, and feeling frustrated with how the revisions are going in the first place. You raise a good point about only seeing the big milestones on social media and not all of the blood, sweat, and tears along the way. That’s the part we should be focusing on, because with very few exceptions, we all have quite the journeys with our writing. We all tend to be our own worst critics and that’s such an enemy to creativity and just getting things done.

    Thanks for the honest post, Rebecca. I think we can all relate and we all need to be reminded of this from time to time. 🙂

  6. I love this post! So needed this right now. I’m also a slow writer. I’m *still* revising a book I started years ago! There’s also been a lot of good news for my writer friends lately, which I’m thrilled about, but it’s hard sometimes not to compare myself and doubt my own progress. I know I need to just focus on my own journey and I’ll get there eventually. 🙂

    Good luck with your revisions!

  7. Heather says:

    I was feeling discouraged until I read this post. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  8. emery lord says:

    I needed this so badly.

    I turned in something to my agent last week that took me a full year. It has been 9 days since that…and I’m *panicking* that I haven’t been able to start something new full-force. Like, I won’t have a career because I have shitty turn-around time and everyone else would be able to do this and isn’t this your JOB?! and c’MON self.

    If anyone spoke to me the way I speak to myself in my head, I would slap that chick on the real. So…anyway, thank you, friend.

  9. Valerie Cole says:

    Yes! Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling with the same thing lately and have been repeating “stories take time. stories take time” like a mantra.

  10. I love every word of this, Rebecca. Your post makes me feel so normal and so not-alone. Thank you for those remeinders, and for reinforcing the fact that whatever process works for us as individuals IS the right process. (Also, I am in awe of people who work full-time and STILL manage to crank out full manuscripts. I’m home most of the day and have trouble staying on task and remaining productive!)

  11. Paula Harvey says:

    Great post, I was just beginning to enter a period of self-doubt due to my speed (actually, lack of speed) when it comes to finishing writing projects. Between working full time, family responsibilities, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, completing a MS can take a while. Thanks for posting this and for helping writers like me to avoid that trap of serious self-doubt!

  12. Elodie says:

    Thank you! This is such a honest and much-needed reminder of doing what works for us. We all have different ways of working on our writing, different schedules, different paths. But we all should be kind to ourselves. I think like you I´ll ask myself the next time if I´m doing the right thing for me.
    Best of luck for your revisions and just know I´m cheering for you on the other side of the Atlantic!

  13. Rebecca B says:

    So nice to get all this feedback–and to know that I’m not alone in feeling frustrated–and sometimes doubtful–about my writing pace. Group hug! 🙂

  14. I’m a slow writer/reviser too, but in my case, I’m afraid it’s largely due to slumps where I don’t work at all. Since you mentioned binge-watching, I’ll compare my problem to binge-purging with writing. Short spurts of excited production, then long stretches of purging – writing nothing at all. Would much rather be slow and steady.

    But such a very good point that comparison can be so discouraging.

  15. Such an honest and well written post – thank you so much for sharing this…the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, either.

    It’s so hard not to compare ourselves to others…especially when they’re your friends and you’ve been rooting them on from the beginning. But you’re so right that each one of us struggles with something different. I can crank out 40k + words in a weekend – not that all of them are usable words, but I can do it when I have my mind set to writing. However, I can’t seem to land an agent for the life of me. After working with one exclusively for almost two years, he seemed to think “I’d snatch one up in a heartbeat” when we sadly had to part ways because of his busy schedule…but snatch up is not something that’s happened.

    So, while I’d gladly trade the ability to type a mile a minute for the chance to be onto the next step in the process and have an agent, I know my journey will eventually get there – and I can’t compare myself to anyone else. Even when that’s the easiest thing to do sometimes.

    I think looking back at all you’ve accomplished so far, often helps. Each one of us is so much further ahead than we were a year ago (or even a day ago!) – and while yes, we all have challenges – eventually we’ll make it across that finish line!

    Congratulations on all of your successes so far – it will be great to see all of your new ones, in the future.