1. SET SPECIFIC GOALS
Writing is a muscle – it improves the more you use it. I first starting with flash fiction stories just a few paragraphs long, and the more I wrote the longer they became. It took me years to attempt something as complex and multi-layered as a novel.
The same principle goes for being creative. Ideas don’t arrive fully-formed. They build themselves piecemeal from a thousand sources. Hunt art you don’t normally engage with. Read things you wouldn’t normally read. I love fantasy, but reading it can also be panic-inducing as I start to wonder what can new things can I do in a genre so packed with great writers. Immersing myself in other plots and tropes is a breath of fresh air. Diversify what you read, and bring what you find back to your work.
Challenge yourself. Set yourself the task of entering a writing contest. Now you’ve found a word count, a deadline and a loose theme. You mightn’t win, you mightn’t even get your entry in, but engaging with a challenge forces your brain to work.
2. SET REALISTIC GOALS
I recently found out about a short story competition a day before the closing date, and part of me immediately wanted to go for it. Ten hours. I could write something in ten hours. Right? Six-pack of Diet Coke, four packets of crisps, pull an all-nighter – I’d definitely get it in.
Fortunately, the rest of my brain clubbed together and pointed out that I wasn’t still in college, and that I was not only setting myself up for failure, but setting myself up for tired, teeth-grindingly-caffeinated failure.
The problem with writing is that you set your own goals. You can give yourself a week off, or you can decide you absolutely do not deserve to be a writer if you don’t do five thousand words before the end of lunch time.
Both are dangerous. If I hit 1000 words of a new draft, I count that day as a success. Anything over that is brilliant, but I know if I push myself to 2000 the quality will start to dip and my frustration will start to rise. Everyone has their own specific count, but the important thing is to pick one within your grasp because if you set yourself up for failure, that failure can knock you back for days. Which leads me to my next point –
3. DON’T PUNISH YOURSELF FOR FAILURE
It’s going to happen. J.K. Rowling recently shared some rejection letters on Twitter. The Beatles were told that ‘guitar music was on the way out’ in 1959. Rejection, disappointment and setbacks are a fundamental part of creativity. It isn’t always going to work out. What matters is what you do with that failure.
It’s easy to decide that this failure was your last. It’s easy to say ‘well I missed that deadline, I’m taking the week off,’ or decide that Chapter 3 is too difficult, so you’re going to go back and rewrite Chapters 1 & 2 again, as you’ve been doing for the last five years.
No failure is definitive. If you realise 80% of the way into a book that you should have been writing in third person all along – yes, that is frustrating. But on the upside, you probably have some great structure, characters and sentences there, which means you’re not starting from scratch. If you’ve written a brilliant short story that didn’t get shortlisted, then you still have a brilliant short story.
Be careful how you characterise your failure. Use it as momentum. Get angry, if you like (though never respond to rejection letters) and decide you’re going to hone your craft as much as possible before re-applying.
Failure is not the end of the world. It’s a tool like any other. For instance…
4. MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
There’s nothing stopping you stopping. You could quit writing, bin your half-completed weredragon noir detective series and decide it was never for you. But if you do ever want to see Scales of Justice (working title) published, you need to make yourself accountable.
Checks and balances. Make yourself submit somewhere every time you get a rejection letter. Reward yourself every 1000 words by adding something to your books wishlist and treat yourself at 10. You’re your own boss now. And while nobody gets fired the first time they fail, you do need be ready to give yourself that half-angry pep talk that makes you excel the next time. Or… get someone else to do it for you!
5. MAKE IT SOCIAL
Every creator is individual. People are intricate machines, each with their own idea of what makes a hero, a villain or a love story. Everyone has their own voice, and nobody can do what you do, which to me is reason enough to write in the first place.
That said, certain experiences are shared no matter your medium. Mostly the frustrations, actually, which makes it all the more important to get out and talk about them.
Creative block, trying to make your art make money… these things happen to creators across the board. You might meet someone farther up the ladder than you, in which case they can be an invaluable source of information. They might be farther down the ladder than you, in which case a single me too could make their week. A lot of the time, they’ll be in the exact same place as you, which means these are the people you’ll be meeting at launches and classes and courses, so make them your allies.
Join groups. Go to readings or exhibitions. Offer your services as editor and corral other editors in turn. Take solace in the fact that while creating can be a lonely, frustrating job, there are hundreds of others being lonely and frustrated as well. Be lonely together. Share in each other’s victories and defeats, because you’re not going to give up, and neither are they.