Writing is not so much a job as it is a relationship. Regardless of what you write, it is all romance in the beginning: a hedonistic blur of special pens and fancy notebooks, expertly poised to communicate your literary prowess to the world; each letter embossed with the weight of your literary expectation.
Perhaps you have informed your nearest and dearest, in grandiose fashion, that you have begun this relationship in earnest, that this is The One. Or, perhaps you are the more cautious type; dropping hints into casual conversations, but quick to back away from anything approaching a declarative statement. “Not yet,” you say. “It’s too early, we’re not that serious.” Or perhaps you say nothing to anyone, and the entire relationship simply flares and fades in your own imagination.
Many would-be writers don’t get beyond the first flush of romance: the first obstacle, fight, difference of opinion, or sense of doubt arrives and they break off the relationship, only to forget about it, lament it irrevocably, or lambaste it to anyone within earshot by saying “I spent all this time and money on this and this is what I get?!”
So how can you develop a healthy and long-lasting relationship with your writing? Here are four things I have learned over the past five years.
1. Do not turn your writing into the centre of your universe
Just as friends will stop calling after a dozen ‘No thanks- Not tonight!’ replies, ideas will stop coming if you do nothing but obsess over the blank page or screen. The brain needs often needs to step back from a problem in order to find a solution; after all, how often have you stopped looking for car keys only to remember exactly where they are as you finish getting dressed? This piece of advice works on two levels. The first: keep your other hobbies, routines, and exercises; they function both as sources of inspiration and conversation. The second: get involved in the literary world; go to workshops, book launches, and readings; volunteer for committees and festivals; support others through social media. Just as couples seek out other couples, so they can do coupley things, do not be afraid to befriend other literary types.
2. Do not keep all your literary eggs in one basket
Everyone knows that the first three weeks (or months) of a relationship are pretty intense: everything revolves around that one person, that first draft. And that’s understandable. But if neglect yourself in order to fulfil their every need, you risk becoming a shadow of your former self; likewise, if you only read what you write, your writing will become insipid and stale. So diversify. So see family and friends. Read and write genres that aren’t necessarily ‘your thing’, join forums or writing groups. Or, if you really are a stickler for your field, be it fiction, poetry, travel writing etc., write articles and reviews about things you have read or enjoyed in your sphere. Both will keep you interested and invested in your relationship; both will help you get through the rough patches.
3. Work at it
All too often we identify the problems but don’t explore the solutions. At a time when almost everything is made to be disposable, getting rid of something for being ‘broken’, be it an opening chapter or a relationship, is seen as the quick, sensible thing to do. But a relationship that works isn’t perfect; it’s a relationship that works. And in the instance of writing, you’re the one who has to do the work. That story just not coming together? That poem’s last line haunting you in your sleep? Endings unsatisfying, rejections accumulating? Figure out what you need to do to fix it, be that running it by a friend, talking through your frustrations, taking a break from their source. It may well be, after all is said and done, that you walk away from a particular project, but there is a huge difference between walking away with a clear conscience, knowing you tried everything, and quitting enveloped in self-doubt, loathing, and regret: the first will make ultimately make you a better writer; the second will significantly diminish your motivation and, most likely, the quality of your work
4. Let the relationship grow
Those dozens of poems you wrote in the heady early days of first-draft literary perfections? Ditch them, and move on: saying you have written over a hundred poems, when not one has received so much as a second glance gives nothing more than a false sense of accomplishment; like the dusty teddies, flowers, wacky photos and general tat mandated by young love, they run the risk of stirring up dissension when things begin to ‘calm’ down. Let your writing change and be prepared to change with it.
So there it is. It’s not a magic cure, or a fits-all solution; just a new way at looking at something familiar. Which is, surely, one of the best things about being a writer?