Tag Archives: writing time

Made to Be Broken – A Guest Post by Hamilton Perez

A guest post by Hamilton Perez.

I was just starting out in college when I first decided to be a writer, and I set for myself the goal of publishing my first novel before I graduated. Seemed reasonable, I thought. It’s an uncertain field, after all, I should try to break in as soon as possible so I don’t just sit on my degree afterward. Now, several years after graduating, I still haven’t finished that first novel, let alone published one.

To be a writer is to be a dreamer. But that’s only half of it. To be a writer is to be disappointed. It’s easy, in the beginning to be blinded by imagination, ambition, by the colorful worlds sprouting and blooming inside your head. You can do this, you think. It’s all possible.

And therein lays the unsolicited rub.

Being a writer, or any artist really, is essentially an act of faith. It’s surrendering any sense of control in your personal (read: financial) destiny in pursuit of a creative field that’s harder to crack than a macadamia nut.

That’s why goals are such alluring creatures to an artist. They allow us to believe (for however brief a time) that we have some control over our pitiful fates. They’re lies we tell ourselves to get us moving when the doubt creeps in. But as with art, goals are often born from an excess of ambition. You learn that quickly as you fail to write your thousand words a day, then your five hundred words, then one hundred, until that day comes when you don’t write at all and spend three hours on the couch, watching The Flash with your dog who’s clearly disappointed in you.

Once you fail at your goals, you realize that the same imagination that fuels stories also fuels your hope of what you can accomplish in the one or two hour window you’ve set aside between work, relationships, and nap time. Little did you know when you set those goals that you were setting yourself up for failure.

O cruel, twisty irony!

It’s easy at this point to be discouraged. Indeed, that part’s encouraged. Wallow, dammit. You’re an artist. But once you’ve finished your wallowing, take a look at your work. You might have failed to meet a daily word count, but perhaps you reached half of it. Maybe you found a new plot device or story title. There’s always a silver lining hidden amid the dross. You’ve made something, which is the first step away from making nothing.

Before you can be a successful writer, you have to be a bad one. Before you can set reasonable goals, you have to chase the crazy ones. You have to know what your limits are, what you can handle and what you can’t. The good news: you’re doing it! The bad: you have to fail, you are going to fail.

Embrace that failure.

But setting goals and working towards them isn’t enough. You have to recognize when those goals aren’t working and are actually holding you back. Writing 250 words a day isn’t going to make you a better writer if you’re just typing “Why am I doing this?” fifty times. When that failure comes, you need to either change the goal or abandon it. It’s better to only write a promising first chapter during National Novel Writing Month than to write a terrible novel that had some potential in chapter one.

In 2016, I tried the popular NaNoWriMo for the first time. I planned out the story a month ahead. I did my research beforehand. I calculated how much I needed to write in a day and when I could afford to take a day off. And the first week I was on a roll, churning out one to two thousand words a day. But in the second week, I started to slip. I wrote less and I was less happy with what I wrote. The dream of having a completed novel to work with and develop in December was slipping away. I had a choice: I could either slog through and try and reach the final word count, or readjust my goals and develop the parts of the novel I liked to see where the story actually wanted to go.

The exciting result: I still haven’t finished that novel… But I absolutely love the three chapters I’ve got so far. Most of what I’d written after that point has been scrapped or reworked, and the novel is so much better for it. But because of the work I did during NaNoWrMo, even though I technically failed at the goal, I now know where I want the story to go.

Like rules, creative goals are made to be broken. They aren’t for life planning. They’re for now. For getting you moving, getting you writing. Whether you meet them isn’t really the point. The point is you keep going. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quick. You keep going. You write and you create.

So set your goals. Set reasonable ones. Set ambitious ones. Just set some goals, something—anything—for you to shoot for. Then abandon them when they stop working for you. Wallow a bit. Clear your head. Set some new goals, and write.

Rinse, repeat.


About Hamilton Perez

Hamilton Perez is a writer and freelance editor living in Sacramento, California. When not writing, he can be found rolling 20-sided dice or chasing squirrels with the dog. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, and Syntax & Salt. You can follow him on Twitter @TheWritingHam.

It’s My Job

keyboardIf I could go back to when I started writing, I would have treated my writing time differently. I would have started off treating it like a job and not a hobby and creating good habits. How would I do that? Glad I asked!

First, whether I was writing part time or full time, I would set a schedule and stick to it. If all I had time for was fifteen minutes a day right before bed or a half hour before I went to work or if I had the luxury of writing several hours a day, I would set that time aside and hold it sacred. It matters less how much time you have available than that you use it the way in which you need. At most other jobs, we’re expected to arrive at a set time, work for a set amount of time, take lunch at set times and leave at a set time. And while we’re there, we’re expected to accomplish certain tasks. This is what we’re paid to do. And you’re writing career should be no different, if you expect to make money from it someday.

So, I need to show up when I’m expected to, keep to my schedule and do what I’m expected. I am my own boss on this and I need to keep my employee-self on task. This not only helps me treat my writing professionally, but it tells others it’s a job I take seriously. Family and friends can be terrible sources of distraction whether they mean to or not. When they try to encroach on my scheduled work time, I would say what I’d say if I were at any other job, “Sorry, I can’t. I have to work.” Schedule lunches, meetings, errands and such for other times that aren’t your work time.

Second, write. Seems obvious. It isn’t. If I could go back, I would set aside other time for writing related tasks that are not writing. Checking email, reading articles/blogs/books about writing, plotting, editing, doing research, staring at the ceiling thinking and a list too long of other related things are NOT writing. They are all things I need to do in my writing career, but they are not writing. They are things I can usually do other times or squeeze in around the edges in little bits of down time. Some I can even do on commercial breaks at night while watching my favorite shows. And if I have to schedule time to do them, then I would. But I would not let it infringe on my sacred writing time, my work time (whatever time I had set for that).

Third, I would advise my early self to keep writing if I’m stuck. Crap can be fixed. Holes can be filled. Transitions can be built. But nothing can be done with nothing. So, if I’m stuck in the current scene. I can make some notes on what I’m thinking at the time and go to a different scene and work there. At least I’m doing my job.

I would tell me to take my job seriously. If I don’t, why would anyone else? And if I take my job seriously, then I will get my work done. I will finish stories. I will produce the necessary product to get it out there no matter in what way I choose to get it out there. You can’t query, edit, revise, sell, publish or market a product you do not have.

Yes, writing is an art. It takes creativity, but as Dave Farland/Dave Wolverton once told me, I can train myself to get into that creative mode really quick through good habits. Treating it all as a job, going to your work space at the set times you are scheduled to work and getting to it are the habits needed to train your brain to put on its creative work clothes quickly and get to your job.

After years, I still struggle with some of this, but the more I practice and ingrain these job habits, the more I get done and the better writer I become. So, that’s the advice I would give me if I could go back.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this month because as a professional, I’m always looking for better ways to improve my work, my work space, my work habits, and my work mentality.