In writing, as in so much of life, we often concentrate on the goal. We peck away at our keyboard, longing to finish the paragraph, page, chapter, book. When we finish the book, we find that our goals have moved further off into the distance. We now need to write the query, polish the synopsis, obtain an agent, and score a book contract. Then we have more goals: second book contract, promotion, third book contract, more promotion.
Add in an industry fraught with rejection and reviews that judge both the writing and the writer, it’s no wonder that writers have historically reached for that bottle of gin, or wine or other mind-numbing poison. The advent of the Internet has been both a Godsend and a bane—research and communication are easier but at times it feels as if everyone else in the world has good writing news except you. The Internet is good at creating that little flutter of anxiety that means if you don’t hurry, ALL THE CONTRACTS WILL BE GONE AND THERE WILL BE NONE LEFT FOR YOU.
It never ends. Like a sailing ship, the goal is always just over the horizon—we never actually reach it and it becomes ever more elusive. “So concentrate on the writing,” we’re told. Yet, who is really satisfied with their own writing? Oh, we may be in flashes, but overall? “Not I,” said the little red hen.
Often, in spite of what it looks like on the outside, even working writers aren’t assured of anything. I have a total of seven traditionally published books that have been translated into four different languages, two novellas and a half a dozen articles in Writer’s Digest, yet I’ve had four agents and no books on the horizon. No one is more aware of the quicksand that most authors are sitting on than I am. I teach novel-writing classes for my local community college, attend conferences, write for magazines when I can and constantly worry about my next book sale.
So what is the solution? Perhaps the answer lies less in the goal or the outcome and more in the process. Perhaps the process is the point. It’s being mindful of the writing while actually doing it. I’ve always enjoyed timed writing sprints with friends online. It makes the time and the writing go faster, but maybe this method simply keeps me more focused on the word count than the actual words. I get sloppier in my sentence structure when I’m racing and less aware of word choice. What if in my desire to outwit my inner editor, I’m bypassing my inner writer? The one who actually enjoys word play?
People say you should only worry about what you can control and we certainly can’t control the publishing business. But maybe if we concern ourselves more with the process and less with the outcome, we will worry less about where our writing is going and enjoy the act of writing more.
So next time I sit down to work on my manuscript I’m going to try something new. I’m going to forget about daily word count goals and word racing. I’m going to open the document without expectations. And I am going to play with each word, each sentence and each passage—and try to be mindful of what I’m doing each moment.