We all need a pep-talk every now and then. Best to learn how to do it for yourself, because only you know what you need to hear.
As a fragile soul, I’ve been pep-talking myself for years. I’ve penned football chants to shout at myself. I’ve given myself theme songs. I’ve starred in countless underdog stories in my own head.
Recently I’ve found that there’s nothing like sitting alone all day in a very small room (perhaps room size isn’t relevant) writing your second novel (which seems to grow more esoteric every day) and drinking lukewarm tea (it doesn’t strictly need to be lukewarm but I’m a slow drinker) for nurturing self-doubt.
To combat this, I’ve begun to formulate some writing tips for myself to use as encouragement when it’s not going well.
Here are my first few:
Writing tip for self #1 – Don’t worry about your outline.
One thing I’ve worked out is that plot is not my strong point. Some writers outline their story in a huge amount of detail before starting, which I think is pretty impressive. I’ve tried doing this in the past but never managed to finish any of the novels I plotted. For one thing, my plots often looked a bit rubbish on their own, which wasn’t very inspiring. For another, knowing in advance exactly what was going to happen made writing the story a bit boring. Most importantly, it was constraining, closing down all the other possibilities that occurred to me as I went along.
I’m much better at character and dialogue, and fortunately I’ve found that if I focus on my characters instead, the plot usually takes care of itself. In fact, part of the fun of writing is seeing the plot begin to emerge like some kind of deformed mud-monster from the deep.
To conclude: start out with a vague idea of what’s going to happen – a strong idea you’re really interested in, one with plenty of possibilities – and everything will be fine.
Writing tip for self #2 – Even when you’re not working, you’re working
This one might be a little self-indulgent.
Sometimes if I meet my friends for a drink in the evening, they say (with the merest hint of politely suppressed rage), ‘So, how late did you get up today, Becky? How many hours work have you done? [This part hissed:] I’ve done twelve.’
To which I reply blithely, ‘Friends, I’m working right now.’
It’s not strictly true, but it makes me feel better on the days when I really have achieved nothing. You don’t necessarily have to be hammering away at your keyboard in order to be ‘writing’. I have to remind myself, as an anxious type who likes to feel I’ve achieved something each day (inevitably and uselessly measured by word count), that I also need to give myself time to reflect and digest; and actually have new experiences. Otherwise, what will I ever write about?
Working at home can be amazing sometimes, but it can also be depressing if you’re prone to self-reproach. It’s good to remind yourself that the number of words on the page is not the only way of measuring your progress as a writer.
Writing tip for self #3 – Never let anyone tell you that your writing tracksuit bottoms are hideous and when paired with a blazer make you look deranged
This one’s actually pretty self-explanatory.