Add in that you, the writer, are also evolving – in your craft and your career – and this stuff can make your head spin. The thing that always strikes me about these arguments is how they’re like your mother beating you over the head to eat your green beans. And they distract you from the one thing you need to be doing: writing.
As I wrote a friend recently: writing always wins.
This was in response to his post about why it took him two years to write his second book. His insight was perfect:
Ideas are not the problem. Story is not the problem. Devotion, focus, drive… there is the problem. And those are problems I can beat.
It’s perfect, because it’s not some dictum he’s forcing on other people. He’s showing what he’s learned from hard-won experience about what works for his process. For him (and I would venture, for many people), improvement isn’t as simple as “write faster” or “write more” … it requires focusing on how your process works and how to improve it.
I told him that even though people say I “write fast” that I’m constantly striving to improve my devotion, focus, and drive as well. It’s an iterative and constantly evolving process. But it’s one driven by my desire to improve (not the harangue of someone on the internet telling me I need to increase my output).
Eat Your Green Beans!
When my family goes out to one of our favorite restaurants, there’s a choice on the kids’ menu for an apple or a cookie. I always let my kids order their own meals (since they were ages 6+) – I figure it’s good practice for them to look an adult in the eye and express themselves clearly and politely in asking for what they would like. Cashiers are relentlessly charmed by this, which I find amusing, but also gets us good treatment (I’m not above using my children as charm-workers, obvs). When it comes to the “apple or cookie” choice, these cashiers always look double-shocked when my kids order the apple (apparently no child in the history of restaurant-going has ever done this). They look at me as if to say, “Wow, you’re really raising your children right if they pick the apple!”
The thing is: I never tell the kids to pick the apple. They know apples are healthy and cookies are less so, but also yummy. I let them choose… and I don’t chastise them one way or the other. They decide for themselves – also a great life skill, and one easily won with just a cookie and an apple on the line.
So please… when someone on the internet tells you that you must write/publish/market in a certain way, please take it as a suggestion, even when it’s framed as a command. (I wrote a whole book filled with suggestions like this, that I hope no one will actually take as commands.) Constantly explore what works for you – don’t be afraid to try writing fast, writing slow, challenging yourself with NaNo, or devoting a four-day weekend and hundreds of dollars to drive to Minnesota to learn more about your craft (still wondering why I thought Minnesota in November was a good idea).
As long as you’re improving your process, as long as you’re moving forward and getting words on the page, as long as you’re keeping an open mind about learning more about writing and storytelling and craft… you’re doing the right thing. You’ll know that binge-writing (the cookie) can be yummy and fun, and that steady wordcount tracking every day (the apple) will give you stamina. Not to mention finished works. Both can have a place, if they work for you.
You can decide for yourself – because you’re an intelligent human being and don’t need to be told to eat your green beans.
Rock on, writer friends.