Weekly Musing: Under Pressure

This musing is going to be more of a rant session. Over the past few months I’ve noticed more than a few things which didn’t used to bother me now do. Most are things I can ignore, but some annoy me so much I’m struggling to get past them.

Gripe #1: Stop with all “You Should Be Writing” memes. I don’t care which steely-eyed, vaguely threatening pose of a celebrity you’re using, just stop it already. Stop trying to guilt-trip people. Yes, I’m looking at FB, but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. Taking breaks are good no matter what your profession is. Your brain and body need to recharge and sometimes looking at cat videos helps. Or maybe that particular time of day you’re scrolling through social media isn’t when your brain is ripe for writing.

I know the memes are meant to be humorous, and I do see it as such, but the message it sends is clear: You’re a lazy SOB. Why aren’t you writing at this moment? Don’t you know you’re not a real writer unless you spend uninterrupted hours banging out words? You’re taking a break? Yeah, right. Don’t believe you. Get back to work!

Somewhat related are memes and infographics humorously trying to show the percentage of time a writer spends actually writing vs. staring at the wall, looking at cat videos, distracted by social media, binge watching any TV show, etc. You get the point. Again, these are funny, yet like the memes telling me I should be writing it sends a similar message.

Gripe #2: Word count updates. I get it. You’re justifiably proud for writing 2,000 words on your WIP. Or that you’re 45,000 words into your new manuscript. Or perhaps bummed because you had to cut 10,000 words. But must you brag about this frequently? Fantastic you’re writing. I am too, let’s be honest, most people don’t care or don’t understand what the big deal is.

Out of curiosity a couple of years ago I tracked my word count. It was fascinating, yet also a little discouraging. Seeing days with 0 words made me feel as if I hadn’t done anything. I felt like putting notes next to those days explaining I was doing research, or was ill (I tend to be one of those people who when sick, their brain just shuts down), or some life thing came up. Though when I saw what my daily average was, I still felt as if it wasn’t good enough. Not compared with writers I know who are flat out machines. I’m not a machine; I don’t work fast due to being a perfectionist.

Because it made me feel guilty, I decided to never track my words again. Hell, I don’t even know how many words my current WIP is. Only short stories do I pay attention to the word count because I need to know for when I’m searching for a place to publish it. What matters most to me is to work as much as I can that day. Realizing, too, that research counts as writing. Or that my subconscious is working. Pen to paper isn’t the true tell of the tape.

Gripe #3: Group think. A pattern I’ve seen in a lot of writing advice is how writers should, no, need to seek out others’ input. I agree we shouldn’t completely write in a vacuum, but I see people going overboard turning a work into a group project. I’ve seen in my critique group, and unfortunately actively participated in this, where as a group we discuss different ways a writer can fix their story. It goes beyond constructive criticism or answering specific questions the writer has.

This is why I have a slight problem with the idea of beta readers. I’ve beta read for a couple of people and it’s a lot of work. What I have to constantly remind myself is are my suggestions related to the work or what I personally would do different? Is this suggestion helpful for the author? If the author asks specific questions, are my answers constructive? Of course a beta reader can be helpful if a writer is struggling with something and asking for help isn’t bad. None of us are great in all areas.

I see writing as an individual expression. When it gets turned into a community piece it risks losing the writer’s voice. The writer is the one who knows the story and knows the characters. Sometimes too many people reading and responding to a manuscript confuses the writer and muddies the narrative. I’m concerned with all this outside input modifies an author’s individual voice and style to conform to what is “right”.

This concern about group think is one of the main reasons why I don’t participate in write-ins. Besides not really getting any work done, I simply cannot concentrate with that many people around. It messes up my ability to immerse myself in my story’s world. Also, I’m a pretty independent person, a perfectionist, and a massive introvert. It’s great people ask for help when stuck. But I worry about are you fixing it to please someone else?

 

These gripes have made me realize we writers need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. We are bombarded with noise on every aspect of writing. It gets to people in a negative way, losing its helpful intent. We need to put less pressure on ourselves. Writing and publishing are already stressful enough without added external forces trying to guilt us. Writing is a job, yes, and must be treated as such, but it’s not the only thing in life. So let’s stop giving the impression it is and that to do or think otherwise makes you less than legit.

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