It’s a year since my book came out. I know, because Facebook tells me.
Actually, Facebook’s been keeping me up to date on all the hard work, anxiety, and exuberance that led up to my first book release back in 2014. Every day, I can get up and be reminded that it was (whatever length of time) since I (finished that first draft, turned in the final manuscript, saw publication).
Now that I’ve been working on the sequel for far longer than I anticipated, these reminders are burdens; a silent harangue delivered to me by myself. I have become a primary asshole in my own life. At last, my moments of greatest joy can be reinterpreted as failure! Thanks, Facebook!
Pardon me while I pump several frantic bullets into the messenger.
This brings me to a hoary old bit of oft-repeated writerly wisdom you’ve probably heard before: every writer moves at their own pace. That’s self-evident, when you think about it. Unless you’re under someone else’s ruthless deadlines (and I recommend you try that as soon as possible — you’ll learn a lot about yourself), you’re hardly going to move at someone else’s pace, are you?
This is an easy enough pill to swallow if you’re a fast writer. Not always so much if you’re much slower than your fine and worthy peers.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve seen at least one fellow author rocket right past me in terms of productivity and acclaim. I’m wonderfully happy for them — who doesn’t want their writing buddies to be successful? — but at the same time, I struggle with jealousy. I wonder if there isn’t something wrong with me, that I can’t crank out a novel every couple of months, like some authors do.
Certainly there are examples on the other end of the spectrum; authors who take a handful of years for every book. But those don’t seem to count in the wolf’s hour, much the way a tidal wave of compliments holds no weight when you receive that one stinging barb of criticism that makes you suspect you’re a fraud.
So what’s the solution?
There isn’t one, because there’s not a problem to begin with. Unless you’re spending an astonishing amount of time playing Candy Crush or otherwise neglecting your writing, your pace is your pace. Worrying about the person next to you is just another useless emotion, and chances are you’re probably neurotic enough.
This is why, when people come to me with writing advice, I encourage them to get paid for it as soon as they possibly can. Even if it’s the most inconsequential freelance gig on the planet. Take a job with a deadline, meet it, and get paid. Deadlines don’t care about your neuroses. They don’t read your Facebook feed. They don’t give a good goddamn how jealous you are, and they certainly don’t care about how well your buddy is doing. It’s just you and the assignment, facing each other down like a standoff in a Sergio Leone movie while the clock ticks away. You’ll either do it, or you won’t. All the soul-examination in the world doesn’t matter for squat.
I’m here to tell you, there is nothing quite so liberating as the complete and forced de-romanticizing of your craft.
A deadline doesn’t have to be days or weeks away. You can set a brutal deadline with an egg timer or an app. You think you have no time to write? Set the timer for ten minutes. Write as much as you can. When the timer goes off, reset it. Do this until you’re out of minutes. There, you wrote something. If you’ve got an avoidant personality, an hour, a day, even a week of writing time can be terrifying. But you can get through ten minutes, easy. Set the clock. Write. Boom. Write. Boom. Suddenly you’re a word machine. Next thing you know, people are vaguebooking about you, wishing they had your kind of output.
You think you’re not capable of that? You are.
Just watch what you tell Facebook. It’ll be whispering it back in your ear a year from now.