Fight to Write, and a Little Ruthlessness Doesn’t Hurt Either
Last December, the Martian Death Flu hit my family. Everyone was very sick for over two weeks during the holidays. The house should have been quarantined. And I was on a deadline, which meant unless I was with one of my kids, I had to be at my computer. It was insane.
Every author knows the secret to writing books. It’s not closely guarded, probably because it is so dang hard to do sometimes—okay, often. Ready? Here it is: Sit down and work until you have some word count, aka Butt in the Chair. The craft and story will come over time, but not if you don’t do the first step. Sit and stay and write.
Sounds easy. It’s actually the most difficult aspect of writing. Nothing will go as planned. My teenage babysitter (in)famously canceled on me one day (of many) “because she had a long weekend.” That still makes me laugh. Of course, the most insidious of time-wasters is the Internet. Add to that the doubts every writer combats as they face their manuscript, and suddenly it’s imperative to do laundry. Or organize the work area. Or read the paper. Anything but add words to a story.
The solution? An indomitable support system. Some writers can find that within their families, but just as many can’t. I’m very lucky in that respect. My husband is my rock. But also, without a doubt, it’s my critique partners that keep me going. As I write this blog today, Jessica has a post on Handling Critiques. The thoughts there and within the comments are dead-on about knowing your story and taking only what works for you. The post also got me thinking about what a powerhouse a good critique partner or group can be. Since critique partners are like-minded people, they understand the struggle to make progress. And they demand that you do your best work.
Of course, the chemistry and professionalism between critique partners must be there. Good critiques are constructive—highlighting what works as much as what doesn’t. My group’s goal is to preserve each writer’s voice and story, while making the text as strong and vibrant as possible. We’ve got our Circle of Truth, which we depend on for clear, uncluttered perspectives on our progress. (No pats on the head, please. This is my passion.) But also, we’ve got accountability. We must bring pages—although, I have on occasion brought only a paragraph. If life goes completely upside down for one of us, we don’t push, but otherwise . . . show me the word count. That support helps overcome so many obstacles.
Those of you with great critique partners know what I mean. For those who don’t, there are so many writers out there who want to be in a great critique group. Seek them out. It makes all the difference in the world.
I’ll finish with an extreme example of this support system in action. Last summer I had an appendectomy. One of my ruthless critique partners (love her) was on a deadline and pleaded (demanded) that I look over some of her stuff. I don’t know how savvy I was while on oxycodone, but I understood the passion for writing behind the request and did my best. And you better believe that when the Martian Death Flu hit my house, I had pages waiting for her when she got back from her vacation, for very quick turnaround, I might add. As always, she came through for me.