Finding Comfort in Quotes

Today is a rather special day.

First of all, for us here in the UK, it’s Father’s Day. It’s the day we single out to honour and celebrate male parenting. It’s also our summer solstice – the day we enjoy the most hours of daylight, usually taken to be the start of summer. Finally, for me more personally, today is my ‘half birthday’. It’s exactly six months until I turn 22 – and in turn, exactly six months until my deadline for my novel.

I love writing, but I’m not going to lie, I’m not finding this easy. Some days, I feel like I’ll never make my deadline; other days, I feel like I’ll never finish at all. I haven’t given up though, and I don’t intend to. When I start to struggle, there are lots of things that keep me going, but I find quotes can be particularly powerful. These are five of my favourite.

1) When I’m feeling insecure about my style of writing…

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

– Bill Cosby

There are so many fantastic books out there, and whenever I read one that’s entirely different from my own, I inevitably feel a little insecure. My novel doesn’t have a thrilling, fast-paced plot, it’s not bursting with historical details or set in a vivid, imaginative, alternative world, and this quote reminds me that that’s okay. I’m writing the sort of book I’d like to have read when I was a little younger. Hopefully it will please some, but it’s impossible to cater for everybody.

2) When I feel like I don’t know where I’m going…

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E. L. Doctorow

Some days, I feel confident I’m going in the right direction with my novel; other days, I feel decidedly blind. This quote offers me a little bit of reassurance. Okay, so I may not be able to see the road right to my destination, but if I just keep going, I’ll get there in the end.

3) When I’m reading my work and getting more and more disheartened…

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I’m not normally a fan of swearing, but for this quote I can make an exception. It’s short and blunt and it makes me grit my teeth and push forwards – even when I want to curl up and cry.  This is a draft I’m working on – a first draft. It doesn’t need to be perfect, I just need to get it finished.

4) When I find myself procrastinating…

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”

– Dan Poynter

I never seem to have enough time for everything – even now that I’ve finished uni – and yet when I do have a little to spare, I often find myself reluctant to open my novel simply because I’m not feeling inspired. Deep down, I know I’m not going to finish my book that way, and this quote forces me to acknowledge that. I want to be a writer, not a waiter.

5) When I’m starting to doubt everything…

“Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”

– J.K. Rowling

This is my ultimate go-to quote for when I’m struggling with my writing, because sometimes I do – I start to wonder whether I should just give up. When I’m having a bad day, sometimes I doubt myself and whether I really have anything worth pursuing, but when I read Rowling’s words, I realise I have to try. It may end terribly – I may end up with a disaster of a book that no one wants to read – but at least then I’ll have given it a go, and more importantly, at least then I won’t be a complete failure in the eyes of one of my biggest heroines.

motivation

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Planning

When it comes to writing, I’ve never been very good at planning.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. On the contrary, I must have racked up hundreds of hours trying to outline pieces of work over the last few years, producing quick, bullet-point plans for smaller projects and more thorough, detailed plans for more complex pieces of work – even devoting whole days to it in the hope that the actual writing stage will then be wonderfully smooth and free of problems.

Unfortunately, no matter how much time and effort I invest, it never seems to work out that way.

I always start with good intentions – I do. I tell myself I’ll be disciplined, that I’ll stick to my plan and that I won’t stray. But the thing is, my mind doesn’t stop when I start writing. I inevitably think of changes I want to make, things I want to add, things I want to leave out and different ways of putting everything together, and the result is that my carefully devised plans tend to be abandoned incredibly quickly.

Despite my appalling success rate, I usually still make some sort of attempt to plan my out my projects. I just feel I should, and even if I don’t end up sticking to my original decisions, the process does get me thinking more generally about what I’m trying to achieve – and that’s always a good thing.

However, with my book, things happened a little differently. You see, unlike many writers, I didn’t have a ‘lightbulb’ moment of inspiration that prompted me to start writing. I didn’t set out with a Big Idea in my mind; instead, my book was born out of lots of separate pieces of work – pieces I’d written over the course of several years for no purpose other than to satisfy my need to write. I was simply reading through them one afternoon and I found myself thinking that they might work as part of something bigger. I very much fell into it.

As a result, I sort of by-passed the traditional time for planning. I already had perhaps 10,000 words when I started thinking about a book, and although I only had a very rough idea at that point of how they might all go together, I didn’t really want to stop and work out all the finer details; I just wanted to carry on writing. So I did.

Almost 30,000 words on and I’m amazed the lack of planning hasn’t caused more problems. There have been moments when I’ve wobbled, yes, but I haven’t had any major issues. However, recently things have started to feel decidedly unstable, and I’ve been growing increasingly wary about carrying on simply hoping that it will all fall into place. I may have managed to produce shorter pieces with very little planning in the past, but a novel is just so much more complex, and I really, really want this to work.

I’d originally given myself a target of 700 words for today, but it’s already early evening and so far I’ve managed a big fat zero. Am I sorry? No. Not in the slightest. Instead of pushing on with the writing, I’ve finally spent some time just thinking about my story, considering the ins and outs of it and how it’s all going to fit together – a sort of late, slightly backwards planning session, if you will – and I’ve ended up making a fantastically colourful calendar for my novel. I’ve been marking on important events, trying to decide exactly where my scenes will fall and how I’m going to develop the plotlines in-between, and although I haven’t finished yet, it’s already proven an incredibly worthwhile exercise. I can see my story as a whole now. I can see where I’m starting and where I’m finishing, and looking at it as a finite period of time is not only making the task feel more manageable, but it’s also making my story feel infinitely more real.

Perhaps I should have done it earlier. Perhaps I should have tried to plan more, to work everything out at the start rather than letting myself get carried away writing and then having to piece bits together. As well as making everything feel more organised, my ‘calendar’ exercise has been highlighting all sorts of niggling continuity issues (a conversation on a Saturday that refers to ‘school tomorrow’, being one…) as well as a couple of bigger, more significant problems, and spending time planning might have prevented those from cropping up. Then again, with my track record, it might not have done, and I’ve definitely enjoyed being able to go with the flow. I think it’s been good for parts of my novel, too – I feel like it’s given my story the chance to develop more naturally. No, it may not be a perfect strategy, but this ‘half-time’ arrangement does have its plus points, and with ‘real’ planning apparently not my forte, it’s currently feeling like a reasonable compromise.

1795624513_dcc216adb2_z   Image courtesy of Jenn Vargas on Flickr