Working Hard or Hardly Working

on January 17, 2008

I’m in the middle of reading CREATION IN DEATH, the latest JD Robb romantic suspense, and want to throw it against the wall. Not because the book sucks, but because after what? 24, 25, 26 books in this series this book is THE BEST. How in the world can she keep getting BETTER? Isn’t this like Seinfeld or The X-Files when you know the show is one of the best in history . . . but they just went a couple seasons too long?

Well, take it from an IN DEATH fan, this series continues to get better and as I was reading, I wondered why.

It came down to two things. Talent, which Ms. Roberts has in spades, and hard work.

On the talent end: you have it or you don’t. I subscribe to Stephen King’s comment in his book ON WRITING (to paraphrase) that a bad writer can never be a good writer, and a good writer can never be a great writer, but a mediocre writer can become a good writer–and most of the published authors are good writers. At least good enough that someone thought they were worthy of publishing. It is a matter of practice, putting the right tools in your tool chest and learning when to use them, and . . .

Hard work.

Books don’t write themselves. You have to put your butt in the chair. You have to know how to tell a story. At first you may not have all the right “tools” to use King’s analogy, but most good writers are not necessarily brilliant literary divas, they are simply good storytellers.

If you go to Nora Roberts website and surf around, you quickly learn that she has a schedule. She writes regularly. Day in and day out. She keeps at it. Even before she became the mega-author she is today, she kept to her routine, kept writing, finished one book then started the other. Stephen King suggests that you should write daily, or at least five days a week. To set a goal and stick to it. If it’s 500 words a day, so be it. 2000 words? More power to you. The point is to create the habit of sitting down and writing–getting your story out on paper.

Everyone is different. The five of us here at Murder She Writes all have different schedules, different methods, different story telling strengths and weaknesses.

I, for one, am the world’s biggest procrastinator.

Don’t laugh. Yes, I write three books a year. I know people who write more. In the time I waste JUST in the time I set aside to write every day (9-3 Monday through Friday), I could easily write a whole ‘nother book. I go on-line, read email, write blogs, read blogs, comment on blogs, write articles, chat, and generally waste time.

Sure, I get my books in on time, but only because those last two weeks before deadline I realize that I am way behind and I panic and write every day and every night and worry and stress and I’m sure none of that is good for me. Why, oh why, can I not be more disciplined? Why can’t I sit down during my writing time and write?

The answer isn’t easy, and I think different days I have different excuses. But the truth is: fear.

I think that all of us at one point while writing fear that this book is just not as good as the last. This happens to me every time. I don’t know why, I don’t know how to stop it, but it’s there, a little negative sprite on my shoulder telling me I’ve written my last good book. That there’s no more in me, and why did I think this story was going to work anyway?

That little negativity chips away at what little self-confidence I have while the muse is in control and my “working hard” turns to “hardly working” and I use every excuse in the book.

Then I hit myself. If after 26 IN DEATH books, Nora Roberts can continue to get better and better, why shouldn’t I at least be as good as before? Why would I get worse?

I think we naturally pressure ourselves to improve, and when we see what we want to write and it doesn’t quite make it down on paper the way we intend, we feel like failures. At least I do. And that manifests itself into not writing.

So my advice to myself–and to anyone else who is hardly working–remember what FDR said: The only thing to fear is fear itself.

Put butt in chair, hands on keyboard, and write, dammit. The book isn’t going to write itself.