Why are you writing what you’re writing?
Is it to try and win a contest or a fellowship? Is it to get a good grade in a class? Is it to try and catch the eye of an agent or manager? Is it to impress the other people in your workshop?
These reasons all play into the idea of writing with an eye toward who your audience is, but they also can feed into your ego. This can lead down the dangerous path of tying your self worth to what you put on the page, but it can also act as a roadblock for the writing itself.
If you think about the potential results of the finished product ahead of the work of building the story, you won’t be satisfied by the actual results. Ego focuses on results. A mind that sets ego aside to do the work of digging in to the story can focus more intensely on that story.
What you write isn’t about you or what it can do for you. It’s about the lives of the characters. You serve them first, and if you do that job completely and competently, they’ll serve you well.
So how do you take yourself out of the equation?
Focus On What You Control
You don’t control how anyone reacts to what you write. If you feel yourself thinking about how others will read the pages, take a moment and consider how these thoughts are you writing fiction, but not the kind of fiction you can put on the page. Acknowledge and accept that this happens, then ask yourself where you should direct your thoughts and energy.
You control what words you form. You control your thoughts about your characters. You control the research you do and the thought you give to your characters and their lives. You control when you write and for how long.
Whatever happens after you click Send, Print, or Submit is out of your hands.
Don’t Connect The Dots
Does your story connect to others that you’ve written? Is this something that may help establish your brand as a writer? That’s great! Don’t think about it.
You have one story that you’re focused on at the moment you’re writing it. Your computer keyboard only types in one application at a time. If you’re using a pen, you can only write on one piece of paper at a time. Whatever you’re working on in that moment should be the place where you direct your attention, and the desire to connect this to your other work leads to thoughts that take you out of the story and away from the characters. It makes what you’re writing all about you instead of all about them.
Accept Your Desires
You want what you’re writing to be read by other people. You want them to like it. You want them to shower you with praise and maybe some money. You want awards and adulation.
That’s fine. Very few people cheerfully go to work on what they’re writing with the thought, “I can’t wait to put this in a drawer and never show it to anybody!” And yet, chances are there will be plenty of things you write that go on a shelf or in a drawer and don’t get many eyes on them. That’s fine, too.
It’s OK that you want great things to come of your work, but that can’t be what you’re thinking about when it’s time to do the work. If you need to take a moment, set a timer. Take two or three minutes to think about all the wonderful things that are sure to come your way once you finish this, and all the joy you’re going to feel.
Now think about the work. Think about the characters. Think about that page in front of you and the words that come next. Fill your mind with those things.
Tell Yourself Today Will Not Be The Day
Today will not be the day you write the line of dialogue that gets you an Academy Award. It will not be the day that you type Fade Out on the script that bowls over the Nicholl judges. Today will not be a day when you write a single brilliant, amazing thing. Say it out loud if you think it will do a better job of convincing yourself.
But none of those thoughts are going to stop you from writing.
Release yourself from the pressure held in by your ego. You don’t need to live up to its expectations today. Today you can just work. Today you don’t need to have it looking over your shoulder, judging your every keystroke. Today, you don’t need to listen. Nobody is expecting anything of you in this moment, which means that anything you do is a step in the right direction.
Is any of this easy? Of course not. It’s a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute battle.
But it can be fought and won.