I’ve been a writer for the past decade, a published one for the past four. The first few years of that decade was spent mostly procrastinating, struggling through rejections, and learning through mistakes. My life as a writer was very lonely, since I was not legally, contractually or emotionally bound to anyone. No publishing houses, no editors from hell, no readers waiting with bated breath for my newest creations. Looking back, I can see that it was no wonder my stories during that period came out bland, aimless, and most often with weak characters that had no unique voices of their own. I worked at my pace, created what I thought was best, never really noticing that my writing was sub par, plot lines weak. Even when I finally reached a stage where my stories were good enough to be published, I did not grasp the difference between a story written by a mind that was fully worked up, and one churned out by someone who was unaffected by stress and tension.
All that changed one fine morning when I signed myself up for a novella writing challenge. Something like Nanowrimo, but within my online writer’s group. The few days of the thirty day challenge, I cruised along. Writing couple of paragraphs here, polishing them there, rewriting bits if I felt the need to do so. Kind of like a raft aimlessly drifting in calm waters. Then the group admin bumped up the challenge by suggesting we all share our work at the half way point to motivate ourselves. So I did.
But the results, they appalled me.
I was a published author by that point. One book with great reviews under my belt. This itsy-bitsy challenge…come on…I guess a part of me felt cocky that I could pound out something brilliant without much effort. Hey…published author…know all the tricks of trade….WRONG!
The negative comments, combined with the embarrassment-it was a strong trigger. I felt fear of failure. A rude awakening to my inner creative monster. All of a sudden it was like being held at a gun point. I couldn’t afford to lose. I truly understood what it meant when someone said they wrote to beat the Clock. Pressure, I realised in that fourteen days was a hell of a life saver. It turned me into an adrenaline junkie. Rather than running out of steam, ideas kept popping inside my head, characters started to flesh out themselves, threads started to weave themselves into intricate patterns, tightening the plot.
The novella I finished through that challenge later got accepted by an e-book publication. It still isn’t the best of my works so far. But that story will always remain as a stepping stone in my writing journey. To this day, I write by setting deadlines for myself. Add to my misery, I recently found a free app that pops up on my browser and do the count down for me. http://itsalmo.st/ As much as I hate it, it is also, a life saver. As the cut-off date draws near, my writing speed picks up. Tension builds and my characters start to behave and listen to me for a change. Without a ‘ticking clock’, I will be that aimless raft-lazy, content, fearless.