DIY MFA Book Club, Prompt #5: What’s one “best practice” that didn’t work for you?
I have a number of these “best practices” that just don’t work for me. I’ve learned to take any and all advice with a grain of salt, even the ones that seem so ubiquitous that there’s no way it isn’t true, like: “Write every day.” So let’s start there.
“Write every day.” – or, you know, on a schedule that works for you
I don’t write every day. I take Fridays off and other days when things are busy. For me, it was just important to set up a schedule and put aside time to write. When holidays roll around, or other “disruptive events”, I honor my reality and take off the days I need to.
I also don’t necessarily write new words every day. Much of my process involves rewriting over and over (I call this ‘smoothing’.). Some days I *have to* reorganize what I’ve already written before I can move forward with the story. That means sometimes I end up with far fewer words than I started the day with, and yet what I have is better.
“Stop writing when you’re on a roll.” – unless that means you lose momentum
The idea here is supposed to be if you stop in the middle of the action, when you sit down to write the next time, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off more easily. This one got me into trouble a few times because when I tried it, I found that the way my mind works is that once I lose an idea, it’s often gone completely. So I would be writing toward a goal, stop in the middle, and when I sat down the next day I would have literally no idea where I was headed. (Occupational hazard for discovery writers more than plotters.)
I have learned that I need to stop and write ideas, even in the middle of an ongoing scene, or else I will often forget it by the time I get done. And I always finish a scene, or at least a thought before I stop writing for the day. I’m learning to identify my natural lulls, which normally means it’s a good time to stop if I need a stopping point.
“Ignore your inner critic.” – when it’s a good idea
This is a tough one. Because a lot of times you do need to ignore the critic in order to move forward, and not get bogged down. But as you develop more skill writing, sometimes it is important to listen to this critic.
An example: I’ve been struggling with my most recent novel, a book two. I have a character in it that I absolutely love, but my inner critic kept telling me she was superfluous. I kept convincing myself that everything would come together with her eventually.
I finally had to admit that I needed to listen to my inner critic and get rid of this character completely. Her being gone left the main character more time to interact with the other characters, strengthening their relationships and tightening the plot. And truthfully, it’s better that I got rid of her now before I wove her throughout the entire story and made her even harder to take out.
“The only best practice is the one that works best for you.” – period
Luckily I had DIY MFA around to remind me of this one. And truthfully, now I roll my eyes whenever I heard an author say the best advice they have is to ‘write every day’. I would encourage you, as you grow more skilled at writing, to practice saying, “Something that has worked for me is …” Because there really is no advice that works for everyone, but there are people out there who will gain benefit from what you’ve learned works for you.