Guest Blogger: Shannon Stewart
My college’s Honors Program required all Honors undergrads to write thesis papers based in our disciplines. Often these theses were 70+ pages; in English (my subject), Honors Projects tended to be even longer, closer to 100 pages. I’d never written anything so long in my life.
None of us had, which was why the Honors Director provided a short, 1-credit course that provided motivation and tips for success as we began. The main things I remember from that class (other than doodling my characters the whole time) are the camaraderie with my fellow bewildered Honors students and, most of all, the professor’s constant refrain: Just start writing. Just start writing. Just start writing.
Don’t wait to gather enough research to feel like an expert. Don’t wait until you feel inspired. And don’t, for the love of sanity, wait until the last minute. You must start writing. Just start writing.
Even as I followed the prof’s advice concerning my Honors Project, I was steadily ignoring the pull to write the story on my heart. I’d been planning it out since high school. I sketched my characters ad infinitum, perfected their personalities, went over and over the same scenes to fine-tune dialogue. I promised myself that after college, when I had more time in grad school (HA!), I would start.
Part of what kept me paralyzed was actually my image of artists, including published authors. These imaginary people worked in flashes of inspiration (not tedium) and devoted themselves fully to their art (not coupons or laundry). Their beta readers devoured their WIPs in awe. Or did they even need beta readers? Probably not.
My reality is different from these glorious visions of genius: I get to a scene I’ve been looking forward to for months, and when I’m actually there, I completely stall out over the smallest detail that I haven’t yet decided on. Or I run into a new character that my other characters don’t know how to react to yet, and I stumble along with clunky interactions that I despise. Or I’m revising, and I come to a chapter I realize I must take out, and redistributing all that information to other chapters is just TOO MUCH and I quit for days.
That’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful for finding the New Authors Fellowship community. I realize now that real authors are nothing like the ones I pictured, and though they may not agonize quite as much as I do, they’re more like me than my ridiculous image of J. K. Rowling touching a wand to a computer screen and Mad-Eye Moody coming out. NAF writers make themselves write with daily word counts and temptation bundling. They commiserate over uncooperative characters and their inability to find time to write. But they’re positive, dedicated, excited. They just write, and they encourage others to do so, too.
A dear friend of mine posted a poem called “Artists at Work” to her Facebook page a few months ago. It speaks to the dilemma of working through reality to get to the dream, and I hope it encourages this community as it has me.
What parts of writing do you find most tedious? What encourages you to keep going?
Shannon Stewart is a high school English teacher with an MA in English Literature still curled in its mail tube in her closet. The real prize, her love for British fiction, is on exuberant display in her classes each week. So far, she’s completed several of her life goals: naming her two children after fictional characters, getting her husband to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and completing her first WIP, the fantasy Callia-Born, this year.