“I Should….” The Way to Write?

Some lessons appear in so many different parts of your life that it’s hard to ignore them. Over the past few years I have been downright hit over the head with the message, “We all travel our own paths, at our own paces.” If my life were a novel I would accuse the author of being a bit to obvious and heavy-handed with that point.

Today I see it in writing.  I’ve been having a lot of conversations with other writers about the act of writing. I see people who can push out thousands of words a day (and not just by chaining themselves to their computers). I talk to people who write multiple novels a year, and people who can juggle novels, short stories, blogs and freelance writing all at the same time. Then there are the different ways that everyone writes, from the medium we use for our first drafts, to our methods of planning (or not), the order in which we write the story, and how the editing process occurs. So many different ways to go about things.

It can be hard to not fall into the trap of “I should…” I should be able to write x-many words a day.  I should be able to work on the novel, the blog AND this other project.  I should be outlining this or that.  I should… I should… I should…

However, I have learned some very important things about my writing, and now shuffle those I should…’s aside.

I have a tendency to immerse myself in what I am writing. When I was younger I would spend hours playing out scenes in my mind, creating different versions of the story I was writing, exploring the lives of side-characters.  I would imagine dialogue, and sometimes even find myself wandering the story in my dreams. I was all in.

I was reminded of this a few months ago. I’ve talked about it some, around my decision to stop working on Disparate Threads.  For a year I had been trying to work on both Bria Lana (a novel that still needs a proper title) and Disparate Threads.  In Disparate Threads I had four different characters telling the story, and Bria Lana has a decently extensive cast-of-characters. Trying to get into all of their heads was too much for me, they were all starting to sound alike and none were getting the attention they needed.

Since I stopped working on Disparate Threads it’s been amazing. I’ve been able to focus on Bria Lana’s story, really digging into her mindset (and the mindset of some of the major supporting characters). I can sit and imagine the conversations she’d have, think about why she is doing things the way she is, and explore the deeper motivations of those she is encountering. Bria Lana’s story is so much richer for it.

I’m learning a lot in the process of working on this novel, and I know I will be sharing more about what I’m learning with you all, but this is a hugely important insight for me.  While other people may be able to have many stories in the works at one time, I am a one-story-at-a-time gal.  At least if it’s a story with any real depth to it (I can still have fun with shorts, it seems).

There are plenty of “I should…”s, but most of them aren’t true.

The only thing I SHOULD be doing is telling the story, however quickly or slowly that may come, in whatever manner that may take. I should be true to the story I am trying to tell, true to the characters who are involved. I should write in a way that makes sense, and works, for me.


I’m excited to be co-hosting this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group!

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a IWSG badgegreat group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG. 

We’ve also put out a book, available for free, full of great articles on topics from writing to publishing, everything in-between and beyond! And, now, there is a T-shirt available!

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74 thoughts on ““I Should….” The Way to Write?”

  1. Hear, hear. It’s so important to write how we want to write, and find the path that’s right for us. We can take guidance, but at the end of the day we are all unique and our schedule, process, and style all reflect that. Great post. It’s cool that you’re co-hosting today. Thanks for sharing 😀

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  2. Here’s another “I should…” I should never compare myself to other writers. What works for one person probably doesn’t work for another. Frank Sinatra sang “I did it my way” can apply to us.

    Thanks for co-hosting this month.

    Diane IWSG #99

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s so nice to find so many others who work similarly. One story at a time.. though I’m finding I can do some little side-projects, one-off light things work differently than longer in-depth projects do, apparently.

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  3. Great post. I tend to cycle between “insanely prolific word baby producer” and “words? Those are pretty neat. I should write some down. But…meh.” I’ve learned not to force it when I’m not feeling it, because I usually don’t love what I write in that circumstance. Thankfully, I haven’t been under a deadline, so maybe I’ll have to adjust at some point. For now, I try to make the most of the prolific times. 🙂

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    1. Hehe “words? Those are pretty neat. I should write some down. But.. meh.” I TOTALLY have those days… even weeks. I think I’m in process of trying to learn the difference between when I should listen to that voice and when I should push through it (you know, like when you want to go out with friends, but you don’t want to? Sometimes it’s good to push through, sometimes it’s good to stay home).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If I have a day off work and the time, I can write MOUNTAINS of words (I wrote 6,000 yesterday cause I had the time). But on days when real life invades, I’m lucky if I squeak out a couple hundred, if any. ‘Shoulds’ in writing just hold you back. Do what feels right for you, and as you said…just tell the story!

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    1. I struggle with word-count (though NaNo tends to work well for me, go figure)… Day’s when I have off and SHOULD be writing I’ll often end up dawdling away… it always amazes me how much work I can get done on busy days… if the energy holds…

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  5. Great post. I’m glad that you get it. Writing sucessfully is about being natural and flexible. It’s good to have a plan and take guidance, but ultimately we have write for ourselves- the way that works for us.
    Thanks for co-hosting today.

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    1. Yup.. writing and life are all about finding what is right for us! Natural and flexible is a good phrasing for it 🙂 I think things can sometimes get challenging when looking at writing advice (especially advice from successful authors) which people translate to “this is THE way it should be done” rather than, “this is one way it works, for me” which is worth a shot but may or may not work for you. 🙂

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  6. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s to not expect myself to do everything other writers do. We all have different talents and schedules.

    Like you, I prefer one story at a time, and I write slow. I can’t turn out multiple books a year, but, then again, my first drafts are nearly publish-ready, so there’s that…

    Thanks for co-hosting. 🙂
    IWSG #123 until Alex culls the list again.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree. I’ve been writing long enough to not care about the ‘shoulds’ (what I call ‘shoulding on people’), be comfortable in my approach, and still open to advice without feeling desperate.

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  8. It’s hard not to compare ourselves to other writers, but usually it’s not helpful. I feel like a slow writer in that I let interruptions delay progress all the time. Sometimes I think I should push myself harder and set deadlines. Then I think the creativity would suffer. It’s weird, but how I work is a work in process along with what I’m working on.

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    1. I think one of the additional challenges is finding the balance between pushing yourself and listening to your creativity — I’ve been struggling with that one this year to find the balance… and I know the balance will shift.

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  9. Oh, the “shoulds!” Yes, I am plagued by them too. Sometimes though, a should is really a goal or aspiration in hiding. I should write more might be a hidden frustration at not writing enough, so what can we do to change that? There’s a fine line, but sometimes if we’re always longing for something or frustrated by a specific thing, it might warrant a closer look.

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    1. I remember getting hit with that realization during some WordSprints for NaNoWriMo — in one fifteen minute block I managed 1k words (some of them even decent words) while in others I could only get 100… even when we’re looking at our own progress things will not always work the same.

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  10. I’m still working on not comparing myself to other writers. Their schedules won’t work for me, hell my schedule barely works for me. I understand you stopping work on one book to focus on the other. I’ve got about ten stories waiting on me to finish, but I can only work on one at a time.. have to get back into the story and then write and once I get blocked, I just jump to a different story and restart the process. It works for me, but not in the time space I’d like. :/

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    1. “my schedule barely works for me.” Hear you there! I’ve been trying to force myself to focus on just one book over the past year (and that blog story, which I’ve dropped now)… it’s new and I am a little concerned about what it will be like when I send this one off to readers (a ways off still) and give myself time to start working on others — will I find new ideas or will it be hard to break from the characters head? Only one way to find out…

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  11. Hi,
    I so agree with you about these ‘shoulds’ that we tend to place on our shoulders. These shoulds actually hamper our creativity. It is so important for every writer to find his or her own rhythm. Great books are not written by trying to be like everyone else.
    Very nice post.
    All the best with your book.
    Shalom,
    Patricia

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  12. I’m caught in the should trap, though that’s because I let logic get in my way. I should finish book 2 before writing book 3. I should finish the novella that other people need me to finish. But I can’t get book 3 out of my head, and that’s where my brain resides. *sigh* I should probably just work on that instead. 🙂

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  13. It always amazes me on how other writers can juggle so many writing projects. And write so many novels at once. How are they so prolific? But not all writers are created equal or write equally. Some can write so many things at the same time, while others go it slow, focusing on one book at a time. It’s great that you dropped the ‘should’s’ and are focusing on what you ‘can’ do. Thanks for co-hosting Allison and good luck!

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  14. Here’s a phrase to remember: Don’t should on yourself. You’re right, we all have our path and pace. Best to keep that in mind as well. I can’t even keep two books I’m reading separate. One at a time, please. Best wishes, and thanks for co-hosting this month!
    Play off the Page

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  15. What a perfect post for IWSG. We all get so hung up on shoulds, and on comparing ourselves to other writers. I do this all the time! And the truth is that my process and my output change as my life changes. Some days I am crazy productive, and others not at all. Removing the pressure actually makes me MORE productive, oddly enough!

    Thank you for co-hosting!

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    1. Yes… we really can’t even compare ourselves to ourselves — what worked for me when I was younger doesn’t work for me now…
      Taking away the pressure DOES help, I’ve apparently resorted to tricking my brain on just what pressure I’m under so I can be productive (it’s about as complicated and convoluted as it sound!)

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  16. Wonderful insight and so true. I know that when I stretch myself too thin, my writing (and everything else) suffers for it. You have to go with what works for you and not compare yourself to others. I’ve done that before, and it will only drive you crazy.

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  17. I used to be the ‘I should’ve done, I should be like,’ kind of person, but gave that up not too long ago. 🙂 I FINALLY realized that I shouldn’t compare myself to others and I shouldn’t try doing more than I can handle because it will only set me up for failure.

    I’ve been meeting all my goals (both personal and writing) by keeping them realistic, and at a pace that still gets results. Great post! Thanks for co-hosting this month. Have a great day. Eva

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    1. Keeping realistic goals is HARD… I keep setting goals and falling behind on them because I just don’t grasp what is reasonable (apparently). I’m glad you’ve been able to find that balance!!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I would go one step farther: stop shoulding on yourself. Should put me into a six month writer’s block, and took all of the joy out of me. Granted, as you said, every writer’s path is different, but I thought sharing my opinion on “should” might help others.

    When I sit down with the intention, “I want to write,” the words flow a lot better than when I drag myself to the machine for, “I should write SOMETHING today.” I still have guilt storms the size of twisters when i don’t write something, but I think it’s breathing life into my work.

    I swear somebody wrote a book out there called writing with intent. While writer’s block is a fearsome giant to some of us, I prefer not to give him the million tiny darts named “should.” Making myself feel guilty for choosing not to write doesn’t make me run to the keyboard. Figuring out what I’m afraid of, and remembering why I want to write works a lot better.

    Again, my path is a very twisted, overgrown, thorny one through the woods at night in the middle of a hailstorm. Your results may vary.

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    1. I love picturing writer’s block as a giant throwing “should” darts! Very true… some of it is switching mindset “I want to write” rather than “I should write!”

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  19. Sometimes the “I should’s” come from outside as “You should . . .” and at times are more devastating than the “I’s…” Either way, it’s hard to shut them out. Currently I am writing what I need and want, leaving the shoulds behind. I should keep this pattern up!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. There are lots of things, both writing and “life” (assuming the two are separable!!) that I SHOULD be doing. And sometimes I do those things and feel proud. Mostly I let them loom over me and try to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

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  21. I get plagued by the “I Should’s” all the time. It is intimidating, and keeps me from doing any writing. Even the little bits I am able to do in spurts. Clearing my mind of all but one story concept at a time helps me. And, not reporting to the blogging community every time I fail a personal deadline. Accountability can be stress inducing, lol.

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    1. I feel like a certain level of accountability helps drive me, but if it’s too much it doesn’t help! Like everything, it seems to be about balance (that’s another one of those life lessons that I think I’m supposed to be learning).

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  22. I’m totally with you. I’ve been doing my best to stay fixed on my novel, but it’s very easy to get sidetracked, especially when everyone else seems to be able to juggle so many other things. Hmm, maybe it’s time for a new post-it on my desk; ‘Don’t get sidetracked!!’

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    1. Focus can be SO hard. I find that having little projects does help me (if my procrastination on one project takes the form of working on a little side project then at least I’m being productive still!) But if that side project requires me to go too far in depth I can’t manage it.

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  23. It’s important to focus on what you can do instead of what you think you should do. I’m a one story at a time kind of person too. It just works better for me, so I’ve learned not to worry much about other projects and get the one I’m working on done so I can move on.
    Congrats on being a cohost too. =)

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  24. Very true, everyone is different and has their own pace, plus other things in their life. I can sit and pump out 10K words a day, blog, etc. with ease, but then I only have two cats to impress, no kids, spouse, etc. like many others do. everyone can only do what they can do.

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    1. Given a day with nothing going and the correct motivation I MIGHT be able to manage 10k… maybe… but maybe not (n kids or spouse, or even cats to impress… however, energy energy challenges). Each their own pace 🙂

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  25. I’m guilty of constantly saying to myself that I SHOULD be doing this, I SHOULD be writing X amount, I SHOULD be living my life a certain way….thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t be thinking like this :). Everyone works at their own pace, in their own way – there is no right or wrong answer, and all I can do is do the best I can do 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  26. The one thing I’ve learned is that we all have to travel a “highly individualised” and unique writerly path. There are just too many factors/variables to consider…
    No two writers will ever have the same journey.
    One-approach-fits-all DOES NOT exist in this writing game.
    Thanks for co-hosting the IWSG this month.
    Writer In Transit

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Well said. I have a one track mind, and right now it’s focused on editing for someone else. Later, maybe my story again. Okay, two track, but not both at once. We have chickens that take a lot of my time, especially the cute little chicks!

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    1. Chicks! SOOO cute!
      There are so many distractions that are easy to fall into… have to keep it balanced. I think my own work is better when I am also actively engaging with other people’s work (editing, or at least reading) but I struggle to manage them all (I say as I have two things I said I’d give a look over still sitting..waiting… bad me.)

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