In a previous post, I explained how a weekly writing group led me to write my first self-published novel. I’ll forever be grateful to WUTI and my writing friends for giving me the confidence to finish Professional Student and self-publish it, eventually getting it into my local bookstore. But now I’d like to talk about all of the other gifts my writing groups and writing friends have given me.
5 Things I Learned from My Writing Friends
1. Morning pages are awesome…but can easily become obsessive
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron introduces a journaling technique known as ‘Morning Pages’. Basically, this involves waking up in the morning, opening your journal, and writing whatever pops into your head. It’s a way to start the day off by being creative. As a data scientist, sometimes I struggle to get into my creative mode, so when one of my fellow WUTI members told me about this, I was all too excited to try it out.
In theory, it’s a great activity, but as a perfectionist, I quickly learned that putting this pressure on myself every day was not ideal for me. I gave up on my morning pages, but I still see the value in them and when I do have a morning free (which isn’t often) I’ll write a few pages about everything and anything.
2. The first draft of your novel is supposed to be terrible
When I started writing my first novel I was spending way too much time trying to get every word perfect. After talking to a few of the other authors in the group, I discovered that the first draft is essentially word vomit. You throw absolutely everything on the page and you don’t stop. Stuck on a word? Skip it. Not sure what happens in the middle of a chapter? Write the ending instead.
I say this now because I know it’s true, but to be honest, I still have a hard time adopting this mentality.
3. NEVER back up your Scrivener files to Google Drive
Scrivener is an amazing writing tool, but I must say if something goes wrong, it’s a complete disaster. I had 40,000 words of my second novel written in Scrivener. I always made sure that I had backups of the files because I was scared to death of losing my art. However, one day I got a little overzealous in cleaning my Python files and I accidentally deleted everything in my writing folder. Yes, I’m a data scientist, but I completely screwed up this time. Even after I realized everything was gone, I didn’t panic because I knew there were four backups of my Scrivener project in my Google Drive.
Unfortunately, if you read the fine print of the setup instructions for Scrivener, you’ll find that you shouldn’t choose Google Drive for your backup location. I found this out the hard way. After calling the company and trying to troubleshoot, I mentioned my crisis in WUTI and a fellow writer had to break the news to me that my work was lost. This is a known issue with Scrivener and there’s no way to recover the files if you didn’t back them up to a different location.
Luckily, I had exported my latest draft to a word document a few days prior, so I didn’t lose all my work, but it set me back significantly in terms of editing and formatting. Lesson learned.
4. When my body feels like shit, I might get my best writing done
However, from attending WUTI, I learned that sometimes Gatorade in a wine glass is all you need to get back into writing mode. Just because I’m in physical pain doesn’t mean that I can’t be creative. In fact, sometimes it’s the reason I should sit down at my laptop and write because mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise.
WUTI is all about having fun, so part of our writing night can include having a glass (or two) of wine (or a beer, or a cocktail…). As someone with physical health issues, I would get discouraged when my pain flared right before I was supposed to sign on to the Zoom meeting. This typically made me want to crawl up in a ball in bed, not sit at my desk writing while others were enjoying themselves.
5. If you write, you’re a writer
I remember the first time I attended WUTI and I was so intimidated by these “professional” writers. These men and women were published in literary journals, were completing their third or fourth novel, were getting ready to present a screenplay and I was just a random person trying to make new friends during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I introduced myself to the group, I was quick to say that I wasn’t a “real” writer. I didn’t want to try to fool anyone. But everyone there was so welcoming and I will never forget when the group leader said, “If you write, you’re a writer. Period.” Then he shrugged and moved on like it was as simple as that. Now, when I’m welcoming new members to WUTI, I’m sure to tell them that no matter what they write, they’re writers. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing letters to a friend, a newspaper article, or a one-woman show–all that matters is you write.
Of course, I’ve learned more than this from being a part of my writing group. Even on the nights that I barely wrote 100 words, being included in a writing community is invaluable.