By June Hur
Writing is great fun + fiery ambition to get published = writing is as addicting as a drug.
When at school, or at work, or preparing dinner for your family, if you obsess about getting published, like me, you will always be itching to write. Give me spare time and I will rush off to my laptop to work on my story. However, by and by, I have come to realize that this obsession over writing and publishing makes many (not all) writers neglect two major aspects to life:
Socializing: When I first began university, I realized that I had precious little leisure time, as the rest of my hours would be devoted to studying, researching and writing essays. While I always had fun when hanging out with friends, I worried that it was wasting my time. I began to think: What do I gain from talking to my friend about the guy she likes? Shouldn’t I be working on my revisions so I could start querying? Because I wanted to get published so badly. So then I started to be picky with who I spent my time with. I would mainly socialize with writers and English majors. I was turning into a selfish snob, a Wanna-Publish-A-Book-Aholic. Therefore, much of the time, when given the choice, I opted to write instead.
However, while going through the emails exchanged between myself and my critique partner, in search of a critique she’d made about my manuscript that I needed to incorporate, I came across a different pointer that gave me pause. She wrote that my dialogues waxed and waned. I began to wonder—what makes people write good dialogues? Why do I have so much trouble writing them? I thought and thought, and the answer hit me in the face. The answer was so obvious I felt sort of stupid. I realized how crucial it was for writers to socialize not only with writers and English majors, but with a variety of people. Not everyone in my book will be talking about how to get published, or how awesome Jane Austen is.
I learned that we need to appreciate humans for being humans. If we manage to tap into another’s life, we will always come across an inspiring story. Life, in itself, is inspiring. Every individual is a walking masterpiece. Open them up, read them, and their life’s story will be breath-taking, as if their story had been written by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Bronte, Dickens, Hemmingway—you name it. With this mindset, talking to people who don’t even share common interests with you, who will not further your career to become a published writer, becomes very interesting. And knowing different people, experiencing life through their words, adds so much more depth to your own writing.
A few years ago I was chatting with author Scott Carter after class (who has recently published his debut novel, BLIND LUCK) and asked him what his advice would be to aspiring authors. His answer was: Unplug your ears. Look around you and you’ll find that many people have earphones on, plugging themselves out from reality’s noise, isolating themselves in their imaginary world inspired by the music. Don’t get me wrong, listening to music is great. But we it’s so important to listen to the world around us, to the conversations surrounding us, because what our unplugged ears might hear will offer us so much insight into life.
My point is: Try not to isolate yourself in any manner for too long. Of course, it is important for writers to have their alone time, their thinking and writing and imagining time; but a balance is needed.
Health: I have heard several stories from writers about how they forgot to eat and exercise because they were too busy writing. I am one of them. A few months ago, when an agent requested my full manuscript, I was just in the middle of making a humungous revision. So excited to send it off to her as soon as I could, I spent a week revising from early in the morning until very late in the night. I skipped dinner, sometimes I skipped lunch, and sometimes I ate nothing at all but a piece of toast. That round of revision slightly screwed up my health and it took a few days to recover.
Health is the one thing my parents put a lot of emphasis on its importance. I don’t live with them, which makes it even more difficult for me to remember that I need to eat, because I forget while in the process of writing. Whenever I am on the phone with them they’re always asking me about my health. One of the phrases my mom always uses is: You want to write a great story? Well, June, you need to be alive and healthy for you to write at all.
Furthermore, I know people who will stay at home all day, writing, like myself, and when stuck in a writer’s block, remain sitting for hours staring at their computer screen. Not healthy. The best way to get over your writers block, I believe, is not to brainstorm on a piece of paper. It is to put your story on hold and go outside for a long, long walk. Exercising your body is like exercising your brain. Likewise, a fit body means a fit brain.
According to an article written by Vanessa Richardson, exercising reduces stress and leads to better cognitive functioning. It is stress that sometimes leads to writer’s block—the stress of not knowing what to write. And then it is always when you aren’t trying to write, when you’re not under that pressure, like when you’re in bed trying to sleep, that all these great ideas floods in. Stress, at least for me, is one of the main obstacles that hinder me from tapping into my imagination.
Therefore, when you haven’t stepped out of the house and you fall into a writer’s block, it means it’s time to go outside and get some fresh air into your brain. Then you can return home and take out your notebook and brainstorm all you want.
Summary: You might not be the extreme example of a hermit-writer, who coops herself up in her apartment, staring at the computer with blood-shot eyes, holding a beer bottle in one hand, a cigarette in another. But when you start having the mindset where you think it’s more important to write than to go for a jog, or that it’s more important to write than to be out in the world, then you need to pause and rearrange your priorities.
June Hur is the author of The Runaway Courtesan. She is currently awaiting the response of an agent who requested her full manuscript. When she is not working on her next book, she can usually be found at a book shop, searching for a Great Love Story to read and analyze. You can follow her on Twitter or through her blog.