This is the first post in the series A Writer’s Life Revealed, where authors and writers share insights into their writing lives. Please welcome Tirzah Price, our first contributor!
Tirzah Price and The Writer’s Life
Tirzah Price is a YA writer, contributor to BookRiot.com, and a librarian in Michigan. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is represented by Taylor Martindale Kean of Full Circle Literary. You can find her Book Riot writing here.
What is Your Writing Routine?
I write in the mornings, and I shoot for every weekday plus a weekend day. I’m fortunate that my day job as a librarian doesn’t require me to start until late morning or even the afternoon. The trade off is I have to work some evenings and weekends, but I don’t mind. I find I’m much more motivated first thing in the morning, although I think that productivity is a matter of habit and discipline and sometimes just pure inspiration.
I go to a local Panera almost every day because being outside of the house helps signal to my brain that it’s work time. My Panera is fantastic–the seat by the fireplace is almost always mine, and no one there cares that I usually only ever buy a cup of coffee and sit for hours. I usually have two-four hours at a time to write before I need to head to the day job, and I’m always wishing for more. How far that gets me in my writing really depends on the day and where I’m at in the process.
Early on in a project, what that looks like is a lot of scribbling and deleting and I have to remind myself a lot that even a little bit of work every day will add up. When I’m deep into a draft or revising, those hours go by really quickly, and I sometimes have to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to go into work. (I’ve only been late once!) About a year ago I made the decision to not set daily word count or page count goals for myself, because that immediately put a lot of pressure on me to meet them, and I already feel like I don’t write enough.
So now I try and quantify my goals and successes in ways that are related to the story I want to write and where I’m at in the process. I’ll say, “I want to get a first draft of this scene done today,” or “By the end of the week, I’d like to get to the part in the draft where my character will do x.” That changes a little in revision, when I might try and revise x number of chapters or pages.
There are a trade-offs to writing during the work day. One benefit is that my family is working, too, so they don’t bother me–usually. One downside is that it’s tempting to use my writing time for things that I don’t want to deal with during the day or in the evening: grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, errands. Another downside is that it’s pretty much always guaranteed the moment I start to really get into my flow, I’ll have to start to pack it in and head to work. I love having a weekend day where I can sleep in a little and then sit down and write for as long as I want, but claiming an entire weekend day is harder when my family is home. Luckily, they’re pretty understanding and supportive!
What Accomplishments do You Celebrate, and How?
I am a big believer in celebrating every step of the process! I celebrate when I finish a draft, when I finish each round of revision, even when I get to what I envision the halfway point of a draft or figure out a key scene that’s been eluding me. Usually this celebration looks like me ordering a pastry (see above where I write in Panera) or treating myself to a breakfast sandwich. I definitely celebrated signing with my agent, and I celebrate going out on submission. Even if your book doesn’t sell, it’s important to acknowledge the magnitude of that–your book is being considered by editors!
All the other big and small stuff after selling a book should warrant celebration, too. A published writer told me about five years ago that this business is too rough and convoluted and laborious not to take time and celebrate the small things, and I think she’s totally right. The celebrations aren’t just about treating yourself, but taking a moment to acknowledge your accomplishments and the fact that you’re making progress every day you sit down and work. It’s really tempting to think, “Okay, so I finished a revision. But I still need to revise again, and then get an agent, and then get a publisher…” There’s always something more to achieve or strive for, so I like to remind myself that teenage me would be totally in awe of everything I’ve accomplished, and celebrate that.
What Advice do You Have for Writers Out There Who Feel Discouraged or Unmotivated?
You don’t have to define your success by anyone else’s metrics. The only thing you have to do is write. (And read! Reading totally counts as writing time, as long as you’re not using your reading as an excuse not to write!) Do what you need to in order to take the time and space to write, and set goals that will motivate and not discourage you. Writing 1,000 words a day sounds reasonable, even easy, but it’s not always achievable. So recalibrate. As long as you make a commitment to write regularly–and it doesn’t have to be every day–you will make progress.
Finding an accountability partner can work wonders for you, but you can be your own accountability partner! Make a point to check in with your writing and progress at the end of every month. Sometimes taking a wide view of your work can give you perspective. Writing a book–and ultimately publishing–is a marathon, not a race. You’ll get there by figuring out how you work best, and not giving up.
Check Back Next Week for More!
Thank you so much for your insights, Tirzah! Anyone else relate to her advice—especially about “not defining your success by anyone else’s metrics”—like I do? Leave comments for Tirzah below, and make sure to come back next week for our next featured writer, Jacqui Lipton!