Time has been more elastic than usual during the pandemic. While some months seemed interminable, others have rushed by in a dizzying blur. Suddenly, here we are, facing the end of a year it seemed was going to be endless.
Now, by tradition, rote, or peer pressure, many of us are taking stock of what we were able to accomplish during quarantine. The rush of conquering sourdough starters and learning to knit have given way to serious concerns about financial and emotional wellness.
And if you’re a writer, you’re probably counting pages. Especially when you read a Tweet about someone who has written the great American novel since May or finished three feature screenplays since August.
If you’ve produced on a prodigious level in 2020, congratulations to you.
If you haven’t, congratulations to you, too.
2020 has been about survival in every sense of the word. This is not the time to be measuring what you were able to do against what anyone else was able to do.
In fact, it’s never time to do that kind of measuring. Your writing journey is unique, just as your writing is. You need to find a process that serves you. As long as you’re always moving forward, the means and the pace of that process is up to you. Being creative comes with its own special kind of stress, so there’s no need and no use to go looking for more. Embrace the idiosyncrasy of your process. Find the rhythms that work for you, and rely on those rhythms when changes in work or life throw an obstacle in your path and you have to adjust. Let the rhythms guide you back.
In 1911, writer Mary Heaton Vorse encouraged a young writer by the name of Sinclair Lewis: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Writing daily is key to becoming a stronger writer. But there will be days that the words don’t come. There will be days that the words come so fast that you can barely keep up. I find that often, when I have days where I churn out a high number of pages, the next day I barely get anything written. Or I look at the ten pages I wrote the day before and wind up deleting half of them. (Editing is its own treacherous path: As my idol Dorothy Parker said, “I can never write five words but that I change seven.” We’ll come back to that another time.) Neither day is more important than the other. Each day, each page, each edit is a step closer to the goal.
And as the end of the year encourages us all to review, also remember that there is no set timetable for your progress or your success. Just because your friend may be out-producing you does not mean your friend is out-performing you. Working in entertainment means – no matter your level – that the opportunities you’re striving for will occasionally go to someone else. That doesn’t mean that your opportunity isn’t coming. Don’t get discouraged. Or angry. Or jealous. Get passionate. Get inspired. Keep writing. There are new stories within you, yearning to emerge and entertain us all.
Here’s to all you’ve done this year. And all you’re going to do in the year ahead.
Cheers to you.
Sheryl J. Anderson is a television writer/producer and has written half-hour, hour, and movies (such as Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Charmed, and The Town that Came A'Courtin'). She has sold pilots to SyFy, Lifetime, and NBC, and created and served as showrunner of UPtv's first original scripted series, Ties that Bind. Most recently, she has been the showrunner for Netflix's upcoming Sweet Magnolias. She has recently written movies for UPtv and Hallmark. She is an adjunct faculty member in the Screenwriting MFA at Pepperdine University and lectures regularly at Azusa Pacifica University. Sheryl is also the author of the Molly Forrester Mysteries, a series now available from Ignition Books.