Monday, June 3, 2013

Answering the question, "Does what I'm doing matter?"

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Does it even matter?

How many times have I asked that question as a writer?

Early on it was doubts that the story would ever be good enough to get published. When I pushed myself to stay up late, to get to my word count goal, there the question was. Does it even matter?

Then as I researched agents and publishers, as I labored over query letters and synopses. Does it even matter?

I ask the question as a published writer too. When I'm smarting from a review that I stumbled upon. Does it even matter? When I read the beautiful prose of an author I love, and I feel that bite of envy. Does it even matter? Or as I research details like the creek that runs through Redwood High School in Visalia, California. Does it even matter?

A month or two ago, I was in my office feeling stressed, grumpy, and fed up with writing. I decided it didn't matter, and wandered over to Ann Voskamp's blog, where I'm pretty sure she stores most the answers to life's dilemmas. I read something over there that I've been thinking about ever since, though it wasn't an Ann original. Instead, it was Michael Phelps.

In her beautiful Sanity Manifesto post, Ann said this in a list of tips for keeping her sanity in a crazy, full-of-distractions world:

6. Stay in the pool
Michael Phelps said it in an interview: “You’ve just got to stay in the pool longer than others.”
Set the timer. Get in the pool. Stay in the pool. Do your work. Don’t get distracted. Don’t flit from one thing to another and back.
Don’t get out of the pool, don’t leave your work, until the timer goes. The way to win is to stay in the pool.

And as I contemplated that concept it occurred to me, That's how it happened for me so early. I stayed in the pool.

I'm not even close to being the Michael Phelps of the writing world, so don't read this as me saying that. But I was published much younger than many writers are, and I think it's because of all the time I "spent in the pool" during high school and after. While I eventually put aside every story I wrote as a teen writer, and while I've abandoned a lot since then, working on those stories still mattered, because it was still time in the pool.

It's summer time for many of you (or at least close) and I know many of you have some great goals for the coming months. I'm all for living life and enjoying time off (I'm headed out on a vacation now, actually) but I know upon reflection how much I benefited from pushing through the does it - this story, this detail, this sentence - even matter? moments.

Since I read that article by Ann Voskamp,  I've become a lot better about keeping writing time for writing, not for browsing Pinterest or the clearance site on Old Navy. I still ask does it even matter? but I remind myself of what Michael Phelps said about staying in the pool, and I talk myself into sticking with that problematic scene or inconvenient plot line.

What about you? Some details (siblings, limited computer time) are out of our control, but are there ways you think you could be better about using your time well and focusing?

And if you're interested in winning a copy of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, there's a bit of time left in the giveaway over at Writing 4 Two, so stop by there to get entered.


  1. This has been really motivational, especially as I've just reached the "Oh God, there's so much more to fix than I thought!" stage of editing. Thanks for another inspiring post, Stephanie! They always come just when I need them; it's almost spooky how good your timing is :)

  2. I'm 12 years old, so I think that i've entered the pool pretty early


  3. Ahhh, I love these posts. <3 They always make me want to drop whatever I'm doing and open my document and write or edit. Right this second. Just read one yesterday, and that meant I ended up doing a good bit of editing and adding 550 words to my WIP (in 15 minutes, no less! Yay for word wars!). I have a feeling something similar is going to happen today, thanks to you! YAY!

  4. Great post! :) Down goes the phone, and out comes the laptop...

  5. I needed this encouragement, thanks for the post. It seems I really like starting books, but I find it harder to finish them. I'm currently editing my book for the upteenth time in attempt to have it polished and ready for submitting to publishers, but I can get bored of my writing after reading it for the millionth time.

    1. I totally feel you. When I was editing my first one I reached a point where I could probably tell you the entire story, word for word, by heart. That's when you know you need to take a break. Good luck with editing!

    2. I totally feel for you guys, too! I'm editing right now (on the tail end of it, thankfully), and feel the exact same way. :-) I am so tired of editing, and of reading the novel, over, and over, and over again. And then you get so mad at the characters, and - well, it's just awful all the way around.


  6. Awesome post! My goal this summer to re evaluate where writing belongs in m life. And another quote from an athlete for motivation, tim tebow says "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work as hard."

  7. Ah, Stephanie, I so needed this post.
    Between end-of-school craziness, sports, studying for finals, actual finals, and lots of awesome family togetherness (as much as I love them, with everyone around, I have not had time), I haven't had time to write, really. Or rather, I haven't been using it to write. Because I deleted the midde of my WIP, I found out that I really don't know what I'm doing. It's been way harder, and I didn't really have much of a plot the first time around either, so it's bad. I know it's worth the time, and I love the story, but right now it seems like it isn't.

    However, today I'm going to make an outline. (Isn't that what everyone does on their first day of summer vacation?) A real, detailed, pretending-I'm-not-a-pantser outline. It's going to be a real plot, and I'm going to follow it. I'm going to get back into writing, for at least an hour a day, or 2k, whichever comes first. I'm going to get back in the groove, and once I do that, I think it'll be better.

    Thank you so much for the post!

  8. I needed to hear this too, Steph! After I spend ALL MORNING designing a flyer for my upcoming conference visits. Photoshop is so addicting. Must write now. :-)

    1. If only I could use photoshop, I'd be the happiest person alive ;)

      No less than three ICT teachers have attempted to explain it to me. I'm telling you, it hates me :(

  9. I'm so glad this post inspired you all! I love hearing about your plans to stay in the pool this summer (and not the one filled with water!)

  10. Thank you for this post! Another thing I would kind of like to add is... Why do you write?
    I write because I LOVE it, and I pretty much decided that anyone and everyone could tell me that I am a terrible writer, but I would still keep doing it because it is a part of me. I guess what I am trying to say is, it matters to me. I write because it is important to me. :D
    Naomi Downing

  11. Awesome post, Stephanie! I can so relate to your feelings.

    Now, I'm going to go fix myself a mug of hot tea, and get to editing my novel! Characters, here I come. :-)