by Domonique Weston
If you are a writer, the first thing you have to accept is that it happens to everyone—the moments when we stare blankly at empty word documents, the times when our heads are filled with clouds instead of ideas. These times cause us to wonder if we’re cutout to be writers. In the heat of all our writing classes, we learn how to write better stories, but how we should approach the writing process often goes unspoken.
However, this semester my three courses with Professor Peter Telep (Advanced Fiction and Script Writing, along with Writing for Video Games) has taught me that bettering ourselves as writers is much more important than bettering the stories we write. Professor Telep, writer of over 50 books and multiple television scripts and a UCF professor of 17 years, agreed to share his experiences with learning how to get past some of the most crippling writing pitfalls—motivation, time management, and the unforgiving abyss of a creative rut.
Because writing demands such an incredible amount of self-motivation and discipline, finding the willpower to write can be daunting. Doubts, criticisms, and rejections litter the writer’s path. However, that’s the sort of negative thinking that Professor Telep warns writers against. He recounted the time one of his stories received its first acceptance:
“When I first began writing short stories and started trying to get them published, I wasn’t aware of the amount of rejections I would get. After you get 20 or 30 rejections (and back in those days, we were licking envelopes and mailing them in), you start to think, ‘Why am I even doing this.’ And then you suddenly get that one acceptance, and all of a sudden, the rejections don’t matter.”
As writers, our greatest enemies tend to be ourselves. We brew these internal, toxic cesspools whenever we criticize our own work, and it’s draining and demoralizing. You cannot be productive when you expend all your energy putting yourself down. Professor Telep indicated that his best advice in order to stay motivated as a writer came from Joel Rosenberg, author of the Guardians of the Flame series. Rosenberg says, “What do you care how many rejections you get? It’s the hits that matter, not the misses.” Rejection and criticisms will inevitably come; it’s part of the package of being a writer. But, Telep says, “Ignore the rejections and the negativity, and just focus on what your next story will be, because it’ll be a fresh, new idea.”
But, having the motivation and the confidence in your story is only half of the game. The other half is finding the time to write. We are college students. We have classes to take, homework to do, jobs to work and sleep to get. Some days 24 hours doesn’t feel like enough. On top of that, our schedules seem to always be changing, and it’s difficult to stick to a concrete writing schedule.
When asked how he keeps himself writing every day, Professor Telep said, “I plan it out every week and set a number of pages to have by the end of the week. I keep a daily calendar, and at the beginning of the week, I assign myself a number of pages to write each day.”
This advice seemed like such common sense, and yet, it never occurred to me. It’s easy to assign yourself a general number of hours to dedicate to your craft or a word count for each day to force yourself to write. The thought of planning out each week never crossed my mind, and it’s a good way to make sure you’re writing every day, even if you don’t get to complete the same amount each day. Professor Telep said, “I don’t write as much on days I’m teaching, maybe three or five pages. But on days I’m home all day, maybe ten or fifteen.”
To help stay in the groove of your schedule, Professor Telep mentions giving yourself routine “enablers” that help you slip into a writing-mode. This can be anything, and it’s just something you do when you start writing or while you’re writing. For me, I like to drink chai tea. “For [Professor Telep], it’s coffee, peanut butter, and a quiet setting.” This quiet setting is a very integral part of getting into your writing and staying immersed, so try and avoid distractions and surround yourself with only your writing enablers.
Once you’ve mastered time management and self-discipline, you may eventually reach a point where you fall into a rut writing the same genre over and over again. You might find it hard to come up with new ideas because you feel like you’ve explored so much in your genre already. Professor Telep stated, “I’ve written so many action-adventure stories, and I wonder how many times I can re-write action scenes about bullets flying. Sometimes I think, maybe I just need to write a story about two guys fishing.” Exploring different genres can really help you rekindle that spark you had when writing was new and fresh and exciting. Going beyond different story themes and practicing with a variety of mediums can really help enhance your writing overall. If you’re a fiction writer, poetry can help you create concrete imagery. Non-fiction can be useful for helping you capture human emotion. Script writing is good for learning how to tighten your language and rid yourself of the passive voice.
Professor Telep also teaches another class: Writing for Video Games. “In the class, students have to think about player agency. We’re writing the story of the player, who is creating their own story, and that’s a big difference between video game writing and other genres. Not to mention we have FIEA [the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy—a graduate school for video game design]. A lot of English majors may be unaware that they can pursue a career in video game production.”
As a student in this class, one of the biggest lessons that I’ve taken away is think about your audience and the many different ways the can interpret scenes and plot elements. And the story bibles that we write for our games really teach you how to make organizing and outlining the details of your story a lot more fun.
Out of all of Professor Telep’s advice, the most important message is that we have to make writing enjoyable. We have to allow ourselves to relax and not let this work feel like work. This profession calls for us to really enjoy what we do, really have fun with what we do, and not let all of the other stuff bog us down. Rejection and acceptance and publication will come and go, but the experience of writing a story or a poem or a screen play—that’s eternal. As a writer, loving what you do is essential because negativity affects your work and your morale.
Professor Telep leaves us with these words, “Writing’s hard. And the really rewarding part is the journey, whether the book sells or not. So write the book you would really love to read, then you’ll love the experience of writing it, and that’s the real reward.”