Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Doing “It” Even When You Don’t Want To #amwriting

Yesterday, I read this article This is Your Brain on Writing, and like all narcissistic and self-involved people, proceeded to apply it directly to my life. Particularly to why I find it so hard to write everyday E.V.E.R.Y. day. A lot of fellow writers have expressed the difficulty in writing everyday. The initial enthusiasm for a project fades as in the tumultuous wake of the actual writing—in the struggle to strong arm your characters, dialogue, and setting into place—or something happens. The dog, baby, or partner gets sick. Your job calls for overtime. Someone dies. You finally finished reading the book you’ve been fumbling through for the last two months and have the worst book hangover ever.

Whatever it is, life happens. And you find that when you finally return to the page that your story is cold and lifeless, not the vibrant, breathing homunculus that it was when you left it. It’s been starved and neglected—what did I think would happen?
The article argues that the difference between novice writers and experienced ones is expertise—constantly working the muscles used for that 3-point shot or the perfect block of description—doing whatever it is that you do, often enough that the muscle never gets cold.

So is the easiest way to be successful as a writer is to simply keep writing? Return to the page everyday, even when we would rather not?
Several professionals swear by this technique. Stephen King claims to write everyday, 2000 words a day. Neil Gaiman said (somewhere, don’t ask me to go look for it—there is no coffee to be had)—that a novelist must persevere—that perseverance is absolutely essential. Otherwise, we’d have a bunch of short story/poetry writers, running around. (Even Stephen King must write shorts from time to time—I doubt anyone can sustain novel writing, continuously 2000 words a day, for all their days).
(Let’s take a moment for the insufferable know-it-all to run off and find who did, in fact, write 2000 words toward a novel every day—and come back and tell us.)

But just as it is important to write everyday, I think it is also important to acknowledge that it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to write everyday. Even The King had to take a break when he was hit by that car, you know?
             Shit happens. Life happens.
             So maybe it is wiser to plan for your return to the page.

Here are things I found that have helped me to return to the page:
*Organizing my desk in preparation of the inevitable
*Organizing my writing, looking through old work—really, just looking for a glimmer of hope here
*Writing exercises or sprints —just short, noncommittal bursts of activity. Think of it as a warm up—even athletes warm up! In the past I’ve used exercises from The Artist’s Way, Writing the Breakout Novel, and Writing Magic—which all proved helpful.

*If you can’t even face the judgmental Word doc cursor yet, blinking its constant derision at you, try writing short scenes in your head instead. I find this easiest to do when walking or showering. Sometimes also during sex--sex can be really inspirational!

*Set the mood—I have Pandora stations for every possible human emotion. I pick one based on the mood for my story or scene. I turn it on WELL before I’m actually ready to write. I read somewhere that the best way to motivate yourself to exercise is to just turn on your jams and put on your workout clothes—then it’s like—OK, yeah. I’ve got this. This also seems to work for writing. I do all the prep (disable the internet/phone, have the chocolate and hot drink at hand) and turn on the tunes—it seems to work equally well.

So what do you do when your “muscles” go cold? How do you get back to it?



  1. Good post. When I'm stuck (I'm a midnight oil writer) I take my thoughts to sleep with me and wake up with my plot stumbles solved. Or I think it over on a long daytime drive with favourite music on the radio (not talk radio). Then that night the unsolvable problems are ready to unravel.

    1. I think these are both great ideas for us late night writers! Thank you so much for sharing! I hope I see you around again soon :D

  2. I struggle with the everyday thing, too. I know that the more regularly I show up to write, the easier it gets to do the actual writing. Staying warm works. But I fight it, especially when I am in one of the barren places where I don't know what's next and have to walk into the unknown. When I finally get to my writing, I tend to overlook the warm-up options like exercises or free-writing, because I'm thinking I can't afford to waste any time. But it's good to be reminded that warm-up is necessary and will make the writing time more productive in the end.

    1. It really IS hard to do it everyday. I know exactly what you mean. It seems I have so many other things to do that even the few minutes or hour I can grab here or there can't possibly wasted on warming up! Scribbling down some nonsense that I will never use or develop! I feel like it takes so much time to complete a piece of work that wasting time practicing is practically sacrilege ;)