On Writing

Every Day I Write the Book

"Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position."
— Stephen King, On Writing

The two biggest things that seem to stop writers from actually writing are lack of time and “writer’s block.” The only way you beat those things is by picking up a shovel, but that’s often easier said than done.

Regarding lack of time, it’s a reality that many writers don’t have the luxury of just sitting at home and scribbling or typing all day because they’ve got a different job that actually pays the bills. When you spend 8 to 12 hours a day working your “day” job, not to mention family and other obligations you may have, finding time to devote to your craft can certainly be difficult. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. If you feel called to write, if it’s in your blood to tell a story, then you have to make time for it even if you devote only 30 minutes a day to doing so. Examine your schedule and habits. Be flexible. Could you write on your lunch break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office or while you’re waiting to drop off/pick up the kids? Think about how much time you spend on social media every day; is that time that could be better spent writing? Writing is just like any other job—you have to put in the time and effort in order to see results. If you carve out the time to do it regularly, then it’ll become a habit. Ideas will start coming to you like little sparks and those sparks of inspiration will ultimately fuel your creative fire.

Aside from a lack of time, one of the most common complaints I hear from writers is that they either have a lack of motivation to actually sit down and write or they’re just not sure where to begin when they do. This so-called writer’s block is really fear or anxiety and the only way you’re going to conquer that fear is by—you guessed it, facing it (find some suggestions on how to do that here).

Are you overly concerned about correctness? Holding yourself to an unrealistic standard of magically getting it right on the first pass? If that’s the case, then you have to find ways to turn off your inner critic/editor because creativity is unrestrained. If you can’t do that, you’ll find yourself constantly getting stuck on things that don’t matter at the moment, never finish a project, and never be happy with what you write. Unfortunately, many writers tend to forget that the creative process is just that—a process. For perfectionists or those who have worked as editors, it can be particularly hard to just pick up the shovel and get to work. As someone who has made a living editing other people’s writing, I get it; I struggled with that for a long time. You get so concerned with fixing things that you forget that this is only your first draft. You don’t have to get anything right at this point. In fact, you can make a complete mess of things and that’s totally OK because you have that awesome gift called revision. You can take all the time you want to improve things later. For now, just accept that you’re going to be wading through a whole lot of shit.

What if you’re just not feeling it? Well, then consider what inspires you. Whether it’s something you need to do or an atmosphere you need to create, make it happen. There are going to be some days, however, when you do all those little rituals that get you in the mood to write and you still don’t feel like doing it. Those are the times when it’s most important to hold yourself accountable and do it anyway. Write something, anything, even if you’re just writing what you think about a particular scene or part, making notes to yourself, interviewing a character, or writing something else entirely. If you keep at it for long enough, you’ll spark an idea and that little a-ha moment is all you need. The point is, you’re not going to get there if you never pick up the shovel and get to work. Like Andy Dufresne, you’ve got to crawl through the river of shit in order to come out clean on the other side. If you’re finding it hard to trust that process and need someone to help you, I’m here.

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