In my last post I said that given my record over the last few months I ought to make a post about the craft of not writing. It was a joke, but now it’s become a thing. In the time since then I’ve had to stop messing around and get down to it properly, but my brain came up with plenty of good excuses for not doing that. It would have been very easy to do no writing or editing at all in the last two weeks, as I was out of practise and had let my writing habits lapse completely. But the thing is, the editing has to be done and the new writing has to be started. So here are some of the things I tried to use as reasons not to do anything (and the things I had to remind myself of so that I could throw those not-writing thoughts out).
1. I Don’t Have The Time and Headspace!
Hey, we’ve all been there. And sometimes it’s true; sometimes other aspects of life do take over and writing has to take a backseat for a while, which is okay. Trouble is, life never really stops, so it’s easy to go on telling yourself this for a long time, and the longer you without writing, the more effort it is to make that time and headspace. But look at the things you do have time for. Close Facebook. Close Twitter. Close Netflix. Close that Buzzfeed article about what the way you eat mangos tells you about your starsign. Close this tab (but not until you’ve finished reading it). In fact, turn the internet off entirely. Now what are you going to do? If you’re left staring blankly into space unsure of what to do with your life, that’s fantastic, because it turns out you do have time to write after all! I’ve written before about making the time and space to write, and it’s something that gets easier with practise. Even if all you can manage is half an hour a day, even if you only do 50 words in that time, even if you don’t manage it every day or even every week, try to keep going and don’t get discouraged. If you can make it into a habit, it won’t seem so impossible any more.
2. But Twitter! Facebook! I Need To Check My Notifications!
Sure, but unless it’s something time dependent and urgent, it can wait. And those actual important bits of communication don’t really tend to take very long; it’s the faffing around we do afterwards that eats up the hours. There are many forms of procrastination, but I think that for most of us, the internet is the biggest. Of course, checking up on your friends and having a chat is great and actually quite important, especially if they’re friends you don’t see regularly, but the less meaningful stuff can take over. Set aside your internet time, separate it from your writing time, and be strict with yourself. Ideally, get your writing in first before you have a chance to be distracted – then once you’ve got a wordcount in for the day, you can relax.
3. I’m Just Not Inspired By This Thing Anymore!
We’ve all been here too, at least I’d imagine so. And there are various reasons for losing inspiration. Sometimes it can be a genuine case of moving on from an idea, and there’s no point in slogging endlessly on with something you hate; in that case, the best solution might be scrap it and start something new and fresh. On the other hand, you are never going to complete a piece of writing of any length without losing inspiration at some point, so if you give up every time you can’t summon the enthusiasm you had at the beginning, you’re never going to finish a novel. There are also various ways of re-enthusing yourself. Try reading over the bits you’re proudest of, or the notes you made before you started, when you were all fired up by a new idea. If you keep anything like a scrapbook or an inspiration board, spend some time looking through it, or go back to the things that inspired you in the first place, whether that’s re-reading a book, listening to a particular piece of music, getting out into nature, or something else entirely. You could even try to rethink your ideas and make some drastic changes – it may hurt to cut a character or abandon a long-cherished plan, but it can be surprisingly effective in unblocking dams.
4. I Want To Write, But I Don’t Know What.
So you’re feeling all inspired and creative, but you can’t settle to any one thing. You can’t pick an idea out of all the vague, half-formed ones floating around, or your mind is just a blank. There’s no easy way out of this one. Sometimes if you think about it long enough, one idea presents itself with enough clarity that it’s obviously the one. But sometimes it doesn’t, so waiting around too long for that probably isn’t the best way forward. Which means you just have to sort of pick something and do it. As all my workshop partners know, that’s never been a strong point of mine, but I think I’m getting better at it – I still have far too many ideas all the time, but I’m more ruthless about my decision-making. One way, if you’re like me, is to choose one at random, sleep on it, and if in the morning you’re disappointed with the choice, change your mind (but only once). If the problem is that you just don’t have any ideas at all, try looking around (or asking friends) for prompts – pictures, songs, quotes and even random words or phrases can all be kickstarters. And then just write. There’s nothing more discouraging than a blank page, so start putting words down and keep going. Don’t worry whether they’re good words – if you’re out of practise, they might not be, but the more you write the better they’ll get, I promise.
5. I Hate Everything I Write – I’m Terrible At This!
The curse of all creative people – self doubt. We are our own worst critics. But the thing is, our impressions of our own writing are incredibly unreliable, so don’t trust yourself when you start getting thoughts like this. Get other opinions, and if you’re new to the whole critiquing business, ask someone who’s likely to be nice, to ease yourself in gently (my mum is always my first port of call when I need an ego boost over my writing). Then try to believe what they tell you. But the big one to bear in mind is that very few first drafts are any good. The books we see on shelves are not even second or third drafts – they’re more like draft fifty – and almost anything can be made good with a lot of careful editing and the right people to give you advice. So stop beating yourself up and accept that you’re not always going to love what you write – but that doesn’t make it terrible, or mean that nobody else will love it either. In fact, as far as a first draft is concerned, embrace the terrible. Write the most awkward scenes as awkwardly and woodenly as you can. Laugh over the ridiculous placeholder words you used because you couldn’t find the right turn of phrase. Call your city The City and your dark forest Scary Trees, because placenames can come later. Once the words are down there, then it will all seem more achievable.
I’m now going to cheat on the List of Five theme and add One Very Good Reason To Write:
1. You Love Writing.
I’ve gone through all of those other five in the last month, and I fully expect that I’ll be battling them for as long as I keep writing, because my brain is just fantastic at thinking of reasons not to do the things I need to do. But the thing is, I love writing too much ever to let these thoughts win completely. If you love to write then you’re a writer. And if you’re a writer, you need to write, so go and do it.