I’m sure that at some point in your life, you thought writing was a glamorous profession. There’s no shame in that. I did too. I thought I would spend my days in pajamas, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and creating beautiful prose with no effort at all. And then I would be off to book signings and on book tours in Greece. Granted, I was 8. What did I know?
I’m not sure exactly when that started to change … probably when I started to actually write. I would sit down, grab my pen, and open up my notepad (because to my 10-year-old mind, using a laptop just sort of spoiled the image of “artist” in my head). I would then proceed to stare into space, waiting for the infamous muse to arrive. After a half-hour, I would be shocked that I hadn’t written anything other than “MY STORY” on the page. I seemed to think that inspiration would just hit me, that the words would literally flow from my fingertips. I thought calling myself a writer was enough.
Boy, was I wrong.
It took me a few years, but I finally did.
Writing is a skill involving endurance and discipline. I think the act of writing itself teaches discipline.
Because you are your own boss for the most part, you have to motivate yourself to get up every day, sit your butt down on your favorite writing chair (we all have one), and write. And even when it’s hard—you know, those times when it seems like the pipe of our creativity is clogged with our equivalent of a hairball—even then, we know we have to write anyway because it’s not just a job. It’s who we are. Because without writing, our lives lose part of their meaning. .
A lot of people catch the writing bug, but not a lot of them can actually stand the sniffling—not a lot of them actually make it as writers.
I personally believe that writing chooses you. Through tests of discipline, endurance, self-control, and perseverance—all of which are writing itself—it is able to sieve out those not disciplined enough or patient enough to persevere in an act that can sometimes be painful and yield little results.
Even with a deadline looming, it’s still as easy to lose focus and drive and to fail in our obligation to create engaging content.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to do nothing but write all day. When life brings its own problems, it’s difficult meeting up with deadlines. It would be so easy to just let it fall away from my life and become just one of those things that never worked out. In fact, just last month, I had a creative meltdown where I really seriously considered quitting.
As a wise woman once told me, if something is important enough, you’ll make time to do it no matter what. As this woman has maybe four or five jobs (no kidding!) plus growing children and still manages to keep up, I have to assume she knows what she’s talking about.
But maybe like me, you can feel your creativity ebbing. You no longer feel excited at the prospect of a new project, you no longer look for new opportunities to improve your writing, you barely make deadlines. Or you miss them all together. Maybe research has become a burden. Maybe you’ve become so overwhelmed by the thought of writing that you can’t seem to begin anything at all.
If, like me, you’ve thought of quitting, maybe it’s time you …
It’s funny how objective we can be when considering other people’s work. We can often point out what was done well and what wasn’t. Sometimes, we even acknowledge that a stellar piece of writing must have taken a hellish amount of work.
But somehow, when it comes to our own work, we expect instant brilliance, we expect a masterpiece pouring right from our minds. Wrestling with our inner critic while drafting can lead us down a very dark road. This is actually what caused my creative meltdown last month.
“This is total shit!”
“Did you just write the most cliché paragraph ever?”
“Who exactly do you think is going to want to read all that?”
“You should just quit.”
These are all direct quotes from my inner critic, telling me that this article is complete rubbish.
Yes, absolutely fine. Perfect.
Yes, what I’m writing is total rubbish. Yes, that is the most cliché paragraph ever, in all existence even. No, nobody would want to read this. And yes, I should probably quit.
But I won’t.
I used to try and argue with my critic, but I’ve learned that path brings only sorrow. Take it from me. Now, I just agree with it—and I move on.
If you get on the same page with your critic, it loses all its power.
Give yourself the permission to write badly. First, get it down, and then get it pretty. Literary giants weren’t born fully formed, and great careers are built after years of getting it wrong.
Oh, you think you’re Superman? I’m so sorry to be the one to break it to you but … you’re only human.
It took me a really long time to understand this. I would be madly working on a project, to the point that I couldn’t process, and I would just keep going. Now, I’m not talking about short breaks in between sessions during the day, although these are important too. I’m talking about whole weekends, sometimes even whole weeks.
When you’ve hit a wall, when you feel like your creativity is stilted or that your creative well has run dry, it’s time for a break. I think it’s fairly easy to recognize the signs in your own writing life. Signs that let you know when to take some days off from your current project.
Some useful ways to spend these few days are:
Interact with other people. Stop hermit-ing, and spend some time with your family and friends. Aside from the fact that you’d be strengthening those relationships, those interactions often give us useful tidbits for our creative well. (That’s the awesome thing about being a writer. Everything is research.)
Read a good book, or watch an epic movie. There’s a lot you can learn from great stories that you can apply to your own writing. Often they can leave you feeling inspired enough to go back to your project.
Visit new places. Take a walk in a part of your town you’re not used to. Go to a new hangout. New places mean the opportunity to learn new things, to fill up that creative well.
People often make the mistake of thinking that writing is a solitary profession. If it really were, there wouldn’t be so many writing groups on Facebook.
While the actual writing is more of a one-person job (mostly), writing buddies are beneficial. People you can bounce ideas off, people who can relate to the problems you are facing, people who can give you honest advice concerning your current work in progress. This is invaluable.
When you realize that the frustrations you’re feeling about your writing are actually what connect you to several other writers round the globe, it makes them seem less daunting.
There’s so much content dedicated to the writing process and writing in general. And at least half of that content is useful and relevant. But don’t ever forget they are based off someone else’s experiences. You need to read it in context.
Odds are you will come across advice that might help other people but will be completely useless to you. Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself the luxury of discovering what works for you.
So just because you can’t write for two hours every day, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a writer. Read every article in the context of your own life. Unless you can tailor the advice to your life, please move on to the next one. In fact, by all means, disregard everything this post says if it makes absolutely no sense for your life right now.
Writing a novel-length work or keeping up a blog is a big commitment. It takes time and effort. Some writers can write a book in six months, or keep a steady blog, no problem, but for many of us, the process doesn’t go all that smoothly. Waiting until you finish writing the book or for the annual anniversary of the blog to celebrate is a little discouraging.
For me, it takes an incredible amount of courage to even begin to write anything at all, never mind finishing actual chapters or blog posts. I literally cower at the sight of a blank page, and since I start each writing session with a blank page, I have a lump in my throat practically every time I’m writing. Now, imagine if I had to wait through months of that to reward myself. I would have quit long ago.
The frequency of your rewards depends on you. It can be after every completed post or chapter or after every week of frequent writing. It can be after every month. For me, I reward myself after every single writing session because it’s so emotionally draining for me that I have to.
The rewards don’t have to be anything expensive or extravagant. They can be ordering take out instead of cooking dinner, extra TV time, time playing video games, extra time surfing the web, or even some chocolate. It can be anything.
Most importantly, realize that you are not alone. We all have those moments when we feel like we have nothing left to say. When writing seems impossible, use the tips above to get you through.
Joanne writes at ThisGirlBlogswhere where she blogs about helping writers navigate the potholes of the writers life. A med student by day, a writer by night and a dreamer always, she is working on the first draft of her novel and hopes to be a published author by 2020. When she's not writing or cramming notes on human anatomy, she's devouring every story she can get her hands on.