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I Don’t Feel Like It

Even in the middle of a multi-year streak of writing daily, I sometimes hit walls. The walls aren’t as thick as they used to be, and frequently they’ll appear after I’ve written 100 words (so technically I’ve already written for the day), but there they are, blocking my progress. Sometimes those walls come in the form of being unable to fill in a plot hole, or in difficulty articulating a thought, but often all of those walls manifest in the feeling of not feeling like writing. It’s the ultimate avoidance tactic! I don’t have to deal with my writing problem if I just don’t write.

So, how do you deal with not feeling like writing but needing to write?


Write Something Different

I frequently circumvent this wall by stepping away from what I was planning to write and working on something else. That’s how I started this blog post. I had been struggling to draft a chapter (not “feeling” like working on that novel), so I opened up a new document and asked a question: Do you ever not feel like writing? Suddenly I was on my way writing again.

Switching focus can unclog my brain and give myself the mental boost of having written. Generally if I’ve put some easy words into something else, I’ll be past the hurdle of feeling like I wasn’t performing, and then have the confidence to tackle the task that blocked me. (I may not have resolved the block, but I can start working on the problem again.)


Make Some Tea

Getting up and doing something with a time limit can sometimes unblock my brain. Making a cup of tea takes me seven minutes, which means I can devote seven minutes to thinking about what was blocking me, why it was blocking me, and how I can get around that block. Seven minutes isn’t long, but often by the time I have a cup of hot tea, I have a solution for how I can keep writing. (Even if that solution is figuring out a different, unblocked part of the story I can write.)


Give Up

This may sound counter-intuitive as a strategy to start writing again, but sometimes the only solution is to stop fighting. I have many times gotten so frustrated that I marched away from the keyboard, only to suddenly be slapped with the solution. Walking away was key to my discovery. It wasn’t until I had become so frustrated that I was ready to give up that my brain presented the answer so plainly. Sometimes walking away from your writing is a good thing!

 

Feeling like you don’t want to write doesn’t have to stop you from writing. Lean into the feeling a bit, give yourself a break, and once you come back to it, you just may feel like writing again.

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Hesitant to Finish

I am resistant to finishing things.

It sounds ridiculous typed out like that. I mean, the point of starting a project is to have a finish product. In this case, it’s to have a finished story, and having a finished story is an amazing feeling! But even though I know that, I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to finish one pass and move on to the next. For me that hesitation comes down to three anxious questions:

  • What next?
  • Will I have another good idea?
  • But is it really done?


What Next?

This is a question that isn’t just about what project will I work on next, but how will I structure that project? What will my days be like? What is the routine?

I like ruts. I love working in ruts because I know how much work I’ll get done each day, when I’ll start, and roughly what I’ll do while I work. It’s comfortable and consistent and I am super productive once I have a well-worn rut. But getting that rut going is difficult. Figuring out the best way to work on a project takes time and patience, and often means experimenting with new workflows—new ruts—until I find the right one for the project (or for that stage of the project). As a project winds down, so do I, dragging out the last few tasks in anticipation of having to carve a new rut.

I haven’t figured out how to battle this question. The simple solution seems to be to develop a rut for each stage of writing, but every book I’ve worked on has been different, so that means the process isn’t cookie-cutter. For some books I’ve followed a structured outline, and for others I wrote scenes out of order. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough experience with each kind of workflow to immediately know how I’ll attack it, but for now I have to find other methods to banish my worries about what happens next.


Will I Have Another Good Idea?

Well. Will I???

The idea that what I’m writing will be the last thing I ever write is one of the most ridiculous anxious thoughts I could have, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it nearly every time I near the end of a project. Obviously I’m going to write something else. Even through periods when I wasn’t as creative or productive, I never stopped getting ideas for stories. But this is anxiety talking and anxiety doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, so it throws out fearful doubts like this.

There’s no real defense against an anxious thought, except to not entertain it. I’ve gotten better at ignoring this question over the years, but sometimes it still catches me off guard and slows down my progress, keeping me from crossing the finish line so I can linger in my “last” good idea.


But Is It Really Done?

Of all the anxious questions I have that disrupt my productivity, this is the one that I actually have to answer. Figuring out if a project is actually finished is key to, you know, finishing the project. The problem is when this idea turns from productive checking in with the story to obsessing over commas, prepositions, and if I should start swapping around scenes just to see what it looks like.

I typically use revision checklists to keep myself on track and to eventually identify a stopping point. Sometimes I need to add things to the list—maybe during copyediting I uncover another crutch phrase, so I want to double back to search for that phrase, or I might finally figure out how to condense two scenes—but mostly I stick to the list and when the list is done, I’m done. Having that list as a definitive end point helps stop me from obsessing because I have something tangible to point to that says the story is done.

 

Knowing my weaknesses and having strategies to overcome them certainly helps, but it doesn’t stop me from struggling with finishing projects. Hopefully with continued practice it will get easier as time goes on.

Are there any aspects of finishing writing projects that stymie you? How do you over come those obstacles?

First Drafts Suck

Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is to keep writing through your first draft. Ideas can feel flat and uninspired. Characters might not meet the expectations you set out for them. Obstacles wind up being easier to overcome than you imagined, or, the opposite, you find yourself written into a corner. It is frustrating and infuriating and quitting starts looking better and better because, let’s face it, your first draft sucks.

But the good news is that all first drafts suck. No matter how much planning you do in advance, there’s a big difference between an idea and a story. A story requires details and specifics and everything has to work together. Sentences have to be crafted, motivations have to be honed, choices have to be made, and consequences have to be realized. Moving from an idea to a final product takes a lot of work, and the first draft is the first step. And the first draft is always a messy step.

First drafts don’t just suck because they are the messy beginnings of a novel. They suck because they’re difficult to write and they’re difficult to stick with. But the reason you must keep writing through a terrible first draft is simple: blank pages can’t be revised. In order to make the book better, something needs to be on the page. Revising is like sculpting, and the first draft is how you make the clay.

Sculptures can’t be made without material to sculpt, and the same works for stories. The first draft has to be written so the writer has something to revise and craft into the finished work. It may be tempting to stop in the middle and start revising, but not finishing your first draft is a disservice to your story and sometimes a waste of your time. Even the most organized planners can discover things about their characters, plot, and world through writing the first draft. Ideas develop organically—it becomes clear that the character should turn left instead of right, a sub-plot more fully develops, one idea spawns another and a new area of the world is fleshed out. You might discover that a scene you wrote well and loved doesn’t belong in your novel any more—and if you spent your time honing it instead of writing to the end of your first draft, you would have wasted that time.

So push through your first draft. Even when it sucks, try your best to love the experience and motivate yourself to continue. Reward yourself for writing. Tell your friends what you’ve completed. Write the scenes that excite you. Write out of order. Leave gaping holes that just have notes like “battle scene” or “much smooching” or “Kate and Joe need to talk.” Leave notes to yourself about ideas you get as you’re drafting or revisions you want to make, but keep writing forward. You’ll have a mess by the end. You’ll have a draft that sucks, but you’ll have a draft that you can craft, make better, and sculpt into the story you were always meant to write. As much as writing is about revising, revising can’t happen if you don’t have a first draft.