In a perfect world, I’d begin my writing day in some weird Disney-esque world where I’d happily wake up after nine hours of blissful sleep, with little birds chirping as music played in the background. Awaiting me would be a perfectly brewed cup of coffee and freshly baked muffins tickling my nose, the newspaper fresh off the driveway, and there would not be one meeting or work appointment scheduled to disturb me.
Just a pleasantly cold, snowy day where I could just sit at my desk hearing nothing but the sound of the crackling fireplace behind me.
Ideally, I’d have a clearly formed idea along with a solid outline so that I knew EXACTLY where I was headed. Oh, and a passionate attitude to accompany several unbroken hours to write.
While I’m at it, I would also like to have no family obligations, no holiday distractions, no phone calls or emails, and a Dictaphone app that could ACTUALLY transcribe my voice onto the page without it’s crappy auto-correct always trying to anticipate what it was that I am trying to say, instead of what I actually did say.
BUT THAT JUST ISN’T MY REALITY!!
I probably have more days where I DON’T want to write versus days that I do. Writing when you’d rather not is one of the most difficult things any writer can do. Any exercise that requires an active and creative mind needs that mind to be focused and excited, but so often that passion is tough to summon.
Anyone can write when they’re excited and the muse has cozied up beside them, just whispering every word into their ear. But then there are the days when every syllable is like a back-alley fistfight with a drunk Elvis impersonator. That’s when your mettle really gets tested.
Recently, I’ve been battling this condition – and not doing very well at it, I might add. In November I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), hammering out a new draft for the second book in my Extra-Ordinary Tales of the Oskaloosa Oddities Society, as well trying to finish up revisions on my “self-help” style book called Just Finish One Damn Thing.
During that time I was working day and night, night and day in order to meet my deadlines -and I was doing a pretty good job at it until right before Thanksgiving, while traveling for the holiday, the strap on my computer bag broke, and my laptop took a tumble down a long flight of stairs. It caught me completely off guard and when I went to check my laptop to see if it had survived, I was taunted by the crippling Blue Screen Of Death. Yup, my laptop bit the dust.
Now I’d been backing things up. I have a USB connected hard drive as well as offsite backup using Carbonite. The problem was that my laptop was about 5 years old and much of my software – as well as the operating system I was on, had become outdated and obsolete. MUPPET FARTS!!!!
I was gutted, and I don’t mind telling you that writing was not something I could bring myself to do. It took me a good three or four days before I didn’t want to Hulk out and start smashing everything in sight.
If there’s a poster boy for dealing with adversity – well I ain’t it. I didn’t care. I felt tired and defeated. I really didn’t feel like trying to pick up the pieces and get back to work. I just wanted to forget it and put it out of my mind.
It finally took a email from my editor expressing to me that shit happens to everyone and that I had better get my ass back in the chair and get moving again.
That’s the trouble with being a writer. It’s hard to feel energized about writing every day, especially when there are so many distractions all around us.
Any book, blog or seminar on writing advice will tell you that you need to write every day, and there is good reasons for stating this. It’s very easy to romanticize being a writer, but the cold hard truth is that it’s work – just like any other job.
I’ve found that for me, the most important reason is this: every day that I write it hones my abilities just a little more. It makes me a little bit stronger, a little bit more savvy and builds my confidence – which is really what most of writing is.
Every day that you don’t write dulls your abilities just a little more and makes it more difficult to find your rhythm. If you’re like me then not writing seems to dull things a heck of lot faster than it hones.
Let’s go back to my little laptop tumble. Before that tragedy happened, I was putting words onto the page damn near as fast as I could think them. I had found my stride and was truly enjoying my work. But after I had been forced to lay off awhile while transferring to a new laptop, I really had trouble jumping back in. Go a week or a month without writing anything and you can practically hear the gears grinding together as the machine struggles to get moving again.
Good habits are easy to build when there aren’t any obstacles in your path, but it’s an imperfect universe, and as my editor said, shit happens. In fact, you can be assured that obstacles are a guaranteed certainty.
So the question becomes – what do you do when you’re sick, tired, or just plain hate the universe but you still have to get words down on the page?
Embrace Being Half-Assed
Accept that what you’re writing now probably won’t be your best, and will more than likely be in the running for some of your worst work. That’s okay. Who the hell has to read it anyway. What’s important to remember that it’s still better than nothing and crap is better than blank pages.
Earn some street cred with yourself. Make this your war story. Tell everyone how you stuck it out in the water filled trenches while the shells flew overhead. Follow King Henry back into the breach and hack everything in your path to pieces. Who cares?Sure, you might look at what you wrote a few days from now and toss it out in disgust, but then again, maybe not. Either way, when you put pen to paper or butt to chair you have accomplished something. Celebrate that fact. Go you. Fist-bump it. High five. Do the Risky-Business dance in your underwear. Okay, well maybe save that one for later.
Throw it Out
This leads me into my second point. A lot of writers, myself included, absolutely hate tossing out anything they write. Their words are precious to them, the window into their very soul. I have an exercise that I do almost every day to get going. I rattle off a freewrite where I write a short story, less than 300 words, about something completely different than what I’m working on. The stories can be about something I heard in the news, a conversation I overhead at the coffee shop, or just some far out, “what-if” question that intrigues me. I call it my Teedlewomp Tales and about ninety-percent of the time I end up dumping it. The point is that it helps me to warm-up my writing mind like a pre-workout stretch warms up my muscles.
Just bang out a wild, incoherent blog post and then delete it. Fall deeply out of love with your words for one day. Play the “I don’t give a crap” game and allow it to free you. Sometimes knowing that what you are about to write will never see the light of day can be very liberating.
Embrace the Delerium
Writers love to romanticize the image of the drunken author who composes his or her masterpieces while smashed in the back of some run-down dive. Why not do the same for the natural incoherence brought on by fatigue, sinus congestion, or having just chugged an entire bottle of Robitussin? Maybe you couldn’t string a proper sentence together if someone put a gun to your face and maybe later your going to look back on what you wrote and wonder what Pink Floyd album had been playing in your head when you wrote this. Let your incoherence be your guide. Write whatever comes to your poor addled brain. Freewrite like a pot-filled hippie at Woodstock. You might be surprised. Some of it might end up far more usable than you think.
Try Turning the Channel
If your condition (or your conscience) won’t allow you to work on your chosen masterpiece while half-dead, try working on something else. Start something new and impractical or revisit something from the past. Try your hand writing a song. Maybe try coming up with a funny sketch. You may not create anything super spectacular, but writing is writing. That thing I said last time about giving yourself permission to suck? That goes double for when you’re not feeling it.
Get Stimulated, Then Get It Done
When all else fails, my method is to swallow as much caffeine as my body will allow, grab a handful of cookies, and just gut it out. Find your “Happy Place” and surround yourself with feel good things. Change your environment if you need to. Get out and try a new place to write, or go back to a place that worked for you before. Do whatever it takes to make you feel positive and prepared. Perhaps you may need to drink a whole pot of tea or suck down Red-Bulls (I’m not sure I’d go down this route, however). A change of scenery coupled with some artificial stimulation can sometimes get you through the job, as long as it doesn’t further compromise your health. But the important thing is to find whatever sustenance you need to get you moving and press through.
A writer friend of mine likes taking his dog out to get ice-cream when he is having trouble writing. He swears that this works every time, and hell, he’s published dozens of books, so who am I to argue.
The REAL truth is that what makes a person a true “writer” is being able to dig down and find the energy to push on, even when you don’t want to, because trust me, those days happen all the time.