How To Write When You Really, Really Don't Want To by Katrina Leno
Let me first say: I love writing.
I love when I want to write. I love when it’s easy. I love when the words pour out from the tips of my fingers and onto the proverbial blank notebook page or Word document.
Writing is great! Writing makes me feel normal. I push all the weird thoughts, all the non-PC thoughts, all the scary or different or offbeat thoughts out of me and then I feel centered. I feel peaceful, even. I feel like the best possible version of myself.
I’m my best when I am writing.
Except when I’m not.
Except when it isn’t easy and it isn’t fun and it isn’t so much like a gift but a curse, one handed down to you from an evil witch with no regard for your well-being or sanity or long-forgotten desire to have a social life.
Like today, coincidentally.
Today, writing sucked.
Today, every word was pulled from the depths of the stickiest, murkiest swamp. Like—the swamp where Artax dies. Like I literally got down on my hands and knees and bare-handedly pulled words up from the mud of this swamp, hoping beyond hope I would not pull up any horse bones with them.
So what do you do when writing sucks? What do you do when you really, really don’t want to write? How do you still feel productive or happy with yourself when every single word you put down is forced or cliché or—ugh, like today—boring?
I’m sure everyone who has ever studied writing or read a book about writing or talked to people about writing has come across this idea that you must write EVERY DAY in order to be a writer. I’ve blogged about this before and yeah, sure, it’s mostly right (except when it isn’t) but let’s just put that aside for now and assume that, even though you don’t WANT to write, you have to write. Or, you don’t want to write but you WANT to write (that’s a thing). Or, you don’t want to write, but you don’t want to go to bed without writing.
That was me all day today.
It came after two 5k-word days, so I wasn’t particularly hard on myself. But still, I’d set a goal for myself and it was clear I wasn’t going to make my goal. And that was irritating. So I decided to make at least half my goal. And then I decided to write this, a little list for what I do when things aren’t working. Sometimes the things on this list work for me. And sometimes they don’t. Because the funny, annoying, great thing about writing is that it is always, always different. Have you ever heard that OTHER saying, you don’t learn how to write novels, you learn how to write the novel you’re writing? Yup. That is the truest of the true. So take the following with a grain of salt. Try things out. Scrap the things that don’t work. Keep coming back to the things that do work. Push yourself to write when you don’t want to write. You may be surprised with what comes out of your brain when you least expect it.
—Find something you don’t want to do. And then find something you do want to do. And then do each, right after another. Today, I cleaned the bathroom. And then I watched one episode of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. And then, having exhausted my options, I started to write.
—Shut off your internet if you don’t have the self-control to not go on your internet. Don’t worry. Your internet will be there when you need it again. But, while you write, you definitely don’t need to also be frantically refreshing your Twitter account. Your mentions can wait. Your blog can wait. Your online identity can wait.
—Set a timer. Keep your phone in another room, but set the timer for fifteen or twenty minutes. Do a half an hour if you’re feeling brave, an hour if you’re feeling REALLY brave. You are going to write for this amount of time, or you are going to stare at your blank computer screen while the minutes tick by.
—Establish a routine. Always write in this one particular corner/chair/café. NEVER GO THERE WHEN YOU’RE NOT WRITING. Train your brain to connect that spot to productivity and words. BUT—also write in other places. Don’t box yourself into a corner with your routine. Routines are GOOD but they also (I strongly believe!) need to be shake up every once in a while.
—Read a chapter of your favorite book. You know, the book that always inspires you, that always reminds you of why you wanted to be a writer in the first place, the book that makes you feel like you’ve been picked up out of your bedroom and deposited in another world, another life. Read a chapter of that book. Then write.
—Write badly! On purpose. Bad writing has its merits, too. You can always edit later.
—Write from a prompt. Almost without fail, this helps me get out of whatever slump I’m in. You can look up prompts online, you can buy a book of prompts, you can even text your friends bizarre questions and see what they write back and take it from there. Not everybody likes writing prompts, and I get that. But they definitely have their place and their purpose.
—Freewrite. This is a huge one for me. HUGE. I came up with the premise for one of my novels by setting an alarm for fifteen minutes, putting pen to paper, and not letting that pen leave the paper until the alarm sounded. Let me just tell you, though: freewriting takes A LOT of practice. You won’t be immediately good at it. It will take weeks. It is a learned skill. But once you reach that zen-like place where the words are spilling out of you more quickly than you can even think them (or spell them correctly), you will understand how important a good freewriting session is.
Voila! You’re writing now, right?
If no—that’s okay. The important thing is that you want to write. The important thing is that you keep trying.
Writing is hard. Some days it will be easier. Some days it will be harder. Sometimes it will occupy this fuzzy, grey area. Some days it will be swamp. Some days it will be rainbows and magic and butterflies.
Keep pushing yourself. Figure out what works for you. Jump in.
About The Author
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About The Book
You take for granted going to sleep at night, getting up the next day, and remembering everything that happened to you before you closed your eyes.
You live and you remember.
Me, I live and I forget.
But now—now I am remembering.
For all of her seventeen years, Molly feels like she’s missed bits and pieces of her life. Now, she’s figuring out why. Now, she’s remembering her own secrets. And in doing so, Molly uncovers the separate life she seems to have led…and the love that she can’t let go.
The Half Life of Molly Pierce is a suspenseful, evocative psychological mystery about uncovering the secrets of our pasts, facing the unknowns of our futures, and accepting our whole selves.
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