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Writing, like math, is hard

As a writer with a full time job, husband and cat, I have to squeeze my writing time in when I can. This means having to replacing my favorite TV shows and Nick Cave videos with blank pages and run-on sentences. When the muse strikes, she strikes hard, but lately writing has felt more like work with a capital W and my Inner Critic is winning all the battles.

During times like these when the words just don’t flow, my inner Virgo comes out and rears her ugly head. Lists of my inadequacies are made and promises to spend an afternoon writing are never met.

After I stop beating myself up and the sun comes back out, I realized that writing, like math, is hard. Feeling like the last person on earth who figured this out, I tested my theory on a fellow writer in my bi-monthly writers group. I asked Randy if he considered writing to be work. He laughed and gave me a defeated look and said, “For me it is work. When I sit down to write I’m thinking about words and punctuation and dialog. Then, at other times, I really get into the story and feel like I’m right there with my characters time and flies. But when I can’t, then it’s work.”

I polled other writers and presented the idea at a recent meeting of creative minds with my friends. One friend said it was work only when she was procrastinating or hadn’t done it in a long time. Another said it only felt like work when she HAD to do it and was on deadline. As a former journalist, I actually LIKE being on deadline and being forced to crank out good product. The feeling gives me a sense of purpose and helps me achieve my goals. Not having a deadline or an idea of where a story is going is like telling me to sew a dress and just get it done whenever.

As we got even deeper into the subject, the topic turned to how hard it is to actually get started. One friend said it was the starting the stalls her. The story isn’t perfect in our minds so why write it down? There’s also anxiety, the fear of not finishing, and writing something no one will read. It’s a good thing we writers are such healthy people. Pass the absinthe and tuberculous please.

Is it possible to make writing fun and not Work? I rolled the idea around in my mind and thought through a few ways the Inner Critic can be silenced so we can enjoy the process.

Allow your self to write crap. A couple years ago I had an idea for a self-help book and wasn’t sure how to start. I was afraid it wouldn’t be any good and my ideas weren’t properly formed and, and, and….. Frustrated by my whining, my friend Jaymi made me write “I am allowed to have a bad first draft” on the first page of the book. It gave me permission to, as Stephen King says, just write. Spending too much time thinking about the process will get you nowhere. Write crap or whatever comes to mind. Get out! You can always edit later.

Use placeholders. When the words just won’t flow, try using idea placeholders in your stories and articles so you can go back and develop your ideas later. I once wrote scream scream scream.. yell yell yell… panic panic panic in story because I couldn’t figure out how to write the climax. I also pasted a whole Wikipedia article on absinthe into the same story and used parts of it to keep the plot going.

Get out of your comfort zone. You can’t be the next great American writer if you don’t write. Jump into the deep end of the pool. Join writers groups, get honest feedback, form your own group! I joined a writers group which forced me out of my comfort zone when I had to read in front of 10 people. It was a good exercise and taught me the finer points of giving and taking criticism. I also recommend exercising or going for walks when you’re stuck. I have worked through many ideas while I’m out running. A friend, proof reading this article, told me he gets his best ideas in the shower.

We all have our moments when writing is just no fun. Through these simple suggestions, I hope you can find your own ways of working through blocks, silence your Inner Critic and learn how to Just Write.


About Anna Alexander

I get ideas. I write things. I sometimes follow through with those ideas. I also run long distances and live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband cat who lets us pay the mortgage on his house.

2 responses »

  1. Ian J. Alexander

    Another thing in respects to literature type writing is not to be afraid to let your characters wander away from your idea of them. I find characters starting to write themselves and often I have to almost corral them. Yet while I’m in charge, many times these wayward characters drive the story down pathways which one hadn’t thought of and often bring up great new things.

    Shutting this process down right away is slamming the door on your creativity. While the characters may look like they are writing themselves away from what you want them, they are only an extension of your will, desires and subconscious. Have faith in those.

  2. jean Alexander

    when your “stuck” maybe it’s time to load up your camera and find all those quirkey out of the way places,and take wonderful Kodak moments that we all enjoyed. A picture may start those thousand words you have inside to flow out on paper for us all to enjoy.Jean


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