Let’s take a quick survey. Raise your hand if you’ve ever sat down to write, and realized 45 minutes later that you only managed to squeeze out a couple of sentences. (My hand’s up, in case you can’t see it.) But how did this happen, you wonder?
You were fully committed. You scrutinized your schedule and set aside this time specifically for writing. You had your materials ready to go, maybe even a head full of ideas or a plot outline.
Where did the time go? (Hint: No, a garden gnome did not steal it).
Now, there are a number of possible obstacles that can prevent us from writing effectively, but today I’m going to focus on just four of them, mainly because I have a lot of firsthand experience with this particular set.
Hold on a sec, everyone, I just need to check my Twitter feed before I keep typing this blog post… Oh, hey, look at that! One of my friends uploaded new pictures on her Facebook page. Maybe I should go ahead and check my e-mail too, as long as I have my phone out.
Anybody been there before? How about the crumbs you just spied underneath the kitchen table? Or maybe that load of laundry you forgot in the dryer? If you don’t fold it now, it might never get done. Is that the phone ringing?
Reality check. If writing is important to you, you must guard your writing time ferociously. Writing takes serious focused effort, and there’s nothing like a whole host of distractions to pull us away from it. Turn your phone off. Put on blinders so you don’t see the crumbs (I should ask my husband for tips…. just kidding! Love you, dear!). Go into your writing time like it’s a paying job, and you can’t afford to give in to those distractions unless you want to get fired.
And here we have the current winner in my house – interruptions. Unlike distractions, which you can choose to ignore, there’s not a whole lot you can do about the doorbell ringing, or someone coming into the room to talk to you. It’s too late to hide with your laptop under the sofa at that point.
At least for me, when I’m knee-deep into a scene (imagining it all out in my head and working magic into my story), it’s very hard to jump out of it to talk to someone, and even harder to dive right back in. The key to handling interruptions is to minimize them: schedule your writing time when there are less people around, and let the ones that are know you don’t want to be disturbed.
Of course, this doesn’t always work – there’s a 9 year-old reading this over my shoulder as I write, because he hasn’t quite mastered the “don’t interrupt Mom right now” concept. We do have to be flexible, but do what you can to make your writing time higher quality.
The story you’re working on usually gets you pumped up. Normally, you’re chomping at the bit to squeeze in any time to work on it. But today, for some reason, it’s the most boring thing you can imagine. You’ve been sitting here for thirty minutes and can’t come up with anything, even though you know what you’re supposed to be writing. Maybe, you think, it is boring. Maybe you should delete the whole thing and forget about this becoming-an-author idea.
Or, maybe, what you really need is a break. Even deep creative wells can run dry, if you don’t take care of yourself. Getting enough sleep, occasional exercise, and eating well can go a long way. And so can replenishing your creative juices by spending time doing things you like besides writing.
Are there other artistic pursuits you enjoy? Maybe painting or drawing? Perhaps you could visit a local art museum, or spend time listening to classical music. Reading, whether it’s a classic or a modern novel, can get your brain cranking in new directions. Hey, even watching a movie can give your story-telling mind a break.
So, before you drag your precious story to the recycling bin, at least sleep on it (preferably for 8 hours). You’d be amazed at how your perspective can change overnight.
Sometimes, even if you turn your phone off and lock yourself in a room where no one can find you, you might still sit there staring blankly at the paper (or screen). In my own experience, I’ve found that often this happens to me at the beginning of a project, even when I know what I want to write about. (See my earlier post on this topic here.) It took me a while to call it what it is: fear.
On the surface, it might seem strange that writers would be afraid to, well, write, but apparently it’s not all that uncommon. What if I invest hours, months, years even, into this project and it turns out to be terrible? What if nobody wants to read it/ represent it/ publish it? Wouldn’t it be safer to not start at all?
Yes, it would. But safer doesn’t get you a finished manuscript. And without a finished manuscript, you never get published either. Bestselling author Susan Dennard has a great series of posts dealing with fear in writing here on her blog. It’s good to know even published, well-known authors still face fears in writing!
You might have noticed I left good old-fashioned writer’s block off my list, and that’s for two reasons: 1) there are plenty of other articles about facing writer’s block, and 2) most of the blocks I’ve experienced have been caused by either #3 or 4 above.
How about you? What obstacles have you faced (and hopefully conquered) in your efforts to write? Feel free to leave a comment below – you never know what will help someone else.
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