When I came to write my opening note for today’s guest poster, I realized that if I started by saying “I like Ali Hale” one more time, someone would probably shoot me. So I won’t say it. You can’t make me. I will say, though, that Ali’s post was coincidentally timed – though you’ll have to tune in next week to learn why. Until then, read and enjoy.
The following is a brief, geeky digression. (Can it be called a “digression” before I even begin? Call it a prologue, if you want.)
Back in my misspent youth, I invested more hours than I care to admit in an online roleplaying game. There were orcs and goblins and all kinds of fantasy monsters.
In a roleplaying game, you played a character that had a bunch of stats and a level. To get to the next level, you needed experience points. To get experience points, you bashed monsters.
You bashed monsters for hours. You bashed monsters by hitting keys on your keyboard whilst wondering if you could hook up a nodding bird à la Homer Simpson. You bashed monsters while watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended edition.
It was called grinding. And I cannot adequately convey its tediousness. And pointlessness. (Hey, I’ll spent all evening hitting some buttons so that a number in a database somewhere slooowly goes up.)
My point? If your writing ever starts to feel like a daily grind, it’s time to STOP.
I’m not saying that you should stop writing for good. You’d lose a crucial part of your life (and your income, if your writing forms all or part of your paid work).
I’m saying that if your writing is just an endless slog to fill blank pages with little black marks, something’s gone wrong.
When you sit down to write, do you feel excited? Do you have something you’re keen to say or to share? Or are you just thinking about hitting your target word count, churning out that blog post, ticking off that task on your to-do list?
There’s a school of writing – call it writers’ boot camp – that tells you things like:
- You must write every day.
- You should set a target and challenge yourself to exceed it.
- It’s all about getting your butt in the chair.
- Writers’ block is just laziness
Now, there’s some truth in these bits of advice, otherwise we’d never listen to them. It really does help to get into a routine of sitting down every day to write. While total writers’ block may be a reality for some individuals, for most of us we’re just stuck on a particular project.
But self-discipline only gets you so far, and it isn’t going to make you a great writer.
The tricky thing with self-discipline is that it can feel good. We’re proud of our grueling writing regime. We boast on Twitter about the number of blog posts we’ve written in a day. (Yeah, I’m guilty of this). We post our novel word count on our blog or on Facebook.
Having accountability in that way can definitely help drive us towards our goals. But self-discipline is a cold and joyless way to write. It’s a useful tool if you really truly need to get something done (looming deadline), but it’s not a long-term strategy.
In my experience, enthusiasm beats self-discipline any day.
If I want to sit down and write a scene for my novel or a blog post or a new chapter of my ebook, then it flows easily. If I make myself sit there and write it, I get distracted. I stare at the screen, watching the well of words dry up. I make progress of a sort, but the finished piece lacks something.
So how do you stop relying on self-discipline and find your lost enthusiasm?
Well, if you’re a writer, you probably enjoy writing. You might not be enjoying it today or this week, but at some point, you loved it. When I was a kid, I dreamt of making a living through writing. I still wake up some mornings surprised that now I do.
I love the magic of words. I love that my black marks on the screen put pictures into your head. I love that I get emails and comments telling me that a blog post came at just the right time. I love that I’m more eloquent in writing than I am in speech. I love being able to find just the right word for the job. I love the nuances words have and the associations they carry.
What do you love about words and writing? There’s something. Find it – dig back to being a kid or a teen or a student or a beginner – and remember why words are precious to you.
On my creative writing MA, we’re often encouraged to remember why we’re writing. We have stories to tell. We have something worth hearing. Writing is a form of communication, and there’s a person on the receiving end.
Sometimes writing does feel like a slog, I’ll be honest. There’ll be times when writing is like a fantastic quest to dig up buried treasure … and other times it feels like you’re in the middle of a very long, dull journey along a flat, grey road with not even a marauding goblin to break the tedium.
If you write for a living, you may well end up writing on projects that aren’t exactly thrilling to you. The trick is to find some way to make it interesting.
- Look for a new angle for your next blog post, anything from a clever running metaphor to an “anti-advice” style of post where you tell people what not to do.
- Pick a writing constraint, like not using the letter “e” in a piece. This is a great way to stretch your vocabulary and your ingenuity.
- Think about your reader. However dry the content, someone will eventually read it. Make your words as clear and straightforward as possible for that person.
Give yourself sufficient space for your writing. If you tend to over-plan, make a real effort not to cram too much into one day – especially if you’re working on multiple ideas, like several blog posts. Sometimes, all that you need to find some enthusiasm is to give yourself a little more space.
Above all, let writing be fun. Give yourself time to play with words – not with any productive end-result in mind, just for the joy of it. Play with writing in the way you’d fiddle around with a guitar or with finger-paint or with Lego blocks.
What drew you to words in the first place? What do you love about writing?
Want more great advice to get you back to writing productivity? Check out Constructively Productive, a brand new blog devoted to getting the most out of your day, brought to you by Ali Hale and Thursday Bram.