02 December 2013

"Why don't I just write?!?"

One of the things that makes me such an effective writing coach (I tell myself) is that I so frequently struggle with writing. I come up against internal barriers to that whole putting-words-on-paper thing and then spend the next several minutes/days/weeks - or even, once, years - trying to figure out what my problem is.

Why don't I just write?!?

Photo by Rick Campbell

My developmental editor, Diane, was expecting new work from me yesterday. After several weeks of not sending her anything, I had *promised* to send her something. But instead I sent her a message requesting an extension until noon today. Kind and generous soul that she is, she granted it to me.

But now I was doubly committed. I had to do this thing. So I sat down to write. (Hallelujah! So often this is my greatest challenge: just getting myself to show up to it.) I sat down with my computer did the thing that often gets results: I opened an existing writing project and started reading it.

Nothing happened. And then a mild panic set in.

I opened a different project, dug up my revision notes, and started reading through those. Again nothing. Internal floundering. The panic intensified.

"I'm never going to be able to write again!" a tiny corner of my brain screamed melodramatically.

"Quit panicking! You're freaking me out!" screamed another part.

"Everybody calm down. Take a deep breath. Stop judging and start noticing," said the kind, sane, practical part. (Thank God for that part.) "What's keeping you from adding to these pieces?"

"I don't know what to do! I know what must be done, but what if I change something and it sucks? Or worse yet, what if I change something and it sucks and I don't even realize it sucks? And these stories...it's been too long. I don't feel connected to them anymore. I remember what I was trying to do, but I can't pull up the requisite emotions and head-space to get back into them. I'm going to screw them up and they won't mean anything to anyone and I'll be a failure! I'll have failed these stories that held such promise before I got my incompetent mitts on them and I'll hate myself forever. I'm dooooooomed!"

Okay, maybe it didn't go *exactly* like that, but pretty close. There was panic and insecurity and a lack of connection to these stories, which until recently had burned so brightly in my soul and imagination. I couldn't work on these stories now; I just didn't have it in me.

And yet I owed Diane some writing. To distract myself from the approaching deadline, I started paging through my notebook. And stumbled upon a poem I'd written in October and had never transcribed. And a page or two later, the end of a story I'd drafted almost two years ago but had never figured out how to finish. So I fiddled with those and ended up not only having something to send Diane but also feeling at least halfway productive. Thank goodness for that notebook.

My take-aways:
  • The longer I go without writing, the harder it is to write. Writing is distinctly unlike riding a bicycle in this way. And probably in several other ways, as well.
  • To get back into these stories I'll likely have to devote several consecutive hours to thinking about them. Note to self: schedule time to do this. (And then, for the love of all that's holy, please follow through with it!)
  • I'm suffering from some serious insecurity about the worth of my work. In fact, several times I considered scrapping all or part of this blog post because I kept telling myself it was stupid and no one would want to see into my neuroses. But the kind, sane, practical part of my brain reminded me that it's not my job to judge what value others may derive from my work. My job is just to be honest. (That's a bit of wisdom I got from Diane, by the way.)
  • When I encounter the fear-of-fucking-it-up, I need to make a copy of the story and make changes to the copy so that I can always go back to the original if I decide I don't like the changes I've made. It's worth a try, anyway.


  1. You suffer too? I don't feel so bad. It feels like you spent some time in my head. I agree not writing daily does make it more challenging. Therefore I am now committed to writing each day. You are doing a good thing here, keep it up. :)

    1. "It feels like you spent some time in my head." Thank you so much for that validation, Crystal! It means a lot to me to connect with people over things like this.

  2. Wow, this sounds just like me. I'm glad you didn't scrap the post, because it's so nice to know I'm not alone. And not only that, but your take-aways are great. You've provided some great suggestions that I can use to help myself, too. :)

    1. Hooray! Thank you for letting me know you relate, too! Glad my take-aways included some suggestions that might prove useful to you. =*)

  3. When I read this post--this lovely piece of writing, by the by--I wondered how the frakkenshnoiders did you get inside my brain?

    And thirdly, I wish I had a Diane to whom I could submit copious amounts of words. ;)

    It's nice to know there are kindred spirits out in the world and I'm not alone in my zany non-linear processes. I think part of my writing therapy has been all the blogging. Since I started my blog in April, I feel the ideas flow more freely and that I'm engaging in a continuous dialogue with everyone who takes the time to read my posts. I also journal daily, even if it's to jot down random ideas, bits of dialogue, and such.

    In fact, my story for NaNo this November came from a random bit of dialogue about a reporter who had an odd encounter with a stripper named Chanterelle who spoke in third person. No idea why it came to me and suddenly it's a scene that sparks an entire thriller (yes, there's some humor interlaced. How can there not be? The protag does inquire why she thought to name herself after a fungus, after all.)

    Free-writing or any new, old, refurbished, whatever. It's scary and liberating at the same time--my alternative to skydiving, I suppose.

    Keep on keepin' on!



    1. I love the word "frakkenshnoiders"! I'd never heard that before. =*D

      Yes, having a person who helps keep me accountable for producing new work each week is super helpful. (Not always enough, clearly, but super helpful nonetheless.) That's one of the benefits to writing coaching, too.

      "The protag does inquire why she thought to name herself after a fungus" Haha!

      And most of all, thank you for letting me know that you, too, can relate, Tonette.

  4. OK, You nailed it for me. I can see that getting back to it after weeks away is the hardest thing, harder than merely banging my head against it daily. So now I've got to go through the hardest and then continue with the merely harder process. Thanks.

    I'm also forwarding this to my daughter in Berkeley, who is a painter. She is facing a general issue in her life that seems to resemble this one: how to finish her paintings. They all seem to fall short of her standards. So she leaves them just short of complete. Fifty of them. Never sells any. Your reflection on writing may be useful to her - may inspire her to get her brushes wet. Despite the children and the house repairs and the toys that need to be cleaned up. Thanks, Sione.

    1. Yes, Jim, one of the things I keep having to re-learn is to take into consideration the long-term consequences of my choices. Maybe it's hard to write right now, but it'll get harder and harder if I keep letting it go.

      I can relate to your daughter in Berkeley's plight. I keep coming back to the Ira Glass talk about creativity and how writers will often quit writing early in their careers because their work doesn't measure up to their good taste. It's only the ones who are willing to let their work be what it is and keep writing until the quality catches up to their standards that end up making it. Glass's message: Don't give up! Write the crap!

    2. I love that Ira Glass talk! So good!

  5. Thanks for writing and sharing this! This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. You're awesome.

    1. *warm fuzzies* Thanks so much for letting me know it made a difference to you, LAB! =*)