It feels like my creative brain invents a new way to ease me away from writing every time I identity the last super-sneaky version.
I uncovered another mental habit keeping me from writing, the last few weeks, that you might be dealing with yourself.
I’ve been deluged with administration stuff lately, with the work of two major projects running simultaneously (yeah, couldn’t help the timing on either). In the last week when I have technically returned to a more normal writing schedule, what I’ve found myself doing was putting off writing in the morning to “clear the decks”.
In other words, I felt like I must get all the administration crap out of the way before I could settle in to write for the day.
Written baldly using plain words makes that notion sound as stupid as it really is, but the brain is very sneaky. If I got hooked up with a couple of small chores that had to be done before I wrote (because now I have people waiting on me to get things done, instead of just me putting the admin crap off until later), my perfectionist worm brain would murmur that my writing time had been “ruined”.
But what I could do instead was finish up all the chores for the day. In other words, clear the decks, so that I could get to the writing with a clear conscious and write my ass off for the rest of the day.
Of course, administration bumpf never ends. There’s always more of it. I could invent more and more things I “should” get done, so that I never run out of genuine, semi-essential, faux-important things to do.
Which means the writing would never get done.
Not only is this a perfectionist trap, it’s also a procrastinator’s dream.
You might be doing the same thing yourself: waiting for the perfect conditions to come along that will allow you to write.
- It’s too noisy, too hot, too cold, too quiet to write.
- I don’t have my favourite music cued.
- I’m too tired/sleepy/sick/have a headache.
- The argument I just had with my spouse has completely ruined writing for the day, how can I possibly concentrate now? (Even though the “fight” was a mild disagreement about what movie to watch tonight.)
- I don’t have the right incense sticks for my ritual to be completed properly.
- I should just finish up this little thing over here, first, or it will nag at me while I’m writing and completely throw me off…
This form of avoidance is invasive and hard to spot, because often it sounds perfectly reasonable. If there is a great deal of business to take care of, it seems sensible to get it done now and get the writing done later, when you feel better for having got rid of the long list of chores.
But you’ll never get to the writing, later. Trust me, you won’t. Not unless you notice the faulty thinking you’re using, and can force yourself to the writing desk (and kudos to you if you can).
This is one of the reasons that most working writers tend to write first thing in the morning before anything else gets taken care of that day. (The other reason is that you haven’t used up all your energy and executive decision making juice first thing in the morning.)
Here’s the thing, though:
The conditions to write will never be perfect.
There will always be a shit-ton of stuff to do that isn’t actual writing. There will be more of it each year, too.
There will always be something that you find off-putting and not ideal about your situation, when it’s time to sit down and write.
In fact, this is one of the dangers of having a rigid or very long ritual to start your writing session. If you require that music be playing, candles be lit, prayer shawls be in place, incense be burning, the window be open, etc., etc., and even one of those things goes astray for whatever reason, the break in the ritual will tempt you to call the whole thing off, writing included.
You will always be interrupted by something or someone while you’re writing. The more you write and the longer your writing sessions, the great the chance of interruptions of any sort.
Learn to write amidst chaos.
The solution is to teach yourself to write no matter what is happening, no matter what the circumstances you find yourself in.
Don’t put conditions on your writing; if you think you can only write when it’s perfectly still and silent, for example, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Insisting that you can “only” write when it’s perfectly silent is merely a belief (or an affectation). You can teach yourself to write in the middle of anything.
One of my favourite pulp fiction stories I first heard about in James Scott Bell’s How To Write Pulp Fiction:
Frank Gruber tells about a writer named George Bruce who used to throw parties in his small Brooklyn apartment. One night the place was jammed with thirty-plus people. At ten o’clock Bruce announced he had a 12,000-word story due the following morning. He went to a corner where his typewriter was and pounded it for four hours, ignoring the party swirling around him. At two o’clock in the morning he announced he was finished and poured himself a glass of gin.
The pulp writers could write anywhere.
So can you, as long as you believe that you can. You can train yourself to do it.
It’s not just the environment you should ignore
Having a flexible mindset about the conditions you write in is just one aspect of writing anywhere.
You also have to learn to ignore any mental pressures (such as my “clearing the decks” before writing).
And you must learn to be flexible about how you write.
We all have favourite writing tools (mine is my egonomic keyboard), but they shouldn’t be essential to your writing.
Did your main computer crap out? What about writing on your tablet instead? (There’s wireless keyboards, or you could swipe out the text–you’d be surprised at the speeds you can reach with a bit of practice). Or grab paper out of the printer and hand write the next scene. Or write on your phone.
Your copy of Microsoft Word/Scrivener/whatever is corrupted? Use Scrivener/Microsoft Word/the native text editor instead.
It’s entirely possible that the mild discomfort that comes from changes in tools and habits might shock your mind into unusual flights of creativity. Your story could actually improve because of it.
Learn to embrace any circumstances and write, anyway.
Switch on the perfect conditions in your mind.
The trick is to clear the decks in your mind in order to write, instead of everywhere else.
Take a deep breath, tell yourself that everything can wait until you’ve done your two thousand/ten thousand words for the day, and get to it. Create the bubble of calm in your mind, especially if the calm is missing elsewhere.