Friday, September 26, 2014

When It Doesn't Come Easily

Image courtesy of Graur Codrin at
Sometimes, writing doesn't come easily.

We have a lot of names for this—writer's block, the doldrums, feeling uninspired, and so on. In the end, it all boils down to one thing: you, staring at the blinking type cursor on the screen, willing it to type the words for you.  You, staring at the tip of your pen, wishing the ink would simply write words on its own.

Sometimes, you feel completely void of ideas.  Other times, you are brimming with ideas, but the words simply won't come. 

Honestly, I'm not sure which is more frustrating.

When the words don't come, it's easy to throw up your hands in despair and walk away. If you're like me, you are assaulted by a steady stream of self-doubt: I should have known I couldn't do this, there's no point to this, I'll never finish anyway, even if I do finish this, who's going to care, why do I even bother at all? Even if you're not like me, difficulty writing can be highly discouraging.  

So what do you do when the words evade you, leaving you feeling cheated and lost?

Well, there's always the option to sit around, despondent and inconsolable. Having done that, I can't say I recommend it.  If anything, it makes it even harder to start writing again.

Another option is to focus your energy elsewhere; you can exercise, work hard at school, clean house, or if you have a job, pour your energy into that.  I have found that this is most effective.  You might feel like you're abandoning your writing, but what you're really doing is proving to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to. You can immediately see the measurable results from these things. If you exercise, you can feel your body becoming stronger; if you work hard at school, you can see your grades improve; if you clean the house, you can see what color your carpet is actually supposed to be (or just plain see your carpet); if you pour energy into your job, you see your employer and co-workers show more and more respect for you.

Even if you're not writing for weeks at a time, every time you accomplish something, you are proving to yourself that you are capable of doing the things you want to do.  That knowledge goes a long way in reassuring yourself when your writing doesn't come easily.

Every discipline has its rough streaks; an injury while exercising can set you back, making it difficult to keep up the same intensity of workouts.  You might become burned out at school or work, making it difficult to perform well. I'm guessing that, while these things are frustrating, you accept them as a normal part of life.  You can see how this is just temporary, and you know you'll get your mojo back eventually. Why should trouble writing be any different?

You can always try to push through, however, just as you can exercise through an injury (ouch). But focus your writing energy on something low-stress, something that doesn't carry high emotional stakes for you.  For example, finishing and editing my novel has high emotional stakes for me, but writing a poem or doing a ten-minute writing challenge doesn't.  For the writer, short writing exercises can be like physical therapy for an injured athlete.

Every time you accomplish one small writing victory, you prove to yourself that you are a capable writer—even when it doesn't come easily.  One small victory at a time, it becomes easier.  There's the old cheesy saying that you eat an elephant one bite at a time.  For writers, that's one sentence at a time.  Heck, it's one word at a time.

Maybe it will never feel easy, but difficult does not equal impossible.  If nothing else, remember the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare?

Slow and steady wins the race.

This is true even—especially—when it doesn't come easily.

How do you react when writing doesn't come easily?  What steps can you take to overcome the challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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1 comment:

  1. I think I've already said the prompt generator thing, but something else that helps a ton is listening to music or (in the case of fanfiction) re-watching/re-reading some of the canon material. Anything can spark an idea; a few days ago I discovered a character's favorite candy. (There is method to my madness... sometimes.)