Bad Writing Days are Worth the Effort

We’ve all had days, at least if you’re a writer, where you stare at a blank screen and try to push an idea out of your brain that just won’t come. It gets blown into a huge confidence crisis. You question whether you’re cut out for it, or if it’s even worth the effort. You might feel like giving up, or at least taking the day off.

I’ve learned its worth the effort even when it sucks.

I’m not saying you have to write every day, or sit in front of that blank screen and beat your brain in. Maybe you do need a break – get a snack, have a bath, take a walk – to get the creative juices flowing. But if you’ve done all that and it’s still not helping, I’ve found sitting down and trying to engage with what you’re working on is often the best solution, even if it’s only taking five minutes to outline.

The writing may suck that day and make you feel horrible, but what you’re doing is priming your subconscious to work on it in the background. Since I started planning what I want to write tomorrow before going to bed, I’ve been having more good writing days than bad ones.

I’ve also noticed another pattern with my hour-a-day regimen: great writing days follow terrible ones, probably because I force myself to stay engaged with my project so I don’t lose momentum. I figure, if the words aren’t coming, at least I can try to figure out story problems. My outlines are horrible. They’re full of stupid ideas, indecisiveness, dead-ends, and gaping plot holes. I almost never follow them, but they prime my subconscious to come up with better ideas later.

It’s a similar situation to when I’m so hungry I can’t think. When I used to go to restaurants with an ex-boyfriend (one of the good ones) in that condition, I’d be struck with indecisiveness. As my eyes glazed over the menu, he’d say, “If you don’t pick something soon, I’m ordering you this.” Without fail I’d snap out of it and say, “I don’t want that. I want this!” I figure I’m doing the same thing when force myself to write ideas so bad they make me feel like the worst hack who ever shat words all over the keyboard. My brain says, “Screw that. That’s dumb. This is better.”

I’ve known for a while the discipline to sit and work even when you’re not in the mood is one thing that distinguishes successful writers from struggling ones. Now I know why. The wisdom about not waiting for the muse – the metaphor never made the point real to me. It feels wrong, on a visceral level, to try to create when you’re uninspired. It’s counter-intuitive to try anyway, but now I’ve seen the result doesn’t happen right away, but in the future.

It takes time for an idea to stew. Some people think with their fingers, others by talking. I seem to be the type who thinks with the fingers, because I have to write several awful drafts before I get a good one. I can try to plot everything out in my head, but it’s a shifty shadowy thing before I commit it to the keyboard. I can’t tighten my ideas until they’re in concrete form, so for people like me, “Just write already,” seems to be pretty good advice.

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Sarah Dimento

The only thing interesting about me is my interest in interesting things – and sometimes I make cool shit.

2 thoughts to “Bad Writing Days are Worth the Effort”

  1. I so hear you right now.

    I’m in final edits, and everything seems to conspire to keep me from solving the one medium-size plot hole problem I found.

    And then when I sit at the computer, the brain simply will NOT focus (I have CFS, so a great part of it is physical), and this particular problem requires focus.

    But I figured out last night that the SIZE of the focus can be altered if I need to.

    I can solve problems if I break them up into tiny-enough pieces so that even my brain can work with them.

    Today we had an outing with friends; tomorrow I will write the darned thing.

    Thanks for confessing you have the same problem. And the solution is to sit there and to it, but change SOMETHING about the task.

    And always remember, Alicia, to block the internet. The internet is NOT your friend.

    1. I totally get breaking down big problems into smaller ones now. That’s why I’ve only been writing my outlines on a scene by scene basis. I’m a total pantser, but I always know the general story arc. It’s all the points in between I have to hurdle over. So I’ve been taking them one at a time, and it’s worked so much better. Outlining a single scene the night before helps keep me focused on what I have to do next, which is way easier to tackle.

      The biggest thing that keeps me from writing is being too reluctant to write horrible crap. Since my outlines never see the light of day, I find it easier to turn off my hyper-critical faculties and just let the thing be terrible until I think up something better. I’ve also been going easier on me during the first draft by calling it “draft zero.” It’s funny all the mental tricks we have to employ just to write something.

      Of course I’m writing all this knowing I’m going to throw more than half of it out, but that’s ok. Just getting something done keeps me motivated to keep doing more.

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