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.by