Sunday, June 5, 2011


Following through on writing projects (or any other endeavor that's not "necessary" to life) is a common problem for people who really DO want to write, or paint, or learn to refinish furniture.  Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a series on how to deal with it.

Time can be a bear.  Work/family/money responsibilities can suck up energy and leave us wondering if we'll ever have the mojo to finish a project. Still, a lot of the problem stems from things we either believe about ourselves or tell ourselves.  Here are some solutions:

1. Accept yourself.  Telling yourself "I should be writing," or more specifically, "I should get up at 5:30 a.m.  and write for an hour" or "I should write x-# words per day" FEELS motivating.  It puts you in a position of solid judgment where you're the one who tells...well, you, what the score is.  The problem is, it really ISN'T motivating. It's actually punitive. It implies an accusation should you fail. Finding your writing voice is much deeper than discovering how your words sound on the page.  It has to do with giving yourself permission to be your screwed-up self.

2.  Inertia is not your friend.  Life will conspire to make it difficult for you to carve out writing time. Accept this. When the moment to do ANYTHING remotely related to writing presents itself, go for it.  I began a novel one September afternoon 15 minutes before my daughter was due home from school.  15 minutes has a way of adding up.

3.  Make friends with the voices in your head.  They will tell you "there's no point," they will tell you you suck, they will tell you nobody cares, they will tell you that you're selfish for pursuing writing.  The point isn't whether they are right or wrong.  After all, who can say for sure? The point is, the voices don't go away.  Writers/artists/strivers both famous and obscure all struggle with this. I sure do!  Make friends with those nasty monkeys, knowing that they will always have some rude comment for you.  When they tell you you're wasting your time, smile and say, "Thanks for sharing."  Humor them, but laugh at their acne.

4.  Structure is your friend.  Whatever structure looks like for you, it will help you keep going.  Input from other writers, whether online or via email or face to face, deadlines (however you come by 'em), use of editorial services, scheduling, whatever might help, try it.  More on this next week!

5. Incremental progress is progress.  See #2.  Better to write a sentence a day than none at all.  Better to write crap than nothing (and maybe it isn't crap--you're not always the most objective judge). See #3.

6.  Don't wait to feel the magic.  Published writers all have one thing in common--they work very hard, through boredom, discouragement, and every other state of mind. I've found that feeling inspired when I write a passage doesn't necessarily make it good.  (Sometimes that's just about emotional release, when  really I need to focus more on structure.)  A writing session that feels "clunky" and "off" can produce fine work.

7. Detours are part of the journey.  MFK Fisher, renowned food writer and author of How to Cook a Wolf,  experienced her lover's dire illness and suicide, the suicide of her brother, gave birth to an illegitimate child (in 1943), and married (and divorced) a mentally ill man who'd already been through 5 wives.  In the middle of all this, she published 9 books.  Then Fisher went to care for her dying father, and for 12 years she published nothing, considering herself a has-been.  Oh, but she didn't stay in the doldrums. She published 14 more books.

The takeaway from this is NOT" and I can't even manage to spit out one!"  The point is: Unless you're dead, it's not too late.  Unless you give up.

And even if you give up, you can still go back to writing.

Next Week: Writing Structures, Tricks and Chocolate.


Mary L. Tabor said...

Good, empathic and solid advice.

Helen, I've not done something for you I promised: Some tough things happened that I've had to deal with. Do forgive.


HelenQP said...

I understand "tough stuff"--its universal quality is that no matter the situation, it's incredibly distracting. Not to worry. and thanks for the kudos. Hugs!

Jane Wilson said...

Hi, Helen - great advice! Please keep sharing! You speak to all of us who are pursuing or would like to pursue a passion (or two or three). A few thoughts come to mind: "we don't need permission to be who we want to be", "just do it", and "be gentle with yourself". Keep up the good fight! PS-you might be interested in one of my heroes - Canadian painter Emily Carr who had a 15-yr detour where she ran a boarding house instead of paint - she is now a bit of a Canadian national treasure -

Eileen Flanagan said...

Good advice, Helen. I remember Annie Dillard saying that you shouldn't compare yourself to other writers. Just find your own pace.

HelenQP said...

Jane, I read up on Emily Carr--yes, her story is really encouraging. Thanks for clueing me in on her life and work.

And Eileen, you know how they say that pitching in baseball is a mental game? I bet pitchers could learn from artists and artists could learn from pitchers! Thanks for your comment. Annie Dillard is a wise one.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

Great post, Helen! I agree with all your points wholeheartedly!


Catherine Stine said...

I talk to my characters in my head all of the time! And yes, one needs to work through every kind of mood.

HelenQP said...

Thank you, Nancy! The vote of confidence means a lot coming from you. And Catherine, I wondered who you were muttering to when you stayed here last week...