Updated: May 7, 2020
You have the playlist, the pens, and the picture window. Yet every time you sit down and write, something goes awry. Your stream of consciousness doesn't make any sense, no one can pronounce your protagonist's name, and your computer is making you type only in Comic Sans. 😤
(Everyone who loves Comic Sans, I apologize. I went to elementary school too recently for the horrors to fade.)
Every aspiring or published author has experienced a few despicable writing conditions. Things like as wasting time clearing out your spam folder, attempting to find synonyms, and other ahh! stichiations. Today, I've decided to compile six of these incidents that will send a shiver down your literary spine. Go ahead and feel all the feels!
Despite providing a safe place for you to share all of your scribber tragedies, I've also decided to include some advice from a published author that will actually help you fix your problems.
David B. Ward, a professor with a PhD in Practical Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, has also written a book called Practicing the Preaching Life, about how to produce content every week and still live a beautiful life. Preaching may not be your thing, but writing every week is (or could be).
#1: Realizing you've spent the last 30 minutes playing around with fonts
Cursive fonts, swirly letters, block and bold type . . . finding a new font is a special kind of adrenaline for writers! It's so easy for me to putter around before I write, finding a playlist or testing different chairs, and ending up wasting all my time.
Zoe: How do you avoid wasting time while writing? What’s your biggest distraction(s)?
David: "I like to find a place to write where no one will talk to me, but everything I need is nearby. Usually that means, coffee, snacks, and more coffee. I often try to focus on my “hot time” which is based on biorhythm. For me the time between 5:30am and 10am is the most productive time of the day. If I can get all of that time, without interruptions I will write more than I would write the rest of the day combined. My biggest distraction is cheap writing. It is easy to knock out some simple and easily finished projects all day long. I usually have multiple writing irons in the fire. If I let myself just do the small things, I’ll never add up enough daily work to achieve the big thing. I know that sounds like a cop out to some. But it is the truth. I am a pretty focused person when I am in the best time of the day."
#2: Writing Three Masterful Chapters at 2 A.M. and Waking Up to Hate Them
This one happens to me all the time! I'll get an idea and sit at the computer, churning out a few chapters. They're amazing, with intriguing dialogue and a plot that actually makes sense. I go to bed with so many ideas in mind. Then, when I wake up the next morning, I'll sit down and re-read what I wrote before continuing drafting. And I hate it.
Really, is it possible to grow an entirely new brain overnight?! My New York Time Bestseller suddenly morphs into an unoriginal, wordy Google Doc.
Zoe: Do you think you should force yourself to write a certain amount a day or just whenever inspiration strikes?
David: "I think forced goals are better than “lightning strike” methods. A very successful illustrator once told me that, for him, creativity was mostly sweat. He had to put himself at his drawing table, set the clock for a certain amount of time and do the work. I have always held on to that thought. Writing retreats (several days at a time) work better for me than a few hours here or there. The middle ground is a writing day. I often get out of town, camp out at a coffee shop, and write non-stop the entire day. When writing was my full time gig, I made it my goal to write two pages before a second cup of coffee. I always hoped to get 4 pages a day. That included some research, editing, and breaks for food."
#3: Finally Feeling Inspired to Write...Just as Little Bro Starts Dribbling Downstairs
I have the pleasure of living with a ten-year-old boy who enjoys potentially every form of physical activity or loud music. 🙃 (No really, little brothers are pretty cool. There's just only so much American Pie a girl can take.)
Unfortunately, I don't have a Henry David Thoreau-esque cabin in the woods with no people around and unlimited Netflix. So how do you cope with noise and disruption while writing?
Zoe: Do you think it’s important to write in the same place most of the time? How do you handle disruption while writing?
David: "I have “places” rather than a single place. This has always helped me stay focused. When a place stops working, I move to the next place in my repertoire. They all feel like home to me. I used to start at home before everyone was awake. Then after breakfast I would write another hour at home before leaving for the library. After the library seemed too quiet and stultifying (unless I had a book I had to read) I headed over to a little restaurant I would write at and buy a coffee or a Danish. I can still see the fake red leather booths and the fancy French desserts I never bought in the refrigerated display. I remember nearly every turn of the walk, the shops I passed, the trees I touched, and the fences I tapped with my fingers. All of that rhythm freed my thinking, re-centered me, and gave me new energy on the way to my new place."
#4: Reading an Amazing Book and Thinking You'll Never Be Able to Write Anything as Good
If you're a writer, chances are you adore books. If you're a reader, you understand the gut-wrenching feeling of closing a book and realizing that (duh, duh, duh...) you live in the real world.
To add insult to injury, you continue contemplating the wonderificious book you just read and recognize that, as an author, your job is to write those types of books. And then you spiral into a black hole of depression and anxiety where you re-watch Legally Blonde and swear off books forever. Just kidding. Not really.
Zoe: What was an early experience you had that made you realize language had power? How do you keep yourself from feeling intimidated while writing?
David: "I almost caught on fire reading. I had an old lite-bright: a little lamp with a black plastic pegboard over it. You put colored plastic pegs into the board and made shapes from it. I was supposed to be asleep, but I loved the book I was reading. So I pulled the blanket over my head, took the pegboard off of the lite-bright, and read to the light of the lamp under my blanket until I fell asleep with my face in the book. You can guess what happened. The fuzzy blanket fell on the lamp bulb and started to melt, then burn. I woke to the smell of smoke and the sight of a burning ring on my blanket. Words had power to bring me into another world, make me addicted to the new world, and never want to leave it. Love of those words’ worlds could have killed me I suppose."
#5: Sitting Down to Write and Having to Figure Out What to Write About
We all know that feeling...calling yourself a writer but having no idea what to write about. Somedays constant ideas seem to be flying through your head but, no matter what you do, none of them can ever stick.
Zoe: How do you write that first chapter of a book and get the inspiration ball moving?
David: "The enemy of all creativity is the blank page. I cannot remember who said that, but I believe it. Sometimes my to-do list simply says “write the first sentence of the first page of xyz project.” Or as my father was always fond of saying, a job begun is a job half done. That means we do not do ourselves a favor if we wait for inspiration to get moving. Instead, we start moving out of sheer will power and the inspiration comes. There comes a time to take a walk, lay on your back in the grass and watch the clouds, feed the ducks at the park, squeeze in a workout, or read a book you need as a source. But I want that to come after I am “moving” on the project. If I wait to get moving, I often wait until panic sets in and the deadline looms (if there is one). I also believe in paying yourself so that you owe yourself something. When I pay for an Airbnb get away for a few days by a lake, it’s a way of paying myself for writing. At the same time, I always feel that I need to come out with something to show for it if I am going to put in that kind of money and time. I owe it to my family, and I suppose, to my pride. I learned that from reading the story of a successful multi-book bestselling author. He told about the times he paid for a hotel for a week and checked in and wrote, wrote, wrote. He came out with a book. Of course the book more than paid for that seemingly expensive indulgence. One other trick that works for me after the first page, or the first chapter, is to never leave something completed. I always start the first few sentences of the next page. Sometimes I leave a sentence half way completed, open ended. That way when I come back the next day, the ball is already moving. If I stop when a page is done, then I have to get the next page started."
#6: Finally Finishing Your Project and Realizing You Have to Edit It
Ugh, editing. Like blogger Ten Penny Dreams said, at least when you're writing, you're creating. While editing, you're just cutting it down. It's a lot of back-and-forth decisions, red pen marking, and feeling like your writing is awful. It's a good thing we writers have editors before we publish. Otherwise, it might never get done!
Editing is frustrating with a capital F, but guess what: your writing deserves it. We readers are judgers. If you spell impeccable "impecable," we're going to have a lower opinion of your work. Your masterpiece deserves to be mulled over, corrected, and fine-tuned.
Zoe: What did your editing style look like? How did you split it up and what materials (pen and paper, laptop, etc.) did you use? What people, other than an editor, do you think writers should ask to help look over their work?
David: "I wrote and rewrote and rewrote. I remember sitting in Cracker Barrel re-editing my book on a snowy winter morning in December. I tried for a place by the fire, but alas, they were taken. So I sat sort of cold against the back wall painstakingly going word by work through every line. A friend walked by to say hello. When he saw how hard I worked on that editing the entire two hours he was there for a meeting. I never moved the entire time he was there and was still leaning over, reading, and typing when he left. He bought my breakfast and sent me a note. He walked into Cracker Barrel thinking writers had life easy. He walked out thinking writers worked as hard, if not harder than he does. My wife helps me endlessly with editing. She often still marks on a hard copy I print for her. She is my first and most difficult editor. My editor always uses track changes in Word for reviewing documents in the early stages. Once galley pages are in play, it is Adobe Acrobat Professional. As for me, I never stop editing and tweaking until I have to send in the final project. I learned this from an early mentor of mine who walked me through his seven rounds of editing for a book he had just written that was getting strong reviews. “I love the writing,” he said, “it’s the editing that nearly kills me.” Without that editing though, the writing would have fallen into the sidewalk drains of the publishing world. As to what people writers should use to edit other than an editor, I have to admit I do not have a specific rule. Only two general suggestions. Second, find perfectionistic people who wear you out with their details. And first, find big picture people who will help you see what is not there, not only what is there. They will help you find your voice, reach your audience, nail your subject, or give you the one turn of phrase people fall in love with later on."
Thanks, David, for all of the insightful answers! I think I'm the kind of reader who would accidentally burn the house down, too.
What is your biggest problem with writing? Leave it down in the comments below. As always, if you liked this post, go ahead and click the heart button or pin it for later. Ciao!