Writing When You’re Not Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

Al is 63 years old and has been writing in starts and stops for 15 years. He says:

I’ve studied the craft of writing by taking some university writing courses, some online courses, and reading books and blogs about writing. My favourite way of studying writing is to write, in longhand, chapters of novels, stories or essays by writers I admire: John Steinbeck, Alice Munro, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith.

I know I am able to write as evidenced by winning four writing contests, but I am unable to write every day. In fact, I often don’t write for months and then suddenly have a flurry of writing.

I realize that this defeats my ability to hone my skills and I tend to beat myself up about it. I live in a state of guilt thinking that I am cheating my life by not knuckling down and committing to the craft.

One could argue that with every new story a writer is once again a beginner, faced with the task of having to learn all over again how to write. Knowing this though does not bolster my confidence. Do you have any motivational strategies that would push me over this hump?

This is an issue that affects many writers: that feeling of lacking the commitment to sit down and get the work done, if not every day, then certainly more than you currently do.

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First, you could try to be kinder to yourself and not blame yourself when you don’t write. Remind yourself that you quite clearly can write. In Al’s case, he’s already won four writing contests and published several stories. It’s also a big achievement to be able to just sit down and actually write anything rather than do everything else on your undoubtedly long list of routine chores, family duties, work (if any) and other responsibilities. Even if you only write sporadically, you can be proud of yourself if you manage to make the time to get any writing done at all.

Remember, too, that writing is not all about tapping at a keyboard or scribbling with a pen. In the time when you’re not doing that, you’re still writing. As John Irving said, “Before you can write anything, you have to notice something.”

Those months, days, hours and moments of not writing is when you’re noticing. That’s why you can have those flurries of productivity; you’ve already worked out so much of the story in your head, even if that was done unconsciously.

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Accept this as your way of working, your way of honing those skills. And when your mind starts telling you to feel guilty, recognize that as nothing more than the thought it is, and let it pass on by without paying it too much attention. It’s dwelling on the thought that makes it a problem, not the thought itself.

Therapists call this diffusion, and it’s a common mindfulness technique. Many of you will have heard variations on this. A common one is to imagine your thoughts as clouds floating across a clear sky. Let those clouds float on by without concentrating too much on any one of them. Another idea on the same theme is to see your thoughts as leaves on a stream, floating away till the next one comes along.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG is an expert at drifting thoughts in case anyone is interested.

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