In the Doldrums

March 9, 2010

I have been having a long bout of ….not exactly writer’s block, but what I can best term, the Doldrums.

Like the real life nautical companion, my doldrums simply are a time when I am adrift. No wind in my sails. Unable to get anywhere. A complete lack of momentum and forward movement.

I’m not stuck on a sandbar, nor completely immobilized, but I can’t seem to get up the gumption to get anything done, or even started, for that matter.

Though it pains me to say so – and I do believe it is fundamentally not-true – I feel like I am losing my passion for working on my book. These days, unfortunately, I am just simply not interested.

This is all most unfortunate, of course. Not only because I would like to just get it DONE already, but also because I am actually somewhat close (relatively speaking) to getting it finished.

It’s like Columbus getting stuck at Cuba – he can see Florida, he wants to get to Florida – but the winds are calm and his sails are furled – and he just can’t get there.

So, when all else fails, I turn to reading writing books. Nothing makes you feel more like a writer, without having to do anything, than reading about writing – but of course, doing no writing, yourself.

I dipped into a nice little work yesterday called: The Writer’s Portable Therapist: 25 Sessions to a Creativity Cure by Rachel Ballon. I don’t really feel like I need a “creativity cure” as much as just a literal “jump-start.” My batteries are just worn down. (sorry to mix metaphors)

I like this quote that appears there (p. 78): “The creative act – the defeat of habit by originality – overcomes everything” by George Lois.  That is exactly what I need.  My habit lately is to simply not-write. To in fact ignore it. SO – my mission is to “overcome habit by originality” – to go to the computer and open my manuscript and begin. To not fall back on the same habit of watching TV or pretending to clean house as a procrastination, writing-avoidance technique.

Just like the weeks old sailing vessels would spend at sea, nearly immobilized by the doldrums, I too know that my luck will eventually change. “Smooth sailing” will return – I just must simply be patient until it does.

© writingreading 2010

Keeping a Writer’s Log

September 30, 2009

It seems like many of us struggle with the idea of calling ourselves “writers.” I know that’s true for me, and I know many of my writing friends feel that way too. In a writing group I belong to, one of the great sayings is: “A writer is one who writes.”

I love that phrase. It is simple and inspiring. And unarguably matter-of-fact. Even so, sometimes I still doubt.

One method that I have started using which has helped me immensely in any number of ways is to keep a writing log. No, not a journal. It is not a place to write. Rather, it is a way for me to keep track of my writing.

A typical run of entries might look something like this:

9/30/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/28/09 Edited 7 pages.

9/18/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/15/09 Read 10 pages, edited 3.

9/12/09 Cut 4 pages.

And so forth. This technique has helped me so much. First, it keeps me accountable, if only to myself. If I choose to share it with friends (as I have elsewhere), it makes me even more accountable. If they are paying attention, they can tell me “hey – I see you haven’t written anything in the past few weeks – everything OK? Need a jump start?  Keep going, you can do it.”  Or, they might notice that I’ve had a good run, and might cheer me on. Even if they don’t respond in any fashion, it still helps me to be accountable to myself, and to a community of writers.

Second, it’s useful for me to see where my time is going. Have I been mostly writing, or mostly editing?  After a few weeks or months of keeping a log like this, I may be able to notice patterns. I might find that I’m more productive at the end of the month. Or that when I am editing, I move much faster than when I am writing. Or that when progress seems slow, that’s OK, because it will be followed by a strong outburst of activity.

Keeping a log like this also helps keep me in a routine. I know that every night I write, I have to “check in” and make a note of my progress. It’s kind of like the ol’ marks on the wall to mark a child’s growth. These are my marks. Sometimes the growth is tiny and incremental; other times it comes in great bursts.

Finally, what I like best about keeping a log like this is when I tally things up at the end of the month. I come up with some amazing and surprising numbers.  For instance, all along, maybe my progress has been “write 2 pages” or “edit 4 pages” for many days.  Well, at the end of the month, it’s not unusual for me to total everything up and be astonished to discover that I’ve written 60 pages – or edited 80!  Yes, folks, those are real numbers. And I am not a full time writer.

It helps me realize that even just a page a day can add up to a whopping 30 pages by the end of the month. That even the smallest work, if done consistently, can add up, and can get me where I want to go. I can now say, with confidence – I am a writer!

© writingreading, 2009

Bipolar writing personality disorder

July 31, 2009

Today, I’m manic. Before 9am (and I am not a “morning person” by any stretch of the imagination) I had spontaneously come up with the first 6-8 scenes in the (imaginary) movie which will be based upon my (still-to-be written) book.

After a hard, long, and exhausting day at work, I came home, and sketched out these scenes and a few others I’d come up with since the morning in a story-board style format. It took me over 2 hours.

This week has been good. I”m working on a contest entry, reviving a piece of “avant-garde” (I guess you would call it) literary criticism from waaaay back – it’s still one of my all-time favorite pieces I’ve ever written – one of those times where the words flowed like liquid chocolate, straight from the Muse.

And I”m thinking about working up a small piece that is almost already written (cut from a longer work) as a magazine article. For the moment, I’ve set aside my book – but that is deliberate, and it just needs some time to sit and “jell”.

But then…well, there was last week, and weeks before that one, where the writing was almost painful. Wailing. Feeling like I would never get done. Like it would never ever ever end. Thinking it would be tempting to give up entirely (although like the California pioneers crossing the Rocky Mountains, I realize I’ve come too far to quit now.)

And a coupla months ago, I avoided writing as much as I could. Oh, I had good intentions, mind you. I really did.  But I would always, every night, find something else to do. TV. Internet. Blogging. Visiting other’s blogs. Go to the bookstore. And go again the next day. Visit with friends. You name it. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

So tonight, because I have had such a wound-up writing-day, despite being so busy and exhausting at work – I realized that I think my Muse must be bipolar.  Now, I mean no disrepect by that comparision. I realize that is a serious illness. But I say that by way of analogy.

But that is the only way I can explain it. My writing is so very much “feast or famine.”  Cyclical. When I’m “on” – I’m really on.  When I’m not – I’m not – and it is easy to believe that I will never get out of that rut when I feel like I’m in it.

This is important for me to realize. That it goes in cycles. That I can have incredibly inspiring and productive days. And that when they seem to disappear entirely – it is extremely important for me to remember that I have been to those great days before – and that they will indeed return, even if they seem to have disappeared entirely for that moment. I just have to keep going. Keep moving, keep creating, reading, writing, or finding other ways to keep my mind and my hands active – sometimes even almost “treading water” literarily speaking. Writing simply for the sake of writing – and who cares what the results are?  Maybe that day, when it all seems so hard, my goal just needs to be “Write. Write anything. It doesn’t matter. And quality doesn’t count. All that matters is getting the words on paper. And keep going. No matter what.”


© writingreading, 2009

2-4-6-8, Why do I procrastinate?

February 18, 2009

Ah, yes, my all-too-familiar clingy “friend” – procrastination – is back! Booo!

I’ve realized over the past couple of weeks that my avoidance of working on my book definitely is the symptom of something larger. It has moved from simple procrastination to outright avoidance – and that is serious. The good news is, is that I am still trying to get myself to write. It has not turned into apathy or disinterest. But I have had a distinct inability to simply sit down and do it!

Of course, there are the usual methods for avoiding – which I’ve already enumerated elsewhere.  But it has been happening enough lately, on a consistent basis, that I know Something must be happening.

I think a large part of it is fear. And strangely enough, I think it is “fear of completion.” I still have a long ways to go before I am finished, but I do feel like I am nearing the end stages – I can at last see and believe that I can get it completed.

Probably part of my fear of completion is a very real fear that I won’t know what to do after that happens. The subject of my book (which I never directly talk about here, online) is something that I have had as my “heart’s mission” for years, now. My book has been my passion, in some form, for over a decade. (It’s only over the past two years that I began writing it, however. Because it is non-fiction, the rest of the time was spent in research.) So, maybe it is like the “empty-nest” syndrome. I just simply can’t imagine my life without it.

In any case, fearful of my fear, but determined to overcome it and kick-start my writing again, I did a quick google search on the topic of “why am I afraid to finish writing my book” and found a few good articles on the subject – and they all include remedies!

Linda White Dove has some good advice about changing the parameters of your work. Kind of a “when life gives you lemons..” type of approach. I admit I don’t understand much about the rest of her website, but I did appreciate the article she had about her own struggles with staying on the writing task.

I also really liked what Earma Brown had to say. She has a lot of good tips that are down to earth, understanding, and practical.

And finally, I think I found the information at Copyblogger to be the most helpful, because he writes directly and explicitly about the different kinds of fears we can have as writers.

I’ve printed all of these articles so I can keep them handy the next time I need them. And like the rain and floods, as well as droughts, I know the seasons of writing will come, and change. The tools, tips and suggestions from these authors will help get me through, and get me writing again!

© writingreading, 2009

Painting myself into a corner

November 17, 2008

Have you ever written yourself into a corner, not knowing where to go next?

I sure have, and I just did a few days ago. I was working on a chapter that I had been stuck on for some time. Hallelujah! Suddenly I knew what I needed to do. The enthusiasm got rolling, the words started flowing, and I was on a roll. For several days. After that success, I knew what came next, and got rolling along with that, too.

Then, suddenly – as that second writing frenzy petered out – I realized I was stuck again. I had no idea what would or should come next, nor what the point was that I was trying to make.

I know that the solution to these kinds of problems is to just keep writing, keep going, despite the doubts and questions, and eventually it will all fall into place. It always does. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to know and believe that, because all you see is the cul-de-sac that your writing has sent you to.

My solution of the moment is to (I think) just set aside that chapter now, and move on to work on something else. Let it set, and come back to it in a few weeks or maybe even a month. Maybe it will make sense, then, or I’ll have more information I need to add, or by that time I’ll have realized what my main overall point was, and will be able to work it in there.

Any other writers have this problem, writing themselves into a box? If so – what techniques work for you, to get out of it?

© writingreading, 2008

Keeping the momentum going!

October 28, 2008

If you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, well, the good news is: I’ve been writing! Working on my magnum opus, offline. A lot. Which is a good thing.

Today I feel like I finally have some momentum, and I like where my book is going, and most days, I believe it can get there. It’s been quite an uphill climb, lately, until just the past few days when finally it feels like things are beginning to fall in place.

I think right now, for me, it’s a lot like a bike ride uphill. You struggle and pump and pant and feel like you are making almost no progress. And yet you still have to pant and pedal, again with very little forward movement. But then you finally reach the crest of that hill – and wheeeee – it’s a free and easy coast on the down side. You can see the finish line in the distance, the gorgeous view of the countryside spread out before you, and you believe – and finally, know you are going to make it.  The uphill struggle and your aching calves are quickly forgotten, and you ride through the exhilarating breeze, using all of that energy you and your bike gained on the long climb. That’s where I’m at, now.

Oh, sure, I know it will be shortlived, and there are still many more hills and mountains between where I am now, and where this journey will end. But I do know that it is crucially important to not put on the brakes and to keep going with the momentum I’ve got.

For any fellow writers out there – I hope this gives you encouragement if you are struggling on the upside of a hill in your own work, right now.  I know I was on that side of the mountain myself, just last week. Just keep pedaling, and you will get there!

© writingreading, 2008

Procrastination Busters!

June 1, 2008

For the moment, at least, I think I’ve finally managed to break out of the procrastination bind I was in for a few weeks. I spent almost the entire day working on my NF book yesterday, and boy, does it feel good! I had enough momentum going I could have worked through the night, but decided getting a little rest might help me have a strong day today, too!

I thought about it, and here’s what has worked for me, to help get me out of procrastination and back into “real” writing (off-line, working on my book). For purposes of this post, I think for me I have two types of procrastination – active and passive.

Active procrastination is when I deliberately avoid work. It is a conscious decision. For example: write on my book or clean the bathroom? I think I’ll clean the bathroom.

Passive procrastination is when I try to sit down and write, and allow myself to get distracted. Maybe I decide before I get started to zip in and check my email – then look up two hours later and decide I hardly have time to get anything done before bed, so give up for the day. Or similar things. The passive procrastination method has been eating me up lately, so overcoming that is what I’m going to concentrate on, here.

Ten Ways to Break through Procrastination

  1. Avoid TV. Sounds simple, but hard to do.
  2. Avoid the Internet. Ditto. Email, websites, blogs – all are the pitfall here.
  3. Avoid doing “extra research.” This one is a tough one for me. I’m working on a non-fiction history book. Research is what it’s all about. But it’s easy for me to spend hours on this – and avoid writing – when maybe what I was “researching” really isn’t that important, at least, not in the first draft.
  4. Ignore the phone. I need to consider my writing time sacred. Just like I would turn off my cell phone if I went to church, I need to have the same sacredness and respect for my writing time at home. And ask others (friends, relatives, telemarketers) to have the same respect as well.
  5. Avoid re-reading an entire chapter. Sure, reading what you’ve written is an essential part of the writing process. But when I’m working on a book – there’s a lot to read. Instead, I need to stay focused only on the last page or paragraph that I’ve written – not the entire 20-page chapter.
  6. Stay focused. A corollary to #5 – I need to know where I’m going next in my narrative, and concentrate on that. “Avoid narrative distractions” is another way to put this. Do I really need to tell about Abigail’s dress at the ball when the storyline in this chapter is about the use of cotton bales to protect Union ships during the Civil War?
  7. When I stop for the day, make a note of where I’m going next. This technique has really been helpful for me, when I remember to do it. It helps me know exactly where to start the next time I sit down, and sometimes it has helped me to see gaps in my storyline or research that need to be filled in.

    These last three have been the most important for me, lately:

  8. Get right to work! I find the simple act of getting started to be my most difficult task. I can spend an entire hour meandering around before even opening the document on my desktop and sitting down and getting to work. Once I get started on writing, I’m fine, and can usually keep going. But it can take me an hour to get to that point, sometimes – and by then, it’s easy to be distracted and not-write at all.
  9. Make sure you are seated comfortably. The other day I figured out one of the reasons I couldn’t sit still at my computer while writing was simply because of my uncomfortable chair. I would fidgit, my legs would get twisted and cramp, and my arms hurt too because of the position of the keyboard on my desk in relation to my chair. I put a seat cushion in the chair, and voila – I have a six or eight hour day to my credit! Small things – big changes.
  10. Use music to my advantage. I’ve found that playing a CD of some of my favorite music helps in many ways. First, it puts me in a good mood. It gives me a positive outlook, and also helps focus my mind. It helps me avoid TV. It also, in some inexplicable manner, helps me stay focused enough to get started (#8). It helps me over that hurdle – which is a big one for me – and once I’ve cleared it, I can get underway. Music is so important for me to get started on my writing – that within 30 minutes, I am so engrossed in my writing that the music fades into the background, and I often don’t even notice when the CD finishes playing. That’s the kind of concentration I’m aiming for!!

I hope that I’ll be able to remember these techniques the next time I get stuck in a procrastination rut, and I hope you might find some of them helpful in your work as well. I’d love to hear from other writers about what works for you in overcoming procrastination.

©2008 writingreading