Thursday, January 03, 2008

You Are Writing

You have some time alone at home and you think about writing. There are several things you could be working on, ideas jotted down, stories and a novel started, but you can't quite decide what to choose. You haven't written for a while, just a few days, but then you try to remember the last thing you wrote and you realise it has been several weeks since you picked up a pen, let alone turned on your computer.

Your computer for writing, that is. You've spent plenty of time emailing and net surfing - doing research and networking, you tell yourself - but writing? No. No wonder you feel a little unsettled, a little afraid. What if you sit down to write now and nothing happens? What if those ideas, those stories you started, now look like rubbish, not worth the effort? What if everything you have ever written is a waste of time? You tell yourself that's stupid, you are giving into writer's paranoia. Stop right now or you'll give yourself a good case of writer's block.

Block. Maybe that's why you haven't written for so long. Maybe you're blocked, and you didn't realise it. Except you're realising it now, with horror and dismay. How could this have happened? What about the novel you started? You've written 12,000 words of it. You started it during NaNo and had to stop because you had no time. It's probably awful. Most NaNo novels are. You could just put it aside and start something new. But what?

You feel like crying. You had four hours alone in which to write, and already you've wasted nearly two of them, riffling through papers and old drafts of things, agonising over whether it's worth turning your computer on, wondering how you could possibly call yourself a writer. It'd be easier to go and vacuum the carpet, or clean the bathroom - something useful - and think about writing another day, when you're up to it. When you're not blocked.

You pull a writing book from your shelf and open it at random, hoping for a gem of an idea to inspire you before you give up for today. Instead, you read a paragraph about a famous writer who has to force himself to the desk every day. And another paragraph about how real writers just write, no matter what. Showing up at your desk is all that's necessary. You think - how hard can that be? I should write. Maybe I'll just try to add a paragraph to the novel.

You turn on your computer and open the file. You remember what your novel is about, but you can't remember the last chapter you wrote. It's probably terrible. Should you read it? It might depress you even more. You scan the first part, then find yourself laughing. That bit was good. Aha, now you remember what happens in this chapter. Where did that idea come from? It's better than you remembered. You get to the end. You've left it mid-sentence, like a signal that you had every intention of coming back to it. And here you are.

What happens next? That's right. You finish the sentence and add another. A new idea emerges and you run with it, knowing that it's right, that it fits, that it will surprise the reader (it surprised you) and that it will lead to a new part of the story which will be fun to write. You love this character, and the central idea still excites you. Yes, you can do this!

Two hours later, you've written 2000 words. It's the most you've written for weeks. It felt great. It worked. See? All you had to do was sit down and write. How hard was that? Real writers write. Yeah.


Snail said...

You had me hyperventilating in the first few paras. But I read to the end and am calm again. One letter after another; one word after another; one sentence after another. I might have to recite this as a mantra!

Kristi Holl said...

Boy, you have been reading my mail this morning! After having company and then doing taxes yesterday, I had a lengthy break from the novel-in-progress, and I was doing all the mental gymnastics you just detailed! WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES??? Thanks for your openness and honesty--and the humor! It helps!