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Writing is Hard: Forcing Yourself to Write

Back when I asked what kind of posts you guys might want to see this summer, kailita requested that I talk more about my writing process... so, welcome to the Writing is Hard series... where I talk about how I stumble through life my writing hobby.

Topic 1 - Forcing Yourself to Write:

"I'm always interested in how different writers get themselves to be creative (especially during the summer, when I tend to be so lethargic)"

There's this myth out there that writers are self-motivated - that they get an idea, and it just pores out of them onto a page - the idea itself is the motivation! You can't NOT write it!

This, my friends, is a lie. Don't get me wrong - sometimes that does happen. I once read a porn prompt and spent two days writing what is still one my best short stories (which I published on anon only and won't admit to, so don't ask). Sometimes, the words DO just flow and there's nothing else that you want to do besides write the story. But that is only 1% of the time.

The other 99% of the time, you have an idea for a story, or you've even started a story... but, you don't really feel like writing it right NOW, you know? Maybe like.. next week? I don't know. You're sort of busy, or just not in the mood... and yeah, the story is good and you want to share it, but UGH, writing takes so long, and you don't really know what words to use to convey what you want to convey - and maybe the plot isn't as good as you thought it was? Maybe no one will like it anyway, so who cares if you work on it now, or later, or never.

There goes the way of madness - and, quiet frankly, never getting anything done. If you're not immediately motivated to start/keep writing, you will NEVER be motivated to start/keep writing - so, you've gotta FORCE YOURSELF.

Now, some of us (*cough*ME*cough*) are really bad at forcing ourselves to do things we don't want to do.

So, here's the strategy I use. It has stages. If stage one doesn't work, ADD the next stage. So, try 1, then do 1 AND 2, then try 1 AND 2 AND 3... etc.

1. Give yourself a weekly and/or "writing time" and/or daily word count goal that you want to hit. This is the only one that I cut myself slack on. Aim for 1000 (that takes me about 1-2 hours, on a good day), if that's too much pressure and you never hit it, go for 500, 200, or ANY WORDS AT ALL.

The only reason I advocate for LOWERING the goal if your having trouble reaching it, is because this step is supposed to give you a sense of accomplishment. If you're constantly feeling like a failure, you're not going to be motivated to try the next day. So, adjust the goal for how badly you've been feeling about writing lately - if you haven't even opened a document for a month, then your first goal would be "open the document and look at it." If you've opened the document and looked at it lately, but haven't added to it, then the goal becomes "add something to it, next time you open it."

Eventually, as you go, you'll either find a word count goal that you can consistantly hit and makes you feel good. Or, if you like a challenge, you can continually increase that goal until it becomes impossible to hit every time. I like having a word goal that I can consistantly hit and feel good about though, so, if I've set aside 1-2 hours to write, then I usually have a goal of 900-1000 words. Then, if I hit 1,200. I'm a superstar!

Another option is to keep a scorecard for yourself, so that every time you hit your goal, you get to fill in a box, or give yourself a checkmark, or whatever... and then you get a document that shows your progress. My friend does this and likes it very much. They often know approx. how long their stories are going to be, so they can see how much they've done and how much they still have left to do... sort of like on those charity/kickstarter sites, where you can see your progress towards your goal on a scale. I don't do this, because I never know how long my things are going to be, but it really words for my friend.

2. Schedule Writing Time -  Don't just say "I'll write tonight, when I get off of work/school", because what you're actually going to do is make dinner, then watch a TV show while you eat... and then maybe watch another episode for fun... and then your friend is going to text you and be like "Yo! What are the haps?" And you are going to be like "Why are you speaking like that?" and the next thing you know it's 10pm, and you're kinda sleepy now... If it's the weekend/vacation, don't think that you can just say "Well, I have all weekend/vacation to write" because you will continue to say that until it's 10pm on Sunday/the-last-night-of-vacation, and you have not done any writing, my friend - instead you slept in until 1pm, then read fanfic all day, then your aunt Gertrude came for a visit, and then took the dog for a walk and the dog ran into a skunk, and THAT was an ordeal, and it took you the rest of the weekend/holiday to get the stink out of everything.

Instead, you have to say "I am writing from 1pm-3pm" and then at 1pm, you sit down, you open your document, and you try to write... try to hit that word count goal, whatever it might be that day.

And remember that the END time of Writing Time is just as important as the START time. You need to have a clear point where writing becomes optional again... feel free to continue writing, but don't give yourself a hard time if you don't. Also, sometimes, you need that deadline in order to do stuff. If it's 20 minutes to 3pm, and you haven't written a word, you need to have mad dash in those last 20 minutes so that you get at least SOME words down during Writing Time. If you sit there saying "well, I don't really HAVE to stop at 3pm, I could write until 4 or 5 or 7 or 10..." then you're going to continue to sit there and not really do anything for the rest of the time and then feel shitty about it. You may as well not have scheduled Writing Time, if you weren't going to respect it.

3. Find a Writing Friend (not always available). Set up Writing Dates where you both partake in Writing Time. This, I've found, is most effective - but it's harder to organize, because there's someone else's schedule and life to factor in. I got basically all of PPP done while writing with my local BFF back when they were unemployed (and I was underemployed). The best part of a writing friend is that when you get stuck, you can ask them for help. Or, as me and my BFF often do, pause and act out action sequences so that we could describe them accurately - "if you were to faint, how would I catch you?" "If you held a knife to my throat, would I be able to see the size of the knife?" "Hey, get on the floor for a minute, I need to straddle you..." It's fun times!

4. Go to a new location - Sometimes, even when we schedule time to write, that doesn't work - because we are still in our homes, and we are still on our computer with the tumblr tab open.... and we still have our phone next to us, and our friend is sending us pics of their frappaccino and talking about the latest horrible news from some godforsaken part of the world/our own country. And even though it's Writing Time, we find outself clicking over to that other tab, reading just one more chapter of that fic we found last night, or chatting with our friend, or what have you... My point is, our homes are places where we relax and do whatever we like whenever we want to - that's why we like our homes so much. It's also why sometimes we shouldn't be in them.

Instead, pack up your computer/notebook/whatever put on pants, some shoes, (possibly a shirt if you're feeling fancy) - and leave your house. Go to a coffee shop, or a park (if you've got a good battery), or go sit in your car with the windows down (if weather permits). The point is, go to a new location, that is now your WRITING OFFICE. You know what people do in offices?! They work! You are now a professional writer and if you don't have that word count done by the end of the day, your boss is going to fire you! (Your boss is you. You are the worst boss, because you are the hardest on yourself and also there is no escaping you.)

If, for some reason, you can't leave your house - Go to a different part of your apartment/house. Do you usually sit at a desk while you browse the interwebs/do-whatever-else-you-do? Cool. Pick up your laptop, tablet, notebook, whatever... and go sit on the couch. Go put your computer on the kitchen counter and type while standing up during Writing Time, or sitting on a barstool... go sit on the porch, in the closet, on the toilet, wherever. Just change locations from whatever location you usually associate with "time to check social media and surf the web... yay dopamine!" Writing Time, sadly, is not about dopamine.

The sooner you move to a location where your brain is not expecting continual fun stimulation, the easier you can focus it onto a task. My only caveat to this is that if, like me, you often can fall asleep at the drop of the hat if you're tied - do not try to write in bed. "I'll just close my eyes for a moment so I can really visualize the scene and....zzzzzzzz" Yeah... so, change locations, but preferably to a coffee shop, where you'll be more alert and able to focus, because you are in your Writing Office, and those coffee-shop patrons are going to be able to see if you're sitting there looking at nsfw fanart on tumblr instead of writing.

5. Turn off the internet - DO IT. Turn it off on your computer, turn it off on your phone. If you have friends who are text-crazy, put your phone on stealth silent (it doesn't even vibrate or blink lights at you). This is Writing Time. You do not need to be on the internet 24/7. You can take 2 hours, or 1 hour, or however long your writing time is, and use that time to NOT care about what your cousin Danny is posting on Facebook or what heartwarming photo your favourite celeb just posted on the Twit-machine. It will all still be there after Writing Time is over. Your reward for writing during Writing Time will be that you'll get to turn the internet back on and catch up! Fun!

If anyone has anything that works for you that I haven't covered let me know! :)

And, if anyone wants to give me other topics/questions to post about this summer, please leave it in a comment and I'll add it to the list. :)

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
twisted_slinky
Jul. 12th, 2016 12:01 am (UTC)
Awesome post!
hells_half_acre
Jul. 12th, 2016 12:06 am (UTC)
Thanks! :)
kailita
Jul. 13th, 2016 02:08 am (UTC)
Yayyyyy, this is great!

...writing what is still one my best short stories (which I published on anon only and won't admit to, so don't ask).
Oh man! Can we at least know what the pairing was? ;)

...instead you slept in until 1pm, then read fanfic all day, then your aunt Gertrude came for a visit, and then took the dog for a walk and the dog ran into a skunk, and THAT was an ordeal, and it took you the rest of the weekend/holiday to get the stink out of everything.
Hahahaha. This...has been my summer. Well, at least the first two. ;)

The daily word count has been my go-to writing discipline for a few years now. (I gave that up when I started teaching, because I was working 17/7...not quite 24/7, but pretty freaking close. But I went back to it this summer, and I'm hoping to keep it up at least once a week when school starts again.) I used to shoot for 500 words a day when I was in high school/college. Then I lowered that to 100 WORDS A DAY after I started working full time + going to school for my credential, because anything more than that was just overwhelming. It was depressing at first (100 words is basically five sentences worth of writing), but I DID start to actually write, instead of just feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of writing. And I found that when I shot for 100, I usually ended up with 300-800, and that felt great. :)

These are great tips. Writing Friends have been invaluable to me. Shutting off the internet is a dire step, but definitely a necessary one at times. I usually keep it up for in-writing research/dictionary/thesaurus - but that can definitely derail writing time. So I respect that it is Step #5. :)

I always have a hard time getting started, so one thing that I do is force myself to stop before I've completely finished a section or a paragraph, sometimes even a sentence. That way I KNOW that when I return the next day, I won't be staring blankly at the page - I'll have an immediate jumping-in point, and that helps the rest come more easily for some reason.

Thanks for these!
hells_half_acre
Jul. 13th, 2016 08:16 pm (UTC)
Can we at least know what the pairing was? ;)

No! NO ONE CAN KNOW (except the person who figured it out already.)

It was depressing at first (100 words is basically five sentences worth of writing), but I DID start to actually write, instead of just feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of writing. And I found that when I shot for 100, I usually ended up with 300-800, and that felt great. :)

Exactly! Even if you just write one word, it's one more word than you had the day before. And when you're really pressed for time 100 words, or 50 woods, seems like a much less daunting task to sit down and do. It doesn't take long to write five sentences, and then you can feel good about accomplishing something - instead of thinking you have to have the time to write 1000 words if you're going to bother writing at all.

My goal is USUALLY 900-1000 words, but that's simply because it's not a daily goal, but a Writing Time goal.

Shutting off the internet is a dire step, but definitely a necessary one at times. I usually keep it up for in-writing research/dictionary/thesaurus - but that can definitely derail writing time.

I should have put this in the post - but if you find that research (which requires the internet) is causing writing time to derail (either because you get carried away with research, or because going on the internet leads you to distraction). A good habit to get into is while you are writing, don't STOP to research, instead, put a note in your writing to research later. I usually put something like "He lit the fire and readied his tools... [RESEARCH MORE ABOUT BLACKSMITHING]... by the time the blade had been forged, night had fallen."

And then, I pick a day where instead of Writing Time or a word goal, I have "Research Time" and a goal of filling in the missing details. If it's something that isn't super important to advancing the plot, then you can sometimes just write your whole story and then go back after you're done and fill in everything you skipped over.

I used to do that while I was writing essays in school. I used to have my mum proofread all my essays (because I'm cool like that) and sometimes she'd text me to say "Umm, I think on page 6 you meant to go back and replace that bracket section that says "[Blah blah blah, put some more numbers in this section so it looks smarter]"" It was hilarious.

But yeah, that way I never broke my writing flow.

I always have a hard time getting started, so one thing that I do is force myself to stop before I've completely finished a section or a paragraph, sometimes even a sentence.

Yes! this is a great tip! I've done this several times and it really works. It's much harder starting a new chapter than it is finishing a sentence. I like to stop writing in the middle of dialogue scenes, because it's really easy to get back into the flow of conversations, then it is to get back into the flow of descriptive passages.





backroadsspirit
Jul. 18th, 2016 04:20 pm (UTC)
Hey:) Here´s a funny thing. I just closed a document I originally planned to write on with frustation and got on the internet instead and your post is the first I find:) I really found the stuff said helpful and will try some of them, so thanks for sharing:)
hells_half_acre
Jul. 18th, 2016 04:37 pm (UTC)
Yay! I'm glad!

Also, I'm not sure if that document was blank or not - but it's always hardest to START something - so sometimes, I find it helpful to just write some random nonsense at the beginning so that I've "started" and I can always edit it out late.

Like..."Okay, so it's been like 2 months since *event* and everything was going really well. The sun was shining, the people are happy...Hero was walking down the road when he sees Buddy.
"I need a favour," Buddy says...."

And that way you don't have to come up with a "Call me Ishmael" or "It was the best of times..." right away. You can write your whole story/piece, and then go back and say something about a beautiful summer's day when you're all finished.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )