Making yourself write (even when you don't want to)

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Procrastination is a huge part of the writing process for most of us. Some days, you just don't want to write. But you know you should/have to/need to... You probably know if this as "writer's block," though over the years I've come to move away from that term. Identifying the thing almost gives you permission to lean into it. Instead, I prefer to push through those moments where I don't want to write. The more you develop your toolkit for pushing through, the more disciplined you'll become.

A block can hit hard and deadly right in the middle of your draft--the "mushy middle"--though you can lose steam at any point in the writing (or revision) process and need to push through.

One common reason writers get stuck is perfectionism. We fear "bad" writing, and if we're not able to write it beautiful/well/perfectly, we'd rather not write. This is a one way ticket to never finishing a draft. You have to let go of that drive for perfection, giving yourself permission to be "bad." Here's a secret: your "bad" writing is often not as bad as you think it is while you're writing it. And even if it is, that's what revision is for!

Throw caution to the wind! Write!

Other times, we get stuck because we don't know what to write next. Take it one bit at a time, and think about conflict. What could you write that would challenge your characters? Take them to a new place? Do something interesting for the relationships? If a scene isn't working, bring in a new character/have them interrupt. It doesn't have to be perfect--try something just to get words on the page. You can always backtrack later.

Sometimes, you just need to get away from the blank page and let your brain unstick. Go for a walk. Take a shower. Both activities can be magical unlocking mechanisms for your creative block. Whenever I'm not sure where to take a scene, I take a shower, and I have never had an instance where I didn't figure out what to do next!

Set micro goals. Aiming to write ALL THE WORDS can be overwhelming. You don't have to write 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 words in a session/per day to be productive. If you write a little bit every day (or nearly every day), eventually you will end up with a novel. No words are wasted words, or not enough.

Some days, writing 200 words is a triumph. Heck, writing 50 words can be enough. Inevitably, you'll have the 1,000 or 2,000 word day. Writing is like a habit, you just have to develop it. 

Let me tell you: I rarely write more than 2,000 words in a single day/writing session. My average is 500-800 words. I just do it consistently.

Resort to bribery. Seriously: bribe yourself. Think about what you want/like, and then don't let yourself have it until you've written for the day. Or, if you're generous, let yourself have it because you know 100% that you are going to write! Think:

"I cannot watch the new episode of Game of Thrones until I've written for an hour."

"If I write 200 words, I can have a glass of wine."

"I'm going to watch two episodes of Parks & Rec, write this scene, then watch another episode."

"If I hit my word count goal for the week, I'm going out for a nice dinner."

You can use whatever works for you, and the goal can vary--writing for a certain amount of time, writing a set amount of words, hitting a weekly goal, reaching a manuscript milestone. If you can't tell, I use television, wine and food as my treats... but you can use whatever motivates you!

Create the environment you need to write. Put on specific music. Cue the noise generator. Go to your desk. Turn off the TV. Whatever you need that will tell your brain "now we write."

Music is HUGE for me. I primarily use film scores, which I use to put me in specific dramatic moods. When I turn off the TV and turn on a film score, I know it's time to write. After a lot of reinforcement, all I need to do is turn on the right score and I start typing. Some scores I highly recommend:

The Hours by Philip Glass (great for writing emotional, dramatic scenes)

Inception by Hans Zimmer (for tense, moody scenes + action)

Atonement by Dario Marianelli (any time energy with a dash of drama is needed)

A Beautiful Mind by James Horner (a bit of whimsy & big emotional wallop)

I also like using the site Soundrown.com which is a white noise generator. My favorite is rain, but you can cue up waves, night sounds, a crackling fire, even coffee shop sounds. This is particularly helpful in Southern California, where there is not nearly enough rain to write to!

Think about where you are writing, too. For some writers, getting out of the house and tucking up at at coffee shop is the way to go. If this works for you, get yourself to a coffee shop!

For others, it's figuring out where at home you can put your "work hat" on and be productive. A desk or office is great if you have the space, but if you're limited to typing in front of the TV or in your bedroom, over time you can train yourself to associate that space with work. It took me a few years, but now I associate the same space where I watch TV with work space. A huge part of that was music!

Develop a schedule. This is another essential ingredient. If you write at the same time every day, you'll start to associate that time of day + place + other environmental factors (music! white noise!) with writing.

Engage in writing sprints with other writers/friends. Writing sprints were a huge boon to me when I was drafting. Sometimes you can find communities of writers doing them on Twitter and other places, other times the trick is to initiate the writing sprint yourself among friends. What is a writing sprint? Basically you pick a length of time--15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour--and you and the other writers all start at the same time. You write as much as you can until time is up. At the end, you compare word counts.

Sprints are great as they encourage community, and bring out your competitive streak, just a bit. It's all in good fun and no one really wins, but there's an incentive not to slack off and to really write during the set time, so at the end, you know you've done your best to produce as many words as possible. There are writers who can write huge chunks of their novels this way. NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo are great times to find large numbers of writers doing word sprints.

But what if you're just BLOCKED and writing isn't happening? Sometimes, you have to take a break, give yourself some time off. And that's okay, too. You can be a great writer, and accomplish great things and finish projects, even if you don't write every day. Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise.

Sometimes you need to "refill the well." This means engaging in activities and doing things that inspire you creatively, and help coax you back into the "mood" to write. It may be going out with friends, seeing a movie, marathoning a TV show, going to the beach, etc. etc. Everyone has different things that inspire them, and different lengths of time we need to take off to refill our creative well.

That said: be careful of walking the line between taking needed time off, and falling out of the writing habit and losing sight of a project. It can be hard to tell, and as you work on different projects you'll get a sense of where you fall. Personally, when I am actively drafting a project, I know if I go more than three days without writing *something* that I am statistically likely to "fall off the wagon" and stop writing altogether.

I've suggested a LOT of possible solutions and tricks you can use, and it's meant to be a lot! There is no one size fits all solution, and you may have to mix & match and try different things until you find what works. As I mentioned a few times, in many cases, it's a matter of creating a habit, and once you've done so,  it will be easier to slip into writing mode when you need to. You can use a lot of these tips for revising/editing, too!



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