Progress Interrupted

Many authors write in the time they can spare from their job. The urge to write is tempered by the knowledge that the rent must be paid, May’s quotas have to be met, and the kids’ math should be checked. Amid all of the conflicting demands of everyday adult life, the time squirreled away with the laptop can be fleeting.

This scarcity is accompanied by another obstacle: the desire to write when you have time to write. Just about everything you do in ordinary life is easier than writing. When the time you allotted during the week ends up being missed, the urge is frustrated until the weekend—and then you feel blank on Saturday morning. When a few weeks elapse because of interruptions beyond your control, you can lose the thread of the story altogether.

That is the point at which weeks can turn into months. If you really want to write, you cannot let that happen. For most writers, no one cares if you write a book or not. You yourself have alternate sources from which to derive satisfaction. A book is such a long slog, so why strap on the harness when you know you have to keep plowing for days on end?

These excuses are usually not formulated aloud, or even in the echo chamber of your mind. Writing operates in the realm of feelings, vague and blundering, swinging widely as the mood strikes. No calendar marked out with red blocks of time can change that.

What you can do, however, is check in. That means assigning times during the week when you read notes, or the last chapter you’ve written, or research a topic you want in the book. In other words, it’s a halfway step. You’re not saying you’ll sit down to write. You are merely keeping touch with the live wire that drove you to start writing in the first place.

Going easy on yourself this way allows you to break down the immense wall you sense when you don’t feel like diving into the story. You’re operating on a lesser level, merely reacting to what you’re already done. What this practice does, however, is to keep your hand near the keyboard. When you do that, you’ll be writing a lot more often.

Exercise: If you are sick to death of your book, go ahead and take a break. Let it sit for a month. Before you do, though, set a date on your calendar when you’re going to check in. Just to review things for a few hours. Then set up a return date for the week after that, and the week after that. You don’t have to start writing again. But you will force your subconscious to keep revolving the story ideas—until you gain clarity on how to reframe the book.

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”
—Terry Pratchett

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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