Why do Writers not Write?
I’ve been asked a similar question during talks, via email, Facebook or, in one memorable encounter, on the street by someone who wanted to discuss my books; I wasn’t likely to say no to say, was I? After people discover that I’m a writer, some will confess to me that they have a book or a short story that they would absolutely love to write; they dream about being published, and have a desire to make that happen. The question I almost never ask—because I’m British and typically reserved about such things—is, “Why the hell aren’t you bloody doing it?” I then want to add, “Stop talking about it and just start. Find some time. Go on, give up the TV for an hour every evening, or get up half an hour early, or…well, find some time. If it’s important to you, if it’s that important, then just do it.”
There are those who talk a lot about writing. They post inspiring, writer-based quotes on social media, they share links to publishing articles, and they always know the latest industry buzz. There’s another group who are voracious readers; they can discuss a variety of cool topics, they can quote from a really diverse range of writers, and they can do some excellent work brainstorming creative ideas. The whole literary scene fascinates them.
But all of these people aren’t writing. They’re not actually doing the thing that they try to convince themselves—and other people—that they should be doing: writing.
Not writing comes in many forms:
- Talking about writing is not writing.
- Reading is not writing.
- Thinking about writing is not writing.
- Outlining is not writing.
Well, to a degree with that last one. Outlining needs to be done, so you can get away with that for a while, but there comes a time when you need to stop outlining and start writing.
We all have the same twenty-four hours. Dreaming of writing is easy. Making yourself sit down and do it, is not.
“How you spend your time is how you spend your life.”
I love this quote by Carol Lloyd, author of Creating a Life Worth Living, and it’s so apt. There’s nothing mystical or magical about writing. It’s work: hard work, and you have to invest time in it to make it happen. No excuses; we can all find excuses if we allow ourselves the opportunity.
We can all find fifteen minutes every day to write—and most of us could find a lot more. There are easily things you can do, if you’re self-disciplined enough. That’s the big question, of course; do you actually want to change your routine and make yourself do this?
Here are a few suggestions to help:
- Cut back on social media. Don’t delete it altogether, but limit your use. After all, why are you promoting yourself on there when you’re not actually creating anything for others to read?
- Get up half an hour earlier, or go to bed half an hour late.
- Be accountable to someone; have a writer friend who gets it and who you tell what you’re planning to do.
- Write during your lunchtime break, coffee time, whenever.
- Write on your day off. It’s better to be a weekend writer than not at all.
- Write something, even when you feel a severe lack of creativity. Find something to write about; why you want to put that item on your shopping list, what you daily routine is anything.
- Carry a notebook everywhere and write down notes or scenes. Failing that, use a Dictaphone or even your phone.
- Take whatever time you can get. Don’t wait until you’ve got a free window of two hours uninterrupted writing time; you’ll be often disappointed. Again: Take whatever time you can get.
I’m no better than anyone else, yet I write every day. Why? Because I want to write more than anything else; that’s my burning ambition. Therefore, it’s my first priority every day. I find it amazing that others don’t have that same burning desire.
The truth is, people are worried that their work isn’t good enough. They worry that no-one will ever want to read what they wrote. They’re scared of failure—or even of success. You know what? I worry about the same things. I procrastinate now and again; it happens. I’m terrified of what my writing looks like sometimes; other times, I’m very proud of what I’ve put down on paper (well, on the computer, but you get what I mean).
If you are scared that a particular piece of writing isn’t going to turn out well, then you may avoid working on it in order to avoid seeing what it turns out like, rather than treating it as a learning curve.
Other writers procrastinate because they want to feel constantly connected to other people. For instance, you may procrastinate until you are in such a bind that someone has to come and rescue you. Procrastination therefore ensures that other people will be involved in your life. You may also put off writing because you don’t want to be alone, and writing is oftentimes a solitary activity.
How can we as writers actually get things done? Well, having a positive attitude is the first step, and being willing to actually write is the step before that.
You also need to find a space to write; I’ve got a desk, but just as often, I’ll be sat with my laptop on my sofa (like I am right now; it’s very comfortable, and I’m moving for no-one). Whatever your equivalent place is, make use of it. Don’t think that you’ve got to have a desk; if you prefer somewhere else, then use that space.
Disconnect your internet if you really have to, at least until you build up your self-discipline.
When is the best time for you to write? When are you most alert? Schedule writing time when you know you’ll be at your best. Don’t worry about when you should be able to write; just focus on when you are able to write. And don’t say, “I’ll try,” say, “I’ll do it.”
In order to break the procrastination habit, we need to get past the idea that in order to write, we must have all the information pertaining to the topic, and we must have optimal writing conditions. In reality, writers never have all the information, and conditions are never optimal.
There are no conditions that are necessary in order for you to write, save two:
- You must have a writing implement (e.g., a keyboard or a pen).
- You must have someplace for writing to go, such as into a computer or onto a piece of paper.
If, when faced with a writing project, you start piling up prerequisites for all the things you must do before you can possibly start writing, consider whether you might in fact be making excuses.
In fact, let me tell you four facts about all writers:
- In the beginning, you may not be very good. It’s normal.
- If you practice, you will get better.
- Regardless of #2, you will still get rejected. You’ll survive. You don’t think so, but you will.
- If you stick with writing and persevere despite doubt and rejections, you will achieve some form of success. That may not be publication, but success of one sort or another will happen.
All this comes down to one simple question. How important is your writing to you? Because how you spend your time is how you spend your life.
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© 2018 Matthew Munson
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.