You’ve got the idea. You’ve got the talent. You’ve made the commitment. Why aren’t you writing?
You tell people it’s Writer’s Block, which can be kind of a catch-all, but usually means you’re unable to interact with the material in a meaningful way. Thousands of pages of advice on getting past Writer’s Block have been written.
But what if it has nothing to do with the material? What if you know what happens next, or you need a next book and your mind is as empty as the cornbread shelf at the grocery store on Thanksgiving?
Or you mean to write, you want to write, you know what to write…and it’s not happening?
Here are three possible culprits–once you’ve identified the suspect, it’s easier to make the arrest.
This is something I’ve seldom seen discussed, but the fact is that human creativity has a cycle. Unless you’re a machine, you can’t constantly be on the “output” setting without taking time on the “input” setting. You need to see new places, talk to different people, read new books, think new thoughts, or you’ll have nothing to write about. Sometimes you’ve put all your creativity out there, and you simply need time to refill and replenish. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Think of it as a new beginning, a an important, wonderful phase for your personhood. Dive into that stack of novels awaiting you. Take that trip. Drive around your town at 5 in the morning or email a blogger or journalist whose thoughts you’ve admired. Watch documentaries. Listen to NPR. Agree or disagree and have a fine time doing it. When you start feeling feisty or excited or surprised or wonder-filled or ticked off, you’ll know it’s almost time to enter “output” mode once again.
Let’s get down to it. If you really really want to write but you just don’t have the time, well, you don’t really really want to write. Harlan Coben points out that Mary Higgins Clark was a single mom with 3 young children and a full time job when she wrote her first book. She did it by getting up at 5 in the morning before anyone else was up. James Patterson had a family and a high-powered 20-hour a day job running an ad agency, but he started coming in an hour early and closing his door and writing his own stuff. If you want to do it, you can find a way. Get up early. Stay up late. Bring a sandwich and write at lunch. Don’t watch a favorite show.
Some very important caveats: a) If you don’t have the time because you’re feeling too guilty because other things like housework and shopping and waxing the floor and seeing your mother and baking cookies for the bazaar are getting in your way, have a very stern talk with yourself. Explain that nothing trumps writing. Your writing time isn’t time you’re stealing from others, it’s a commitment you’ve made to yourself. Say that until you mean it. NOTHING TRUMPS WRITING.
b) Carve out that time on purpose: when and where it will be. In your home office at 5 a.m.; in your work office an hour before you’re “on call.” Make that sacred. You’re working.
c) Create your boundaries and explain them to others. Then make them actual boundaries. If the door to dad’s study being closed means kids, dogs and neighbors can come in and say, “what are you writing?” or “where are the car keys?” it isn’t a boundary. Kids, spouses and friends are remarkably trainable. If 5 to 6 is your writing time and you won’t be answering the phone, opening the door or responding to texts, give them a week, they’ll stop calling/knocking/texting. But your boundaries are only as firm as YOU make them.
This is the internal force that fights against the undertaking of any creative project. It’s what makes you decide to mop the floor instead of working on your book when the floor isn’t even dirty. It’s what gets you to log on to your computer, open your manuscript–and go play games or watch videos for an hour. Steven Pressman, in his book (and his discussion with Oprah, below) claims Resistance rears its ugly head whenever you are poised to start something that will “move you to the next level” creatively or personally. It’s why there’s something important you need to do, you want to do, you know how to do–and you can’t make yourself actually do.
How do you overcome resistance? Apparently, there’s only one way. You identify it, call it by name and then run the creative ball down the field, knocking it down in the process.
In other words, you JUST DO IT.
(Of course, sometimes you might need encouragement and a plan. If that’s the case, find a good mentor or a local writers group to help you figure out how to start. This usually amounts to knowing how to break things down to small, do-able parts.)