Getting Your Writing Done

Getting Your Writing Done.jpg

Here's the best writing advice I ever received: Keep the seat of your pants in the seat of your chair.

Yes: it really is that simple. I'm not saying that writing doesn't require talent, or skills, or patience; it absolutely does. It takes doubting yourself and celebrating yourself. It takes loving what you're doing and positively hatingwhat you're doing. But at the end of the day, all the great phrases and all the creative ideas in the world aren't going to make a book happen, or an article, or a short story. What makes them happen is you actually writingthem.

If you're anything like me, everything inside you rebels against that concept. Oh, the idea of writing a moving, clever, acclaimed novel is seductive. You think about it. You talk about it. You start plotting it. You people it with colorful characters. Finally, you sit down to write it.

And that's when it happens. At least to me.

First I realize that I need a coffee to go along with my writing. I get the coffee. I sit down again. I stare at the screen. I tell myself that any words are better than no words. So I start putting words on the screen. I know that right now they might be crap but eventually I'll go back and make them sing. That's all good.

It lasts for about ten minutes. Now I've finished my coffee. I'm also not entirely sure what should happen next, after this first scene that I've managed to pound into the computer. Clearly it's time to empty the dishwasher! No; I hate emptying the dishwasher. Time to eat a cookie instead.

I get back to the desk. I read what I've written. Yep: it's complete crap. No one is ever going to read this. No one is ever going to read anything that I write, ever again. Maybe I should have gotten a beer instead of that coffee. Maybe I should have become a truck driver instead of a writer.

I sigh dramatically. These are the moments that test a writer's nerves. I start writing again, feeling martyred. Another ten minutes go by; maybe fifteen, if I'm really pushing myself. Okay, I look at what I've produced, and the inevitable question pops up: now what happens? I've introduced too many characters too fast. Maybe I should go back and do it over again. Oh, hold on: I needed to look up the backstory of one of those characters, anyway! Something happened in their country of origin that's going to influence what they're doing and saying now! Wikipedia is my friend!

Half an hour and five hyperlinks later, I suddenly realize that I'm supposed to be writing a book.

Tell me that hasn't happened to you! We are the world's best (or worst, depending on your point of view) procrastinators. When it comes down to actually getting this all done, we're insecure, lazy, and self-absorbed. We'll do anything to keep from writing. 

Keep the seat of your pants in the seat of your chair.

I was speaking recently to a group of people in a lovely town in Québec, and someone asked, "How do you deal with writer's block?" I smiled. I cleared my throat. I prepared to shatter her perceptions.

Heres the thing: the reality is that there's no such thing as writer's block. Have you ever heard of Architect's Block? or Teacher's Block? or Fighter Pilot's Block? Of course not; when those people don't feel like working, they admit it and move on. They go to work. They get it done. Not like us: we play Camille on the fainting couch because we're oh-so-delicate and oh-so-creative and oh, I'm sorry, the Muse just isn't whispering sweet nothings to me today.

That's nonsense. There are days when teachers feel like teaching and days when they'd like to stick pins into voodoo doll representations of their students. What do they do? They suck it up and teach. There are days when writers feel like writing (they call it inspiration) and days when they'd rather stick that pin into their own eyes. What do they do? They feel sorry for themselves.

What's wrong with this picture? Yes, it's hard to write. Just because you love doing something doesn't mean that it's not difficult. Tedious. Scary. Writing is all of those things. And still we persevere, keeping the seat of our pants on the seat of our chair.

Oh, and get me another coffee while you're up, would you?