Take The Guilt Out Of Writing

A writer's worst enemy is procrastination.

The second thug in our lives is procrastination's close cousin - responsibility.

Too often our writing time is carved out of the day, the niche of a few minutes where there isn't food to make, laundry to do, floors to sweep, lawns to mow, weeds to pull. The terrible truth about the to-do list I just ripped off is this: it never ends. The food will be eaten, the laundry will get dirty again as will the floor. Grass grows, and weeds (unfortunately) grow even faster.

Very rarely do we treat writing as a responsibility on its own. Even when I'm under contract or on deadline, writing still very much feels like something I do for myself. Because writing is a solitary undertaking, it's easy to identify it more as me time than as something that requires a true work ethic in order to be properly executed.

Squaring these two facts is no easy feat. Sitting down to write can often feel like a guilty pleasure if there are dirty dishes in the sink, or socks on the floor. While the to-do list is daunting, it cannot go ignored - unless you don't mind starving, stinking, living in filth, and being covered in ticks from your yard. And if all of those things sound just fine to you, I'm guessing that finding some alone time isn't all that much of a challenge anyway.

I recently went on a writing retreat, which is something I've always pooh-poohed in the past. I used to think that if I took a writing retreat, I would laze about, act like I'm in a coffee commercial while I sit on the deck of a cabin, then take long walks in the woods while pretending that I'm in some sort of medication commercial. None of these things would bulk up the word count, so I always thought a writing retreat was a euphemism for I'm going to get drunk in the woods and play Tetris on the laptop but keep a serious look on my face while doing it so that everyone thinks I'm writing.

Surprisingly, I wrote quite a bit while hanging out in a cabin, and starred in exactly zero imaginary commercials. I realized on the second day that the reason why was because I wasn't worried about laundry, floors, lawns, food, or any other myriad of responsibilities present in day-to-day life. I could sit down and write without guilt.

I realize that leaving home for three days might not be in the cards for everyone, realistically. But the lesson remains - next time something is stopping you from sitting down to write, ask yourself if it's actually the chore that is the obstacle, or the guilt?

Because if it's the guilt, don't worry - the chore will be there tomorrow.

Your inspiration might not.

The Power of Procrastination

There are two things I'm good at.

1) Writing
2) Not Writing

Seriously. I am so awesome at not writing I could write a book about it. Which would be really freaking ironic, wouldn't it?

Today I said I would start the new manuscript, writing at least 1k words, which is my minimum daily word count goal. There were other things I needed to do today too, but since writing is my actual job I needed to consider doing it.

And I would.

After I changed the bedsheets.
Also I needed to write a blog post.
And defrost a whole ham.
And coffee would be good.

I sat down with the coffee and the laptop, the sound of the washer tossing my bedding around in the background. I answered some emails, did some tweeting, realized I didn't brush my teeth yet, and then my dad called.

A tree fell down and he needed another chainsaw handler to get the job done. The tree in question was in my grandpa's yard, and if I didn't go over there, Grandpa (who is 94) would pick up the extra chainsaw himself. Now, honestly, I think that would've worked out just fine (evidence to come), but I'm the kind of person who really enjoys physical labor so I helped chop up a tree in 90+ degrees.

We worked for a few hours, and finally Grandpa decided he was done watching and picked up a 40 pound maul and started splitting wood. Like, really effectively. We're talking single swings. It was impressive.

I was sweaty and smelly and covered in chips and sawdust, but it was time to go home. And who can sit down and write when they smell bad? (Note: I still had not brushed my teeth). So since I was already a mess I decided to do some touch-up painting on the cupboards that we redid in the kitchen, and once I did that I decided since I had the ladder out I might as well spackle the holes in the ceiling from the old lighting.

And since I had the ladder out and it was obvious we were going to have to repaint the ceiling, I might as well take down all the crown molding and wash the ceiling to prep it for painting.

Also I had to go find the paint floor cloths, which someone had peed on (not me, I suspect a cat) and so those had to be washed and hung out on the line with the bedsheets.

So while I was working in the kitchen I spotted that whole ham I set out in the morning to defrost, which I really should consider putting in the oven if we're going to eat tonight. 

And if you're going to make a ham then you might as well (I'm sorry) go whole hog.

So I studded it with cloves and I made a glaze out of apple cider and I put that in the oven.

And then I took a shower, because that was a thing that needed to happen. Also I did finally brush my teeth. So, it's 7PM now. I'm clean. The ham just came out of the oven. The boyfriend is cutting it up and I'm finally writing that blog post I sat down to create at 10 AM.

I did a lot of things today.

I did not start a novel.

I am so good at not writing.

Research As Writing Inspiration & The Cure For Writer's Block

One of the most common questions I get when I do school and library visits is how I deal with writer's block. My answer is not a popular one, but it remains the same.

I don't necessarily think writer's block exists. If it does I haven't experienced it yet, so if / when I do I will come back to this post and eat some crow. For now I call it procrastination, something all writers are familiar with, and I think procrastination itself is a symptom of fear.

I always have ideas, I just don't necessarily know how to execute them. Typically if I've hit a scene that is dragging or I simply don't know what happens next, it's because I don't know enough about my topic to deliver. For example I was recently writing a scene that took place in the back of an ambulance. I had no idea what the medics were wearing, what machines they had back there, what kind of language they would use to communicate with each other. It took three days and the exchange of over 25 emails with an EMT friend in order to finish that scene - which is only two pages long.

That's a snail's pace, and incredibly frustrating. But diving into the research for the particular disease that afflicts my main character was enlightening in more ways than just medical terms. I'd reached the halfway point on the manuscript and was wading into waters that went over my head. I vaguely knew what I wanted to have happen in my plot, but knew I needed a juicy subplot in order to avoid a saggy middle.

Some research provided me with exactly what I needed. Just a few lines out of a medical journal provided a simple fact - candidates for heart transplants wear pagers to be alerted when a heart that matches them is available  - and suddenly I had a supporting character, a subplot, and an entire backstory for her that would could nicely draw out a few of my main character's less-lovely characteristics.

One line of research provided me with enough material to fill at least a quarter of the gaping back half of my book. Being a pantser isn't for everyone, and I know that if I were a planner I could have avoided this particular gaping hole of almost-writer's-block that stared me down last week. But I stared back, did some research, emailed some friends, and it flinched first.