Or put another way, should I soldier through my word count goal for the day, or call it a night?
Is it a good idea to write when we don’t “feel like it”?
I think we can separate that question into:
1) Should I write when I am not in the mood to write?
2) Should I write when I don’t feel like the writing is working?
I think the answer to the first question is a resounding YES. Getting any significant writing project done is not a question of moods. I’m often in the mood to play video games or watch TV. These are not bad things, but if I have set aside time to write, then I should write.
The second question is not a mood question, but rather a self-aware evaluation of the work you’re doing that evening. Just as moods oscillate, so does the quality of your work. Is it a good idea to keep going just to get your word count and get a passage you’ll ultimately cut in revision?
Answering that question requires the ability to evaluate your own work, both relative to what others do and to what you are capable of. When you get stuck ask yourself these questions:
1) Is it filler? Am I advancing the plot or idea being presented?
2) Am I learning anything new about how my character operates, or how my story should go?
3) Does my butt hurt from sitting in this chair too long? (i.e. Do I just need a change of environment?)
4) When can I plan to get back to this?
I think if you have a solid answer to this last one, then it is okay to walk away, play a video game, or shop at your favorite book store. Working on a non-fiction project does give you a lot of work to do that’s non-writing related so you can always hop on that, but for fiction in the draft stage, if it ain’t working, it ain’t working.
The important thing is to get back to it as soon as you can. Don’t make a bad day something you have to live with for the next week. You’ll be surprised how well things will work with as little as twenty-four hours distance. But don’t beat yourself up about stopping either. Revision is hard work too, and a lost day of writing may end up saving a day of headaches in revision.
When do you walk away?