When you can’t write

We’re a third of the way through NaNoWriMo. To those of you who’ve managed to keep the ten day streak going, congratulations and keep up the good work.

For a lot of the rest of us, writing new content for long stretches can be draining. I dream of a time where I can sit in front of my computer every day and produce something new and good. I tend to believe that every time we get something on paper, it’s useful toward our “writing development”, but I also believe writing a lot of bad prose leads to writing more. Part of writing is knowing when to do something else.

Always be writing. But writing is a nebulous term. It can mean researching, revising, planning, rewriting, designing book covers, writing program code for fractals, or even reading. The thing I’ve learned most is how to be productive even when I’m not producing.

Writing something brand new is one small aspect of finishing a book. It’s a necessary part, but not the only thing.

The way I prefer to think about “always be writing” is “live in your work in progress”. If you spend too much time not thinking about a book, it takes extra effort to get back into it (as I’m finding with the reread of Dark Matter). But if you’re working on the book, be it planning future scenes, reading existing passages, revising tricky sentences, then you’re still living and breathing in that world.

And I also like to work on concurrent book projects that are not purely writing. My wife has introduced me to the idea of coloring books for adults (a little clearer phrase than “Adult Coloring Books”). It’s been an interesting puzzle to think about writing software to produce images that are fun to color. It gets your mind thinking in a different way, which allows you to see new patterns and new possibilities.

The worst thing you can do when you don’t feel like writing is to worry about it. I’m not even a giant fan of the term “writer’s block”. For me it just seems natural that some days are better than others for producing new work. I can try to do the things that create good days, take care of my sleep and eating habits, and consume lots of interesting reading material. But even then there are going to be days when things work better than others.

We writers and introverts have a tendency to get stuck in our own heads, and to over-analyze why something isn’t working. Rather than trying to figure out why you can’t get anything done, just do something else you need to do and pretty soon the rest will come.

And don’t ignore the days when you’re itching to get to something. Forcing 500 words on a bad day isn’t a good idea, and neither is stopping at 2000 when you’re on a roll. Almost every book I’ve written has started with 20% written over a short period, a six month gap, then 80% written in intense succession. I’m not a fan of the pattern, but if it’s what works, then that has to be good enough.

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1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “When you can’t write

  1. I am 11k words behind! Oops. Still isn’t putting me off though!

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