For those building their professional writing careers, there are times when you don’t have any choice except to write. You have the need to write. You need to make a living to write. You might as well make a living by writing.
Enter the Writing Profession.
We writers who live in the 21st century have the luxury of social media and the internet, which adds a couple of twists to the ride of the professional writer. Blogs, Facebook, and e-mail free us up from having to cram into one spot like New York or London. Writers can mill about wherever we see fit.
However, the freedom to write from anywhere does not mean we should isolate ourselves. Writing isn’t a 100% solitary process. A writer writes for somebody, and we need to converse with the outside world so that our words can be made accessible. It’s how goals are accomplished and how books are brought into physical form.
We all have them. They are part of the hair pin turns of the Writing Roller Coaster. As you would with any roller coaster, lean into the turns.
Don’t leave your keyboard (or pen and paper). Train your mind to get used to the centrifugal force of writing to a deadline.
Now I’m not saying that even if you have a routine that works for you, you must change and follow my advice. However, if you ever find yourself with a blank page for too many days, experiment with these four strategies.
Enter the Four
- If it is not a visual that motivates or inspires the particular story your writing, move it to the side. Get it out of your peripheral vision.
Clear off the piles of papers and unshelved books around you or go to a place where you can work in an uncluttered environment like your local library – so long as the presence of your fellow library users isn’t too much of a distraction. Get yourself in a physical location where all you have in front of you is your writing tools: pen and paper/computer, research notes, and outlines. Create a clean slate so that your work and the deadline are all that you see.
When I’m on a crunch for time, there are very few mementos that stay on my desk (the place where I write). One of those objects that does stay is an empty bottle of Guava Bundaberg soda bottle I got from my local Old Towne. The bottle reminds me that like the soda’s expiration date the clock is ticking on the first draft of my novel. These kinds of visuals are helpful and shouldn’t cause major distractions.
2. Items like food and drinks are distractions.
Nourish your body either before or after your writing, not during.
Personally, I like to eat after, because I’ve come to find that I write best in the morning.
If I write late at night, then my sleep time is taken up by processing what I just finished writing instead of languidly creating new ideas for the next day. My brain can’t catch up, and I end up with inarticulate sentences. To avoid the loss of a writing day, I prefer to write in the morning directly after hopping out of bed and brushing my teeth.
Eating right after waking makes me think about what I’m eating, how I’m going to make it, and how long it’s going to take until I can shove it my mouth and get to my computer. It saves time and reduces mental distraction if I eat after my writing time.
If you find that eating beforehand enriches your mental faculties, then go for it. Just don’t eat while you’re writing. The one exception would be Agatha Christie who ate apples for inspiration, but she’s a rare breed. Remember time is short, and the more words you can get on the page in a sitting, the closer you will be to your goal.
3. I don’t see anything wrong with looking up the definition of a word while you’re writing. I know a lot of writers say don’t stop the flow. Save definitions for revisions. But I gotta tell you, it drives me crazy to the point of distraction when I’m not sure the word I’ve used is the one I wanted.
I keep the lookups to a minimum (~2 definitions per hour). In this way, I satisfy my curiosity and I can better see where I’m going for the next sentence or – in some cases – the development of a character.
After all, you’re not really writing sentences, you’re echoing the thoughts of a character. And a character is a representation of life, but not actual life itself. (Another topic for another day.)
4. Lastly, keep yourself in your chair/bench/ground. Whatever environment you’ve chosen, stay there. Unless there is an emergency and you hear a voice over the intercom and the house lights come on, don’t unbuckle yourself. The words will trickle in. They may not follow your desired plan, but they will come.
Even if you have to put your head between your knees – something I’ve done occasionally.
Think of it like Disney’s Haunted Mansion. How many times have you been stuck listening in the gloomy darkness to ghouls clawing at their locked doors or the barbershop quartet singing, “When we ghosts come out to socialize?” The frequency of the stops is part of the experience. And you know that if you wait your buggy car will continue so long as you don’t attempt to exit the car causing an even greater and unnecessary delay.
The Haunted Mansion ride stopping isn’t an emergency, and – more times than not – neither is you’re inability to write a sentence. It’s part of the ride.
Stay in your seat, but Actively Wait.
Reread what you’ve written or write a sentence about what you want to write. Even if it’s nonsensical, write it down. Run through definitions in your head that relate to your story’s mood/tone or to the personality of your main character. You’re dealing with an abstract medium, don’t expect it to play fair.
A blank page doesn’t mean you have an empty mind.
The sentences will come and so will the paragraphs and the pages, but you have to give them the opportunity to come. Remain seated.
Words, let’s face it, have a horrible sense of humor – especially when you’re on a deadline. Don’t let the writing process drag out any further than it must. Let yourself write and enjoy the ride, stops and all.
That’s all I have for you today. Keep writing and feel free to leave a comment below on ways that you keep yourself on task when crunched for time.