The Stalling Before the Writing (Or, the Tragic Plight of My Poor Nails)

Your deadline is a headlight zooming towards you on a dark road. It’s speeding, angry, coming at you with music blasting, yet you find yourself standing there, in the middle of the road—shocked into a dumbness, unable to move, hypnotized by the light that’s getting brighter by the minute. You can see the crash happening, so why don’t you move? Why don’t you write?

Or maybe you don’t have a deadline. An external one, I mean. Maybe your deadline is simply internal, self-imposed; the usual tug of war between the procrastination troll that lives inside the crevices of your ears and the discipline fairy who’s ironically a pretty lazy fellow considering his purpose—he comes and goes as he pleases; he’s never there when you need him and when you don’t need him he’s hanging out on your shoulder, legs dangling, cracking jokes and eating grapes.

You sit yourself down to write but a million and one things are not right with the state of your work space. A million and one minuscule things that don’t matter at all. You begin to think of all the people you know and wonder why you haven’t reached out to so-and-so, and maybe you should send them an email, so you do. You’re so thoughtful.

You paint your nails (if painting your nails is something you do) to prevent yourself from biting them (if biting them is something you do) because the waiting and the stalling makes you ache with anxiety. You hate that you bite your nails (if that’s something that you do) and wish that you would stop, as you’re doing it. You wonder if this is what crack feels like. You start a story with a crack-addict antihero then stop before the first paragraph is finished because… it’s a crack story.

You check a few more emails. You eat a cookie. You decide you’re still hungry even though you ate a meal not long ago, and just ate a cookie. You start writing a blog post (ha). You check your phone for notifications of any kind. You’re mad when there are none.

This is the stalling before the writing.

But at least you’re in your place. At least the page is in front of you. At least you know what you have to do.

Why is it so hard to begin sometimes? Is it fear? Is it your over-caffeinated brain? (You over-caffeinated because you thought it would help jump start your writing. But it’s been exactly one hour and thirty-four minutes since you sat down and all you’ve accomplished is managing to stay put in your writing chair.)

But at least you’re in your place. At least the page is in front of you. At least you know what you have to do. At least.

You breathe. Try to harness your thoughts. You put tape over your nails to keep from biting them. You can’t type with the tape on your nails so you rip them off and feel disgusted with yourself. When did this nail biting habit even start? You dive into a google search. How to stop biting your nails. Why do people bite their nails. What do sloths eat.

You pull up your page again and suddenly the whiteness becomes a halo. Suddenly, you’re in a trance; you start seeing your words dancing… they’re inviting you to join them. You’re transported. You finally hear the music. You finally found the portal—the portal to the writing. The stalling has ended. The stalling has ended. You rejoice, but not too loudly lest you become distracted again. The writing begins. It’s happening!

But now you have to pee.

Writers, Where Do You Write?

Finding time to write is undoubtedly a struggle sometimes. But what about the “where” of writing? In what kind of environments are you most productive? Do you enjoy the silent company of fellow writers or do you prefer the silent company of your pet instead? How about couch vs. desk, kitchen table vs. bed? Coffee shops, anyone? The library?

Today I had a date with my writing and a writer friend at a very cool place called Story Studio. The occasion was simple and wonderful: all writers were welcome to come in between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for a Write In. All you had to do was show up with your laptop and inspiration in tow, find a comfy spot to call your own, and WRITE.

We make appointments for doctors, meetings, social gatherings, romantic dates. We schedule vacations, dinner time, and for the dog owners out there—you know the importance of scheduling your routine around little fluffy’s bowl movements. So it makes perfect sense then the importance of making an appointment with your writing.

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t guard my writing time as well as I should. I’m too flexible and easily prone to putting it off if an occasion or commitment presents itself. But if you have an appointment to go somewhere for the purpose of writing—well, I’ve found that that can make a big difference as far as follow-through and productivity are concerned.

Home is where comfort (and the dog) is so of course I can conveniently promise myself that I’ll write on such-and-such day or when I get home or after I hang out with so-and-so or once this episode is over.

But home being where comfort is can be the problem in and of itself sometimes. Home’s comfort can quickly turn into napping or binge-watching your show (because let’s face it, the next one is already loading) or sudden inspiration for washing dishes that can effortlessly overthrow your writing goal.

They say when you’re preparing for a phone interview to dress the part even though they can’t see you. Why? Because if you’re too comfortable, it can relax your mindset too, so you won’t be as sharp and alert.

I think the same thing applies to writing. Of course I’m going to write at home 80% of the time probably. (Winter in Chicago, enough said.) And if you have an office in your home or the perfect little writing nook that you decorated with inspiration—my point still stands. Because you’ve created a designated space that you can go to for writing time. The trick is to set yourself up for success.

Because if I wake up on a beautiful weekend morning and tell myself, I’m going to write today, my chances of writing will double if I actually go somewhere for the purpose of writing. They’ll triple if I make plans to meet someone to write with. Because once I reach my location, I’m going to have to write. I’m suddenly on a concrete mission that involved putting on pants and leaving my house (and my dog). And as much as I love coffee and my own company, I probably won’t sit in the coffee shop sipping and daydreaming while my laptop is closed before me and others are writing around me.

And that’s the other thing. Other writers. Surrounding yourself with productive energy—with others who are on a similar mission—can be positively infectious. Invite a writer friend  or find a local Write In to attend.

Writing is a solitary, low-maintenance activity. I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book—or a large chunk of it—on napkins. You don’t need much to write. Unlike making music, you don’t need a producer, a sound engineer, a studio, accompanying musicians, audio equipment—you don’t need anything but yourself and something to write on.

So try making an appointment with yourself to go somewhere the next time you plan to write. It can really help tackle self-discipline and procrastination. Put it on your calendar, tell your friends: sorry, I can’t; I have somewhere to be. Dress the part, pack some snacks, put your laptop in its case—you’re on a mission, after all—then show up.

Swap comfort zone for writing zone and see how much you can get done.

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All I want to do is write

feather

I’m on a mountain top,
wrapped up in a down coat,
huddled in a tent or igloo,
silence all about me,
the sky open and translucent,
stars burning holes in it;
my thoughts swirl in the
wind, making patterns against
the clouds, and not a life nor
a thing, no calls whatsoever,
save for the echoes of ice
dribbling down
the slopes,
is around to
interrupt
me.

There is Nothing to Writing

I sit at my desk, typing then backspacing, typing then backspacing. Highlighting paragraphs. Deleting, undoing, rewriting. What’s wrong with me? I look at my dog who looks up at me helplessly. What? You want to go for a walk? I’m busy writing, okay?

Well, not really…

I get up to make coffee.

I think of Hemingway’s words: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And of John Gardner’s words: “The dream must be vivid and continuous…”

And of Anne Lamott’s words: “Perfection is the voice of the oppressor…”

Why would anyone want to be a writer?

I’m hard on myself when it comes to my writing (in case you couldn’t tell). It’s healthy to be self-critical of your work, necessary to hone an objective eye, but not to a degree that makes you lose confidence. I want my writing to be perfect. Perfect! But this yearning for perfection has only gotten in the way of my writing. The quest for perfection is nonsense. It’s distracting, and not the point of writing at all.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say the most valuable of traits is persistence.” Octavia Butler

You know what else is distracting? Comparing yourself to other writers. They cannot write your stories just as you cannot write theirs. So focus on your own work.

I have my coffee now. I look down at my page and think of Hemingway’s words again, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Well that’s great. I suppose I should whip out the band aids. (Or does he mean internal bleeding? Probably both.)

But I love this quote so much because it gives me hope. It reaffirms that I’m not crazy. That the path to the most coveted words “The End” is supposed to be thorny, is supposed to draw blood. That I feel the way I do about my writing because I am a writer. All writers have their insecurities, moments of self-doubt and agony. But real writers write their way out of these emotional trenches. Real writers don’t stop writing.

Because writing is a passion. We don’t write for money or recognition (and certainly not for physical well-being). We write because we have an aching in our hearts, a story to tell. A story that occupies our daydreams and keeps us awake at night. A story that we need to set free into the world so we can finally set ourselves free.

A story worth telling and a story only we can tell.

There is nothing to writing. So I sip my coffee, roll up my sleeves metaphorically, pet my dog because she calms my nerves, and get to writing.

I have this ache in my heart for a reason.

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why i write

1747_65579737872_6615_nbecause writing is

revolutionary;

because i dream in

words;

because i cannot stand to think

that i will not be

heard;

because i like the black

of ink;

because it hurts to not;

because i fear that if i don’t

my heart will surely

rot;

because it slices

cuts

and burns;

because i cannot sleep;

because the earth

echoes

the sea;

because the

leaves

in

fall

will

weep.

Why I write fiction

“Fiction is the art form of human yearning.”- Robert Olen Butler, American author

It wasn’t until I came across the above quote that I realized, yes — that is why I love to read and write fiction. I want to explore the human condition. The yearnings that pull at the human heart. Some yearnings are live wires, bursting, causing trouble or inspiring great change; others are dormant, not yet realized.

At the core of every beating heart is a raw desire, a painful need, a helplessness, a joy, a hope, a love, a passion, a fear, a secret. I’m fascinated by these complexities that make up who we are as human beings. By the eccentricities of our human nature, by the good and evil that battles in our hearts, by the intricate relationships we forge and release in our lives. By the choices we make. By how those choices follow us.

Why do we do the things that we do? What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to be evil? What does it mean to be human? Is there hope for us?

We all have unique stories and truths that shape our lives. Fiction is a reflection of those stories and truths. Sometimes the reflection is bright, sometimes it’s dark, but fiction — good fiction — is always true in that it always seeks to express or reveal what is true. That is why we connect with characters, why they become real to us — because in the characters, in their flaws, strengths, and motivations, we recognize a piece of ourselves or a piece of someone we know.

When I write fiction I get to analyze the various depths of human emotions. I get to be, feel, see anything I choose… I get to dive into the wondrous world of the everyday, seek beauty in the most unlikely of places, find the amazing in the mundane. Writing fiction allows me to step outside of myself, and it helps me find some understanding in a world that is becoming increasingly fearful, cynical, and unfeeling.

When I write fiction I discover. I practice reflection. You must look inwards as much as outwards when writing. You must trust your instincts and draw from what you don’t know as much as from what you do. You must question. You must observe. You must be sincere. I write fiction because I want to explore and bridge perspectives. I want to feel the other side of things. I want to play with the “what ifs”. I want to let others know, as many books have let me know time and time again:

You are not alone in this beautiful mess called the human experience. You are not alone. I too have braved this battle and felt this feeling and found this joy in the nothing.