Kiss procrastination goodbye; say hello to pen and paper
If the old adage is true, that each of us has a book inside ourselves, then the trick for most people is getting the words from the inside transcribed to pages on the outside.
The problem for many would-be writers is that the idea of having written is far more attractive than the grueling task of writing itself. Yet if you harbor a secret dream of penning the next American novel—or even a breathtaking bodice ripper—one thing is certain: you must sit down and write.
“The primary characteristic of a successful writer is that they write,” says Laurie R. King, local Santa Cruz author who has written dozens of books, including the popular Mary Russell series of historical mystery fiction. She adds, “You’re ruthless with your free time and you find the time to write.”
It seems obvious that writers must write, yet aspiring authors can make a career of avoiding the act of writing. Writer’s block is not usually something that occurs while sitting down staring at a blank page or screen. More frequently, writer’s block is what is occurring while a would-be writer is washing the dishes, organizing the hall closet, tuning in to a late-night TV show—or doing anything rather than sitting down and facing that fear of the blank page.
“A lot of people find it hard to sit down and write,” says best-selling novelist Walter Mosley, author of more than 34 critically acclaimed books, including the Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones mysteries. “There are so many reasons … It might be unconscious fears, or some people might have such high expectations of themselves that they feel like what they’re doing is not up to task.”
The “Time to Write” series by licensed professional counselor and author Kelly L. Stone offers aspiring authors a number of ways to overcome the psychological blocks that keep them from the chair. In “Living Write,” the third book in the series, Stone explains that the avoidance of writing is a self-sabotaging gesture that is related to self-doubt and fear—both fear of failure and fear of success. And the most effective way to break free from this avoidance cycle is simply to sit down and write, she says.
“The way you build [a positive writer] self-image is to set a goal, then carry out that goal,” Stone explains. “Every day that you fulfill your goal it builds self-esteem, self-confidence and your self-image as a writer.”
And she stresses that you don’t have to be a published author to view yourself as a writer: “If you’re writing, you’re a writer.”
So the first step is to take yourself seriously as a writer and make the practice of writing a priority in your life. King agrees, explaining, “You have to take your writing seriously because nobody else will if you don’t. The primary requirement is that you convince yourself that you have the right to do this. Especially people that have demands from family, your life comes after everyone else’s and you feel like you don’t have the right to prioritize writing. That’s wrong. You do have the right to do it. You have the need to do it. After that, you just have to figure out how to do it: Sit on chair, fingers on laptop.”
Once you decide to take your writing seriously, the vital next step is making a writing schedule—and then arranging your life around it. For Mosley, who started writing at the age of 34 and has rarely skipped a day since, the act of writing every day is crucial. In his slim yet pithy book “This Year You Write Your Novel,” he emphasizes the importance of daily writing for two reasons: getting the work done as well as keeping the story connected with your unconscious mind.
“All art is a big part of the unconscious or the imagination, which are things we’ve forgotten or never knew we knew,” explains Mosley. “What you have to do during writing is free-associate. Then you go away, and you find that in the hours you aren’t writing, the ideas you had (will continue) working in another part of your mind that was unattainable. So the next time you sit down to write, you go forward. The only way to access those unconscious thoughts is to write every day.”
He cautions that if you miss a day, you will begin to lose the unconscious thread—and if you skip three days, it will be gone.
Though Stone agrees that writing every day is the ideal schedule for aspiring writers to maintain, she recognizes that people who are not writing for their primary career may have difficulty finding the time to sit down every day amidst the demands of daily life. Rather than feeling like the writing life is unobtainable, she suggests that these people find whatever schedule works for them—and then guard their writing time like they would their first-born baby.
“If you can’t write every day, commit to a schedule,” she recommends. “Setting a writing schedule—and keeping it—is the key. You don’t just leave it to chance. If you do, that chance to write will never come around.”
In “Time to Write,” Stone lays out seven different writing schedules to fit different lifestyles. These include “The Early-Morning Writer,” “The After-Hours Writer,” “The Commuting Writer” and “The Miniblocks-of-Time Writer.”
While King is a morning writer, she also stresses the importance of each writer finding their own particular schedule to get them writing regularly and keeping the story flowing in their unconscious mind. She wishes someone had given her this advice when she first started: “You have to invent your own wheel. The way you do it is the right one.”
Once you make the time to fit writing in your life, Stone suggests that you commit to writing goals that you can work toward. “When you sit down, you’ve got to have a plan,” she explains. “It can either be to write a scene, a chapter, or to write up to a certain word count. But to capitalize on your valuable time, you’ve got to know what you want to do.”
She recommends that in addition to setting daily goals, you should lay out your goals for the entire year and then break them into monthly and weekly milestones. Much like the subconscious mind is responsible for the creativity that goes into writing a story, it also dictates the thought processes that determine whether you will be a blocked writer or an accomplished writer. Stone explains that by setting goals, you give your subconscious mind something to fix its energy on.
“You can write down your goals, tape them above your computer, think about them all the time,” Stone urges. “Your subconscious mind will begin to aid you in accomplishing your goals. When you have that goal and you see the pages stacking up, that gives you motivation to keep going.”
Resources: “This Year You Write Your Novel” by Walter Mosley is a slim yet pithy guide with simple advice to get you started on a draft that you can complete within a year. Kelly L. Stone’s “Time to Write” series includes “Time to Write,” “Thinking Write” and “Living Write.” These books and their accompanying CDs are filled with practical strategies on how to set writing goals, maintain a writing schedule, access your unconscious mind and overcome psychological blocks that keep you from achieving success. Laurie R. King’s forthcoming “The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing,” co-authored with mystery writer Michelle Spring, will touch on the craft of writing itself as well as the nuts and bolts of writing crime fiction.