The above photo is somewhat of a dirty secret. I spent an hour last weekend creating this page in my bullet journal, painstakingly drawing each individual shard of crystal to track my daily ‘writing sprints’. I’ve recently been watching a lot of YouTube writers, having cut waaaaaay back on my social media time and have discovered Rachael Stephen (more about her & others in a future post) who recommends writing sprints as a way to drag your badass writer-self to the party.
I mean, I was excited about this! I had set up a writing sprints tracker last month too, but this was different! They’re crystals, ya’ll! I was going to fill each little shard in with varying shades of purple and blue. It was going to be adorable!
Alas, as you can see in both photos- I am rarely writing these last weeks. And it is not for a lack of a want of the act of writing! Why is it so hard to start? I can spend hours plotting, drawing graphs, outlining characters, outlining new and old short story ideas, watching YouTube videos of Vonnegut (our lord & savior, may he rest in confusion) lectures and taking notes for hours! Hours!
It’s certainly not for a lack of projects to work on either. I began writing my first novel, Crick in January- a murder mystery wrapped in a ghost story and early-90’s nostalgia, set in the fictional town of Wallowa, not-so-loosely based on my own hometown and the Finnish-American community I grew up in. I am about 15,000 words into this novel, I know everything that happens going forward, and I thought I had a very good working relationship with my main character, Sammy! And yet, I can not seem to get her home from the grocery store where she was just confronted by Murder Suspect #1 on her first night back in her hometown in twenty years. Poor Sammy, she is probably driving in circles around the Ollie’s Market parking lot, in a rain storm, with a possible murderer staring at her while the automatic doors open and close on his shocked expression for all eternity!
Okay, breathe, Brooke. This is no time for existential crises.
So. . . what keeps us from writing as often as we would like to?
Quitting social media and subscribing to a million Youtubers.
It is all of these things and none of these things. And we all know how painful it can be for a writer who is not writing. There is a reason that so many characters in horror & thrillers are writers with a block just before the unthinkable happens. Because: It. Is. Maddening.
For me, the two killers of my creativity & productivity are a) the idea that a writer writes every day. Once I’ve missed a day or two or five of writing, the pressure to return is too much. The idea that I have somehow ‘failed’ at being a writer because I haven’t filled in each and every one of those little trackers in my bujo- or because I haven’t updated my blog, or gotten Sammy out of the grocery store parking lot-is honestly bullsh*t. I’ve seen nearly 30 of my stories published over the last several years. In 2019, I wrote a chapbook at just around 9k words, a short story for Nightscape’s Horror for RAICES, and my story Cherub was reprinted in Yearning to Breathe Free at Camden Press (another charity anthology for RAICES in Texas). I’ve done stuff! And I’ve always been a slow worker with my writing. But I bet I would work a lot more if I stopped beating myself up about the days and weeks in between sessions of writing. Will I quit using my bullet journal to track my progress? Nope! This is something new I am trying out (I literally discovered bullet journaling in mid-February) so I would like to see if it does eventually help me create the habit of writing more often. Going forward, though, I think I will try looking at my trackers from the perspective of “hey, look, I wrote at least once last week!” rather than the guilt-parade I usually throw myself.
b) Boredom. Stagnation. Too much time on my hands!
I have been mostly out of work (day-job-wise) as I recover from several surgeries over the last few years and man-oh-man did I really think that I would write with all this ‘free’ time!
Anyone who is afflicted with the compulsion to write could have told me that despite the writer’s constant battle with time-management (“If I only had the time to write!”), a whole lotta free time is possibly the worst thing a creative could get (after vehemently wishing for it for years, even). I certainly have the time during the day to write but the dishes need washed, the laundry really should be folded, or (and this is very important), I absolutely must re-watch season 1 of Mindhunter for the third time before I take a three-and-a-half hour nap. Every night, just before I slip into sleep feeling defeated over having not written that day, I think to myself: tomorrow, first thing!, only to neglect my writing projects the entire next day. Repeat ad infinitum.
And the only cure for this bored writer, is to write. Even when (especially when) I don’t feel like it but except when I am busy living my life or being a mom or a wife or a disabled person or a good daughter or a soapmaker.
Some small tricks I have learned along my journey to write more often:
- Listening to 10 minutes of binaural beats before I start writing really does help me free my mind from the every-day sort of life stuff & get in the mood for writing. I try to find videos that are at least 2 hours in length so I can continue listening as I write. I find this much more effective than listening to music with lyrics, which can be distracting.
- Doing as much as I can that isn’t writing on a schedule. Eating, sleeping, and everything in between has all become very difficult for me since my thyroid was removed and my ankles rebuilt. But I find that if I at least have some semblance of a schedule for things like housework or yoga (I commit to 10 minutes of ‘mindful’ movement every day), giving myself 20 minutes to write becomes easier/achievable.
- 20 minute writing sessions can be productive and incredibly satisfying and very often turn into hour-long writing sessions. We can all commit to that right?! Sure! We’ll start tomorrow! ;p
- Guilt & shame and all their stinky friends are not helpful! In fact, they’re very harmful. Let’s stop beating ourselves up and start building ourselves up. I don’t care if you haven’t written one single solitary word in all of 2020 so far. I believe in you!
And now that I have written for quite some time about not writing, I am going to go ahead and fill in one of those pretty little crystal shards & remind myself tomorrow that I can– we can do this as often as we like.