It always happens when I get deep into writing. I start out confident, but at some point along the way I start to doubt myself. It might be because it’s late and I am stuck; it might be because I can SEE what I want my sentence to say, but I can’t get it to manifest in words; maybe it’s because we all have doubts at one time or another, but sometimes I truly believe that I am a talentless hack who has no business putting words to paper.
Other writers might feel differently about this, but for me, one thing that can really throw me off is reading good writers while I’m trying to write. In two previous posts (here and here) I discuss how reading is crucial training for writers. This will always be true, and yet, at critical moments, reading can throw a wrench into the works. For me this happens when I am struggling with syntax, plot arc or character development, then pick up a work of fiction, especially one from my genre, and the author’s words flow effortlessly – images are distinctive but also reflect universal themes; scenes are lively and lifelike and the plot never drags. The similes and metaphors are so clever that I despair that I will ever manage to write anything more creative than “her hair was brown like mud” or “her voice was as clear as birdsong.”
When I get stuck, how do I get unstuck? Is there a magic solution? The good news is, it’s completely possible to get unstuck and move past these moments. The bad news is, there is no magic. There’s a writers’ aphorism that applies here: “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.” I don’t know how the saying went before writers started working on keyboards (butt in chair, hand on pen” maybe) but the upshot is … to write, you must … write.
Lest I seem self-righteous, or like one of those People Who Do Everything Right, I should note – when I get stuck, I eventually do get unstuck, but here are some of the things that I do before I finally get the butt back into the chair and the hands on the keyboard (these happen away from home – given my penchant for distraction, I think it’s understandable that I leave home to get uninterrupted writing time):
- Roll up cheese slices and look through them, telescope-style
- Go out and about in search of chocolate
- Consume chocolate
- Get on the internet to do “research”
- Have another cup of coffee
- Shape eyebrows
- Check blog stats
- Clip fingernails
- Find loose threads on clothing that absolutely must be trimmed, immediately
- Consume unnecessary calories in the form of crunchy snacks
Eventually I get tired of procrastinating and start plugging away again, and eventually I get my ideas down, complete with images, arcs and characters. My first drafts don’t rival the works that cause such despair, but I am pretty sure my favorite authors’ first drafts don’t either.