Author Kathleen Duey said this in a recent lecture and I wrote it down.
So the first detour and lesson in the mystery of process is:
If I’m stuck, maybe it’s for a good reason! I’m on the wrong track, up the wrong creek, into the wrong vein.
But WHAT is the reason?
I’m not listening to the characters, I’m getting in my own way, I’m being overly critical, censoring my thoughts, not letting the story flow. I haven’t done enough research, or… I’m a crummy writer. Ack!
[And if you don’t have enough trouble from your inner critic, take this to heart:
"Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients," Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life. "That is, after all, the case.... What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"
No, ignore that, until your writing is flowing again and excuse the non-linear digression.]
Get your butt in the chair
Take time off and “refill the well”
Work first, then play is what I tell my kids. i.e. homework first, then World of Warcraft. So, discipline first.
SHOW UP FOR WORK
I once took a seminar with Australian author Bryce Courtney. He called it Butt in Chair.
In The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz, which examines writer’s working spaces and habits, Terrence McNally says, “It’s very simple, really. You have to go to the typewriter, that’s all you have to do… If I don’t go to the typewriter I don’t write. I’m not being facetious.”
Having a routine and a time and/or page quota can help a writer push through resistance. I keep a written log of page production every day. OK, double-spaced pages, and any page I write—pre writing, essay, blog, research, journals—counts. But this has upped my production and helped me get through blocks because it prevents me from kidding myself. It’s a matter of just getting something down, no matter how bad it is (Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft”).
Still, even when you are disciplined… you have to crack the mystery of you—how you work best.
Bernard Malamud (From The Writer’s Desk)
“…How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”
Break out of your old habits. Try something new. Here are some of the ways we get ourselves going and make ourselves productive:
work in the morning
work at night
write the ending first,
write in longhand
work on one thing at a time,
work on several things at a time
work to music
work in silence
engage in pre-writing rituals, such as:
sharpen twenty pencils (Hemingway), then write one true sentence
read from the bible (Willa Cather),
work in complete isolation
work at a café
do WRITING PROMPTS AND EXCERCISES
If these things get you going, try The Writer’s Idea Book, by Jack Heffron.
Or go to Laini Taylor’s blog, “Sunday Scribbles,” for some excellent prompts.
These are ways to help you get words written. We haven't discussed research, which is certainly time-consuming and necessary work. I do know writers who love research and can do it indefinitely, and therefore can be tempted to use it as away of putting off writing. But come on, this is the same kind of "problem" as loving aerobic exercise. Sure you can do too much and even injure yourself, but in the end it’s good for you. In no way can it be compared to the rut in my floor between the computer and the refrigerator.
In The Writer’s Desk again, Philip Roth quotes Joyce Carol Oates as saying, “When writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out, ‘Is he as crazy as I am?’”
If you show up for work, but then sit in front of a key board and type twenty pages of
“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” for weeks running,it may be time to refill the well. Tomorrow.