Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are You Lying to Yourself?


Let's face it: some days just suck.

Not that they're a disaster or anything. I've had really, really bad days. Days when things happen that are entirely beyond my control, and I can barely get through the day, let alone write. Some days truly are disasters. If you have a car accident, or get really bad news, for example.

Sometimes I just get distracted. Okay, maybe often.

And sometimes I wonder if I'm just using something that happened as an excuse to not write that day.

I'm pretty sure that all writers have days when they simply don't feel like writing. Whether they don't feel well, or they're upset, or, like me, yesterday I just had a really bad allergy day (we had strong winds the day before, which always sets my eyes into teary-smeary mode). These are all very real things, and depending upon the severity of the situation, you might not write that day, or even that week.

There are other reasons writers don't write: your in-laws are coming and you need to clean, your children need help with their science project, your spouse is clamoring for attention, the dog keeps getting sick on your carpet and you really should take him to the vet, and so on, and so forth. Then there are writing-related reasons: you don't know where your story's going, you're having plot issues and there's something you have to research, you can't seem to hear your characters' voices today, and so on and so forth.

But how do you know if you're just using an excuse not to write, or it's just one of those days when you probably shouldn't? (And there are likely days for every writer when they probably shouldn't.)

If you're serious about writing, though, you treat it as the profession it is (I could probably write an essay, if not a book, on the lack of respect often shown to writers, but we'll save that for another day). You make the time. You find a way. At least on most days. I don't know about anyone else, but I generally don't write for eight hours a day, like a regular job. After all, most of us have regular jobs. I have . . . well, an irregular job, so I can put in a couple hours a day, and if I'm on a roll, I can usually rearrange things so I can keep writing. But I try to get in an hour or two at least five days a week. It's something regular, it's reasonable, and in the end, it adds up.

But on days that I don't write, when I'm feeling guilty, I often ask myself if I really should just get down to it, never mind the distractions and apartment maintenance.

I don't think there's any correct answer to the question of whether you really ought to write on this day or that regardless of what else is going on in your life. Every writer has to decide that for themselves.

But I do think it's important to ask yourself why you're not writing today. After all, aren't you writing your novel (short story, script, whatever) because, when it all comes down to it, you love to write? Rather than asking ourselves if our reasons for not writing are legit, isn't it more important to figure out what's stopping you, so you can overcome it and get back to doing what you love? Rather than either making an excuse to yourself for why you're not writing, or, conversely, why you're forcing yourself to write in a futile exercise of sheer willpower, wouldn't it be better to figure out why?

If you know, then you can figure out how to attack the problem. Or how to just go around it. If I'm stuck because I don't know what the next scene should be, maybe I'll just go off and write another scene that's coming to me just then. After all, one of the great things about working on a large project is that you don't have to write it in order. Maybe I need to get out my index cards (or the electronic equivalent) and see if I need to shuffle them around a bit. Maybe a plot-point doesn't work and needs to be re-thought. Whatever it is, isn't it just better to figure out what it is, so you can move on?

Yesterday I got up and walked the dog. Then I got my morning caffeine and went out on the porch. My eyes felt like I had small boulders in them, and I kept having to squirt saline solution into them to soothe them (a great trick from my contact-lens-wearing days). I don't know if I'll be able to read it very well when eventually I transcribe what I have handwritten in my blank book, but I wrote. I have no idea how much of what I wrote yesterday (or any other day, for that matter) will eventually wind up in the novel, or how much will get cut. But I wrote.

And in the end, that's what we do, right?

If you keep making excuses for not writing, I have to wonder if you really want to write. Are there things you need to do to make it easier for you to write? If that's why you're not writing, then go do those things, so you can write. If not, then maybe you need to ask yourself a more fundamental question.

And in the end, I know my own answer, and that's what matters.