Writing at the Speed of WTF

Ripley's 0059
Ripley’s Believe It or God Will Spear You in the Face With a Metal Pole, I Swear I Am Not Kidding

For me, being a writer is sometimes akin to being a submarine commander — long stretches of inactivity punctuated by moments of sheer panic.

I’m not a Type A writer by nature. There are days when I’ll do just about anything to get out of writing. I’ll clean my desk. I’ll clean the toilet. I’ll clean the house. Hell, I’ll clean the neighbor’s house, while they’re not there, and then enjoy the panic and outrage that ensues from such well-meaning vandalism. Officer, someone came in here and tidied up and I can’t find anything! Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto!

The madness doesn’t end there. I’ll alphabetize my DVDs. Or my books. Do you have any idea how many books I have? Well, you’re reading a writing blog, I guess you probably do. Chances are you’re nodding your head right now, thinking of your own bookshelves and saying “yeah, you poor dope, better you than me — oh wait.”

I’ve considered buying a bicycle just so I could blow the tire on it, and then say to myself, hey, I’d love to write but I got this bicycle tire and chances are it ain’t gonna change itself. And then I’ll have a cup of coffee or two and watch the tire, just in case it does change itself and I have to call Ripley’s Believe It or Not. And I spend some time looking up the number for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, since I’m nothing if not well-prepared. I also look into some means of arming myself, should the now-sentient bicycle tire be out for vengeance. And so I construct a rudimentary lathe–

Well, the point is, some days I try to avoid writing.

Most writers know how that goes, even the disciplined ones. The myriads of whys and hows barely matter; unless you get some words on the page in the allotted time, you’ve flunked your daily test as a writer. And I will not chide you. Not today. If you can relate at all, I’m sure you’ve devised much more scathing criticisms than I could possibly level at you. You lazy bum. How much Ace of Cakes can one person watch? Do you call that research? Do you? Yeah, whatever, I’ve got my eye on you.

But then there are those other days, the ones few talk about. The days when you cannot possibly write enough.

I don’t mean the jacked-up rush of inspiration mode, where you chug three Red Bulls and stay up for forty-eight hours, writing until you can physically see the arc of your plot like a luminous vibrating parabola. I don’t recommend that anyway. It hurts. I mean the days where feel the keen sting of procrastination and what it’s cost you.

For me, those days usually come after I get some sort of great reader feedback, or attention from someone whose opinion I  value, or even a  great blog comment. Also, when one of my fellow indie authors releases a new book. There’s a sudden rush of activity in my email and on Goodreads and Twitter and suddenly I’m thinking: what am I doing? Must write faster! And then I throw the sandwich I’m eating out the window, because I’m a hardcore writer of writerliness and who has time to eat? Only to discover I didn’t actually open the window, and there’s now an apocalyptic Rorschach blot of turkey and mustard sprayed across the glass, and I’m back to cleaning the house.

Don’t throw food, is the moral there. It does not make for good writing, except for this one anecdote just now, which is too good to be true anyway. I’d never throw away a good sandwich like that.

Writer's Block 1
Photo credit: OkayCityNate

But dubious and fictitious food-hurling farragoes aside, there is very real danger to the “all or nothing” approach to writing. It can make you impatient. It can make you skip things like editing, proofreading, or devising an ending, or finding out what happened to that missing character you added in Chapter Fourteen. I think we all know at least one indie writer who has clearly released a book before it was ready. No one wants their Amazon reviews to be all about how they misspelled “reprobate”. No one is fooled by re-releasing your own novel with “2.0” or “Director’s Cut” slapped on the cover. Pump the brakes and finish it right the first time. A sloppy, half-finished book is a great way to ensure your readers turn tail and never come back. A good reputation can take months or years to build, and a handful of typos to ruin. Don’t blow it.

The need to see some sort of progress, right now, to write All the Books — well, it can lead to burnout and bad decisions. So I guess it’s more like being a drunk than a submarine commander. Or, possibly, a drunken submarine commander. Which, incidentally, is the subject of my next book. I’m trying to come up with a killer title, perhaps Land Whoa!

And that’s why you slow down and think before acting on your impulses.

Finally, thank you to everyone who left such awesome comments on the previous entry. You guys are truly wonderful.

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  • mkhajdin

    If it makes you feel any better, I use the exact same techniques to avoid painting.

    • Do you compulsively alphabetize your paints?

      Thanks for the comment, mk. It is good to know that this behavior isn’t restricted by chosen medium.

      • mkhajdin

        I don’t alphebetize, but I sort by color. Then I decide to sort by warm or cool rather than hue. Then I don’t know what to do with purple or green so I go back to sorting by hue. Then I weed out the colors I don’t use much. Then I wonder if I’ll need the colors I don’t use much and I put them back in.

        Etc.

  • LOL! Love it. And I really need to you write that drunked submarine commander story RIGHT NOW. Or possibly tomorrow.

    • Oh my god, you’re right! Must write the whole thing instantly! Positive feedback! /screams

  • “I mean the days where feel the keen sting of procrastination and what it’s cost you.” >> I. am. so. there.

    This is another post where I have the feeling you’ve been creeping around in my brain…. *shifty eyes*

  • Oh my, I so totally can feel the panic mode setting “when one of my fellow indie authors releases a new book. There’s a sudden rush of activity” Wow you hit the nail on the head. I’m with Angela.. are you lurking in my white matter/grey matter? Glad you’re back to your prolific self today. 😉 Like the new photo BTW.

    • Thank you, Stacy! 😀 No, no mind-reading here, I just think all writers share certain behavior patterns. I am glad to find I’m not alone in this.

  • lisa crowe

    Great post I’m doing that right now and my deadline is wednesday. One stinking chapter and I’m rearranging the furniture and cleaning out the fridge oh yeah and laying on twitter. That was how I foind your blog. So really it hasn’t been a total waste. I found a great blog:)
    Thank you. Lisa

    • Thank YOU, Lisa. I’m always overjoyed to find a new reader — I hope you stick around! And since today is Wednesday, I hope you met your deadline!

  • StartYourNovel

    They say Philip K. Dick would go on week-long writing binges. Maybe he had an unusual capacity to surrender and let the muse take hold. The rest of us aren’t like that — too much resistance.

    • Philip K. Dick was blessed, or afflicted, with a creative process I think few could emulate or survive.

      • StartYourNovel

        He didn’t survive it, either.

  • Mona Bliss

    Oh yeah this is my world. The worst for me is “the great reader feedback” somehow this inspires and panics me in equal measure so that I end up paralyzed. After I wrote my first comic script and gave it to the artist/co-creators to read they gave me such lovely feedback, glowing positive comments…and I didn’t write another word for a solid month.

    • Thank you for the comment, Mona! It’s true, positive feedback can be absolutely paralyzing. When we feel we have something to live up to, sometimes that makes things so much worse.