Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fighting the Don't Wannas

As I've been ramping up into a new book, I've found myself pondering the topic of writer's block. I think there are two totally different situations that often get lumped into writer's block -- there's not knowing what to write and there's what I often call the "don't wannas," when it's hard to get into the swing of writing. Today I'll tackle the "don't wannas" with some suggestions about how to get into a writing groove.

Writing, like just about any activity, is a habit that can take time and effort to form. Once it becomes a habit, it's easier to maintain. You may have gotten into writing because it's fun and something you enjoy doing, but once you start attempting to do it on a regular basis, whether or not you want to, you may run into a case of the "don't wannas," where you find so many other things you'd rather be doing. If this is just a hobby for you, it's okay to write when you feel like it rather than forcing yourself. But if you intend to make a profession of it, you're going to run into times when cleaning the bathroom sounds like more fun than writing, and you'll still have to write.

One thing to do is make your writing time an appointment. Put it on your calendar and treat it the way you'd treat a meeting with your boss or a dentist appointment that has a cancellation fee if you don't show up. How long and how often this appointment is depends on your situation. If you have a full-time job and a family, your appointment may be an hour on Saturday afternoons while the rest of your family has other activities or half an hour on weeknights after the kids are in bed. If you're a full-time writer, you'll have larger chunks during the day (or at night, if you're a night owl). If you have flexibility in your schedule, try to work with your most productive times, and it may take some trial and error to figure this out. I sometimes find that different books have different schedules.

Then set a goal for each writing session, something concrete that you can measure. This can be the amount of time you spend working, the number of words you write or the number of pages you write. Find a way to reward yourself for reaching this goal -- you can stop work when you reach your word count, you get to watch that show you're saving on the DVR when you reach your page count, etc. I've found that I write a lot more words and write them faster when I count out M&Ms into a dish, with one for each 200 words of my goal for the day, and then I get to each one each time I write 200 words. I can see my progress that way, and I often find that I go well over my goal even without the rewards continuing because by the time I run out of candy, I've got some momentum going. The rewards help me get started.

Make sure your environment is conducive to work, avoiding your temptations or distractions. Some writers like to go to coffee shops so they can't procrastinate by doing housework. I disconnect from the Internet and take my laptop to other rooms in the house or to the patio. You may like background music to block out other distractions, or you may like silence. Make sure you're physically comfortable so you don't end up hurting your back or developing carpal tunnel syndrome. You'll stay at the keyboard longer when it's a relatively pleasant place to be and when more pleasant places aren't beckoning you.

Establishing a ritual of sorts is a good way to get yourself into work mode. Doctors often recommend a bedtime ritual to train your brain to go to sleep, and getting ready to work functions the same way. Make a pot of tea or coffee or your other favorite beverage, set up your workspace, review your notes for what you're planning to write, listen to music that gets you in the mood, take a moment to meditate and visualize your story, or whatever works to signal your brain that this is writing time. Just be careful not to let this turn into a procrastination activity, where you spend more time getting ready to write than you spend actually writing.

And remember that we're all human and we're going to fail sometimes. There will be days when you don't keep your appointment or don't reach your goal. Just keep going and keep your next appointment rather than beating yourself up and giving up.

Next, the other kind of writer's block, when you don't know what to write.

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