I Can, I Will, I Should, Maybe Later


Sometimes starting to write is worse than climbing Mount Everest. Sometimes I’d rather scrub the toilet in a frat house with a toothbrush rather than write. Has that ever happened to you? I’m working against that now. Luckily there are no frathouses in town. But I do have a book to write.

Here’s the weird thing. I have been struggling with opening this book and have actually nailed the scene. I even figured out what is going to happen next and I’m excited about writing it. Until of course I go to do it and then I’m looking around for that toilet.

I’m thinking that at this point I’ve forgotten some key elements of writing, so I’ll repeat them to myself and to you so we can all motivate me back to writing (cause you know, it’s all about me.Β  :-D).

First, Abandon All Standards and Write Fast. This is critical. I think I’m worried about making the words work with the vision in my head. I KNOW that much of what I do that’s good happens in revision, and yet I’m still worried about getting it right the first time. At this point, I need to kick my own ass and just write. Get something down to work with.

Dare to Be Bad. Same as above. Just do it and don’t worry how bad. Course for me, I am a very linear writer, so I need what comes before to be solid before I can move. I don’t mean polished, but that the bones of the plot and character have to be there so that I can build forward. I simply can’t move forward if a scene isn’t working. I have to make it work.

And this one from Laura Ann Gilman: Run for the Credits. Just run for the end. Keep it in sight and keep going forward. Forward motion is critical. Keep going.

Ass in Chair. Put it there and don’t move it. Cut off your distractions until all that’s left is the page in front of you and the story in your head.

Stop Planning and Write. At some point, you have to stop thinking about what will happen and start committing words. It goes back to revision. You can fix things later. Now, get moving.

Those are my top encouragements. What are yours? Now I’d better go follow my own advice.


24 comments to I Can, I Will, I Should, Maybe Later

  • Diana,

    I think it helps to leave the house. Sometimes I get more written at the coffee shop than I do around here with my “regular life” (and the attention-starved, diamond-necklace-thieving cats) to distract me. At the coffee shop, I get my hot chocolate (Belgian milk chocolate, extra whip, chocolate chips on top), put my headphones on, stream music, and get to work.

    Usually just changing the scenery helps. I can achieve the same on the bus, in a dentist’s office, or on a courtesy couch in the mall. Okay, sometimes I can let real life intrude via the Internet (Facebook/Twitter), but generally I don’t. It is easier to write when there are no expectations upon me. That’s why sometimes, I have to start a new blank document in Notepad. There, if nothing else, I can write without the expectations of the words that came before.

    Great tips! I totally know what you meanβ€”

    Um, one sec. Gotta go do the laundry. Be riiight back …

  • You can’t edit/fix a blank page

    You can always grow something sweet and flowering (or tasty) from crap (you know… ’cause crap is manure and manure is good for plants…)

  • Oh, and sometimes I feel like i can write free-er on paper than on the computer, because I can clean it up as I type it in… or pretend I never wrote it and no one needs to know what is under that doodle of squiggly lines πŸ™‚

    And I’m a HUGE fan of Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die — http://writeordie.drwicked.com/


  • Mikaela

    I needed this post! So thank you. I am almost done with the first part of the revision. I just need to add a new chapter. The blank page might help with that. ( Just. Uhm. Yeah.)

    Oh and Three words : War room. Tonight. *cracks whip*

  • I’ve recently started writing short stories and I’ve been learning a lot from MagicalWords.

    I keep hearing the same tips that you gave (don’t edit as you write, first drafts are always bad, just finish it!) and I know them in my head, but it’s so difficult to really believe those tips and apply them when I sit down to write.

    Has that happened to you? Is there anything else I can do besides “just sit down and do it”? Although, as I finish typing this post, I feel that it’s the only answer. πŸ˜›

  • Great post Diana! I needed this as well right now, but not for a first draft…for my revisions. I’m horrible at making myself go through revisions. Sitting down and writing something new? No problem. Revisions? I get bogged down and would rather do something else, but probably not clean a toilet with a toothbrush at a frathouse!

    I know revisions are key and I cringe at much of my first draft. Short fiction I revise with ease, it’s the novel length revisions that scare me and make me want to run away.

  • My distraction is the laundry. Even if there’s not enough clothing in the hamper to make a small load, it’s enough.

  • Great Post! I know for me that I’m like Moira. I leave the house to write. I can edit at home, and I can write at home, but I prefer to write in a coffe shop. It got me through the first novel I wrote, the dissertation, and now this one. I can sit and pound the keys for hours in a place like that. Plus, I can reward myself with snacks. (That probably sounds dumb, but oh well. I do the “when I get to the end of this chapter, I can have a scone…” or, sometimes, “once I’m done with this chapter, I can go to the bathroom.” That one encourages fast writing and no stopping to edit!)

    The one thing I do: I have dedicated writer time. It isn’t the same time all the time, but I make sure that once a week I have a block of time just for my writing. Not for work, not for anything else. I can’t write every day. I don’t have the time or the career for it, but I can get in at least once a week. Right now it is a Tuesday or Thursday, and if that doesn’t work out, then a Friday afternoon or evening. Sometimes I can even get in TWO writing days. But I’ve made it high on the priority list. Otherwise, as other posts have suggested, it just gets shunted into the background.

  • Unicorn

    This was very helpful. Thank you. If I don’t have trouble with the first page or so, I get stuck halfway through chapter two.
    And thanks a lot for this great blog. I really learn a lot about every aspect of writing. I’ve been reading Magical Words for months and only plucked up the courage to register today…

  • Diana, great post. For me it’s fear. Paralysing fear. The old:

    What if I can’t do it again?
    What if this time when I sit down to write, it’s all gone?

    Gack. I know it. I denounce it. I slay it. It’s part of the reason my muse is soooo ugly. To remind me that my muse is pure power and bullheaded determination, not some artsy thing that might dare to quit or disappear. It’s a work horse, not a show horse. Yeah. Deep breath…. To work.

  • I’ve had a bit of it all at one time or another. Just this morning, I sat at my desk and stared at a short story that needs major revisions. It was a bear to write and is still an ugly mess to deal with. But wouldn’t you know it, once I put my BIC and started working — and listening to my characters — I learned the crucial element that was missing (actually, my MC was hiding it from me and finally fessed up but that’s a post in itself). So, I still have much work to do and now my break time is over. Back to the salt mines! πŸ™‚

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Diana, I could hug you. I’ve been in a long spell of toilet scrubbing. I’m writing, but it’s like dragging my brain over sandpaper. Every piece of advice you gave is exactly what I need to be remembering. It’s not like I don’t know it, but as Faith says above, there’s that insidious little voice whispering “what if this time it doesn’t work?” It’s like I’m bumblebee who has been informed that engineers have made the assessment that structurally, I can’t actually fly. Every now and then, by forcing myself to keep my ass in the seat, I do hit those transcendent moments of flight, where the words flow effortlessly onto the page. Sometimes it all comes so easily. Sometimes it doesn’t. Yesterday I told myself, “Let’s write some shit” and just wrote. It worked. Thanks again for the right words at the right time.

  • This is great, Di. My motivational self-pep talks are similar to yours, although a bit more abusive and laced with profanity. Openings just kill me. Always. I’m in the vast middle of my WIP and loving it. But the opening pages were torture. Best of luck with yours.

  • There’s nothing in the world quite so compelling as a vacuum cleaner or washing machine when there’s writing to do. *Sigh…* It’s the abandoning of all standards that I struggle with. I write one sentence and the editor in me kicks into high gear and screams “That’s not good enough!”

    I hate that editor.

  • I’ve never quite gotten why beginnings are scary. I love beginnings. I hate endings. Impending ending doom drives me to house work… actually… I hate the bit just BEFORE the ending… that last push down the hill (or mountain or maybe into a lake with bricks strapped to the feet….. and you sink quick and wonder if the lake bed is a million miles away but you can’t stop the plunge, even if your lungs are burning from lack of oxygen but decide you don’t care because the fish are pretty as they rush past… um… probably too much?) to get the momentum going to make the ending come out where you need it to get where you need to be to start the next wacky adventure….

    So guess which part of my current WiP I’m on — and yes, the internet is my frat boys’ toilet.

  • Thanks, Diana. I needed that. I have a WIP smouldering untouched on my computer and was wondering how I was going to get it done when my desk finally clears. Daring to be bad is crucial. I can always edit later. Thanks.

  • Eeekk… housewifely chores… hate ’em… but how many can I get done before I sit at the computer and write? Every single one of the little ##@*&#@!

    .. That said, here’s how I start. I visualise a scene as though I’m watching a movie then write down what I’m seeing… sometimes its as banal as ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened’. But then, somewhere in there the writing begins, and I’m off to the races!

  • I absolutely get this. I get a case of ‘I’ll just finish this’ and the next thing I know the day is gone.
    One thing I do know, if I put my ass in the chair and write it always worked.

  • Moira: the distractions are worse when I leave my house. It’s a tiny town and people I know are everywhere. I end up talking all the time.

    Axisor: maybe I should hang that axiom on my computer. Flowers grow from crap. The only problem with write or die is that I can’t break things into paragraphs and that makes me very unhappy. Apparently I’m strangely anal about some things.

    Mikaela! Go girl! If can get in tonight I will. I’m coming to the end of this block and still am prepping classes and grading papers and oh crap. I need a nap.

    Lancer: That’s why I’m repeating them here. They are terribly hard to do sometimes. I don’t know anything but ass in chair for the cure really. Sorry. Now get to work! πŸ˜€

  • I’m with Moira somewhat. I’ve tried writing at home, and I can do it, but I get distracted by the dog, the tv, a fly or whatever. Words pour out of me though when I’m on the train. I have 1 hour commute in and 1 hour commute out each day and I pull my laptop and type. I get anywhere from 500-1000 words done each direction = 1000 – 2000 words a day 5 days a week. I think it is the isolation of the train that helps. When I’m at home, especially on the weekend, I feel I can’t just sit still. I have to do chores, I have to walk the dog, I have to make dinner and get the shopping done and weed the garden etc. On the train I’m a prisoner just sitting there for an hour. I used to read, but the rate at which I was going through books was bankrupting me (at $22 / book, 4 books a month = best part of $100 /month).
    I also took my lappy with me when I volunteered as race official at the local rally stage. 8 hours of sitting by myself in the pine forest + 5 minutes of cars roaring past = 15,000 words written.
    At home = 0 words.

  • Great advice! So hard for me to adhere to, since, like Edmund, I have that damn editor who won’t leave one sentence un-tweaked. So annoying. Especially since I’m not finished writing before he pops in and peers over my shoulder, says, “Hmmm, too passive…” or “Wouldn’t it read better if you wrote it this way?” I need to just post an 8 x 11 sheet on my cork board that says in big bold letters: “DARE TO BE BAD.” Or maybe: “HEY, SELF-EDITOR. SOD THE F**K OFF!”

    Enjoyable posts by everyone. I don’t feel so alone after all!

  • Alistair: Good luck. I so much prefer revisions. That is, until I hate them with a passion.

    Misty: There’s never enough laundry. Then there’s dusting. Dishes. Weeds. Sigh.

    Pea_Fairie: You’re so lucky to be able to work in that environment. Bathroom as a reward. That’s an idea.

    Hi Unicorn! Welcome to Magical Words! Glad you started posting.

    Faith: I know that fear. That may be what’s behind all this. But I did get through the first chapter today.

    Stuart: isn’t it great when a story comes together. I think that’s what keeps us going as writers.

  • Lynn: I’m up for hugs. Always. Writing is so much like walking out on a tightrope with no net.

    David: yeah, I find that if the kids aren’t home, I give myself the truckerized version of the pep talk.

    Edmund: That editor gets around too. I think all the internal editors must sneak in meetings with each other to figure out new ways to torture us.

    Axisor: LMAO. You seriously amuse me. I have less trouble with endings than anything else. I think it’s because there are fewer options at that point. By that time, I’ve closed off a bunch.

    A.J.: Promise to kick me into gear next time I’m in a slump. Promise?

    Widdershins: That could work. The worst part I still have a messy house and office and stew in helpless paralysis. But I did finish the chapter today. Whoohoo!

    Perryw: isn’t it amazing how fast the day just vanishes?

    Scion: Snarf! a fly. But I’ll watch it buzz around endlessly too. Sigh. Train writing. That’s cool. My commute to the day job is a short walk. No trains for me.

    J.M.: That’s where writing fast kicks in for me.If I just write fast, I keep ahead of the editor. It’s like running ahead of a forestfire.

  • Excellent blog. I wonder if something is ‘in the air’ as I’m dragging my brain over sandpaper / cleaning toilets with toothbrushes myself. I’m 7/8ths through first draft novel and I manage to procrastinate every day ..later and later.. yesterday I finally put some words down at 4:30 in the afternoon. Now I have good training, I use an approach to writing that is called Freefall – it’s excellent: don’t plan, don’t edit (not even spelling mistakes), go fearward, etc etc. But still, I am having such difficulty these days and I know many others in the same boat. I think I should write a book about procrastination instead of my novel…. One thing that has helped me is an assignment I set for my online writing group called “A Page a Day”. Basically the idea is you write one page (double spaced) a day, of anything at all. Anything. I did this in June after a totally blocked period, and by the middle of July, I was back into the novel, but still giving myself the ‘freedom’ to just write one page. It seemed that it took about 6 weeks for the ‘habit’ to settle, and now, even though I’m procrastinating and gritting my teeth and my hair and anything else, I still write about one page a day.