Writing is easy: All you do it sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. - Gene Fowler
In the modern age, this cogent advice could perhaps be recast as: “Stare at a white screen until your eyes bleed.” For more words of encouragement from other authors, check out this link.
But you came here to listen to me, not them. So here’s what I do when the going gets tough, when I’m stuck and I can’t face the screen either to revise or create, when I’m emotionally exhausted, having a personal dark night of the writer’s soul, terrified that if I write anything down I’ll be struck by a bus and when they go through my computer, that will be what people thought I actually wanted to write.
Do something else.
There are so many non-writerly ways to procrastinate. Clean the house, grocery shop, make a complicated recipe for dinner, go for a walk, file that foot-high pile of receipts, go for a drive (but take care of something you were supposed to do so you don’t waste gas). All of these give your mind stillness, a time to be routine. And often in being given permission not to think about the story, the devious and contrary mind will work on the story anyway, under the covers with a flashlight.
There are so many writerly ways to procrastinate. Read a book. Yes, that’s what writers do--we read and appreciate and analyze. Turn on NPR and listen to interviews. Yes, that’s what writers do--we tell stories about people’s lives. Read a book on writing craft, even a favorite chapter of a manual you have already finished. Yes, that’s what writers do--we develop our craft over the years with effort and attention. And while you are procrastinating in writerly ways, the urge to create germinates and grows stealthily underground, waiting for a burst of sunlight to break through.
Do not: spend a hour reading Twitter unless you are looking for business contacts or new plot ideas. Do not: spend an additional hour catching up on Facebook unless you are promoting a book to your fans. Do not: spend ninety minutes on YouTube looking at random videos unless you are writing about popular culture. Internet can suck the life out of a day, leaving you with a hollow feeling of having passed out and woken up three and a half hours later with nothing to show for it.
Take care of business, clean your house and head, make room. Then, when the perfect thought leaps into your mind, stop procrastinating, and use the burst of adrenalin to break through the sludge and get to work again.
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Liz Coley writes young adult novels and science fiction/fantasy short stories for anthologies and magazines.
Her novel Pretty Girl-13 from HarperCollins Katherine Tegen Books will be debuting in 2013. There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.