Writing when you don’t feel like it is one of the hardest things you can do.
I was in a lecture last week where a guy stood up and told us (a class of students doing the capstone course of a Writing Major) that if we found writing difficult we should quit now because writing shouldn’t be ever be hard. It took everything I had in me not to first start laughing and second to throw something at him because writing is not easy.
When you’re feeling inspired and the words are flowing easily from your mind and on to the page then sure. But what about when you don’t feel like it? What about when you’ve hit a mental block?
I’ve spoken to too many authors who’ve told me that they’re waiting for their muse to strike. Like their writing is solely determined by when they’re in the mood or when something particularly amazing occurs to them. That saddens me because what happens if they don’t feel inspired for months at a time? What if it’s years? Inspiration is a fickle bitch and sometimes she needs a bit of prodding.
This is when the writing as work idea comes in. If inspiration doesn’t hit you just have to go it alone. You have to force yourself to sit down at your computer (or notepad or whatever) and write. Or plan. Or do something that will make inspiration start working to your timetable.
I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. I was there for about 3 years where I wrote maybe two short stories and the same number of chapters for an ongoing project. Writing without inspiration feels like the worst kind of work you can do. You feel like every word you write is terrible and you’re fighting a losing battle.
And sometimes you will be. I regularly sit down to write and end up with pages upon pages of rubbish. But it’s not wasted time or effort. If nothing else, those pages were spent learning what direction my story isn’t going to go and (most importantly) why.
Sometimes, when I’m really struggling I use helpers. Before I began working on my big project I used to sit down at least once a week and try to write a short story. Unfortunately I didn’t always have great ideas. Or any ideas, really. So I’d go to prompt lists like this or this or even this. I’d scroll through the lists until I found something that evoked an image in my mind and then I’d start writing just to see where it ended up. Sometimes it ended badly with clunky themes and terrible prose. Other times, it resulted in some of my best work. I may not have started writing while I was inspired but eventually something clicks and things start working again.
Now that I’m working on a bigger project I can’t use those lists without making my story look a little schizophrenic with a different theme every chapter. So now I use the ultimate forced-writing cheat. Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die. Using the sidebar I can set either a word count or a time limit and choose different settings (I like the Consequences to be Kamikaze and the Grace period to be strict). Then once I click go it’s on. The program works by forcing you to write. If you stop writing the screen turns red and, in kamikaze mode, if you let it turn too red it begins to take away your words one by one. So you keep writing until either your time limit is reached or you’ve achieved your word goal. It works by eliminating distractions- you can’t stop typing to check your emails or to google a random question that just occurred to you- and by forcing you to stop thinking. You can’t agonise over a sentence or a paragraph for very long. You write it and you move on. It’s the ultimate in the ‘That’ll do for now’ writing and has proved invaluable to me in getting something on the page. It may not all be great but that’s what editing is for. I can work with something to make it better. But it’s impossible to work with nothing at all.
Someone once told me this and I believe it rings true for everything ever.
When your readers get your finished work they see it as a whole. They don’t see the work behind it. They don’t see the parts where it took you an hour to write a sentence or the parts where you were zooming through on the wings of inspiration. They can’t tell the difference.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that you need to stop waiting for inspiration to strike and instead just sit down and write. Find a semi-regular time that works for you—whether it be once a day, a week or even once a month and, no matter what you feel like, sit down and write. Don’t worry about inspiration. Your muse will catch up with you and often when you least expect it.