How Words Get on the Page

It's Sunday afternoon, and it's hot here in Portland.  My nephew is visiting on his way from an internship in Washington D.C., back to law school in California.  And he, my husband, and my son, are all at my daughter's learning how to make beer on this glorious afternoon.

And where am I?

Writing this at my computer, obviously.

But the bigger question would be why I'm working on this beautiful afternoon.  Um, that would be because I procrastinated just the wee-est bit on a ghostwriting project and found myself up against a deadline.  I really needed to get my client a chapter by Tuesday at the latest, and I had no other time but today to do it.

Here's the truth: I procrastinated because I didn't know exactly how to do the chapter.  It had to present the themes of the book in the context of the "author's" biography and I was clueless as to how to proceed.

So I procrastinated.

Until I was up against it.

And then came the time when there was no other choice but to start in.  Guess what happened?  Yeah, you're right.  As soon as I actually began engaging with the chapter, the words came.  And I got the chapter (at least a rough draft of it) done and sent off to the client with time to write this blog post, too.  (I'm heading over to my daughter's for wine and a barbecue once as I'm done writing this).

This experience was a good reminder to me that the magic happens when we engage with the words.  That writing gets done when we write.  I know, duh.  But I forget this far too often as I wring my hands and obsess about my WIP.  And I'm certain that it happens to you, too.

So next time, you're stuck, try writing instead of staring out the window.  Trust me, it actually does work.

What do you do when you are blocked or procrastinating?  Do you have anything that helps you get through these states?  We'd all love to hear about it.

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10 Responses to How Words Get on the Page

  1. Jessica Baverstock 05/05/2013 at 21:42 #

    This is so true. “Writing gets done when we write.”

    I also shy away from the page at times, thinking I have to have everything worked out in my head before I sit down to write it. It’s not until I actually put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper that I find the answer.

    So this is a very good reminder. Thank you!

  2. J.D. 05/06/2013 at 06:29 #

    I read part of Bird by Bird. I haven’t read Stephen King’s book on writing. I tried to think of how famous writers cured their blocking ills. That was stupid. We live in a different age than William Faulkner. Today, he could easily have been a twitter junkie or we may have seen his name stylized in spray paint on a thousand railroad cars out of Mississippi. Maybe the only thing that applies is, like you Charlotte, he didn’t drink until the project was completed. Though I posted about the joys of TV, I think isolation may be the surest way to pull that stopper. Maybe it is the ability to feel alone despite the whirlwind of crap around us.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 05/06/2013 at 07:27 #

    You make a really good point, J.D., that authors like Faulkner did not have quite the distractions that we do.  Nothing aids my procrastination more than a good ole surf around the internet.  Sigh.  The thing is, that's so unsatisfying, unlike writing, which makes me feel so good when I'm done.  And while I'm doing it, I might add.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 05/06/2013 at 09:44 #

    So often words and ideas come through our fingers when we write.  And yet, I forget this over and over again….

  5. elizabeth marie 05/06/2013 at 12:09 #

    I’ve been going through my poetry books today, making the required book list as part of my final leap toward my MFA. I ran across a Naomi Shihab Nye book I bought but never had time to read. It’s called You & Yours. The epigraph for part one is a quote that made me think of you and this post:

    “Procrastination is the most creative act there is.

    Those little test pots are the way I get started.
    They’re the best things I do.
    Everything I do is test pots so now
    there are no test pots.”

    -Rudolf Staffel, Noted Ceramic Artist

  6. Charlotte Dixon 05/06/2013 at 16:04 #

    I love this! Makes me feel so much better! Thanks for sharing it. 

  7. Jessica Baverstock 05/06/2013 at 17:54 #

    I’m loving the mental image of Faulkner as a twitter junkie. That’s going to give me giggles all day. 😀

  8. Charlotte Dixon 05/06/2013 at 19:53 #

    Wouldn't that just be fantastic?  Love it!

  9. Patty 05/08/2013 at 20:52 #

    This really fascinates me, Charlotte When I was in grad school and writing my thesis about counseling creative people (and yes, procrastinating myself) I came across an article that explored the intuitive part of personality. No surprise, most creatives are highly intuitive too. So anyway, they described this thing that I always thought of as procrastination as being more about intuition, and explained that the closer something comes to fruition (like your deadline) the more likely it is that intuition will kick in and carry the work where it needs to go. They described it as a “ski jump of intuion” that comes after you’ve been going down fhe mountain for a bit, working on the project. And once you soar off the ski jump, you’re flying all the way to the finish line.

    That was a huge turning point for me, not because I stopped procrastinating but because I realized I could trust that intuition to kick in every single time. And that in and of itself helped me normalize the procrastination which freed me up to get to the ski jump sooner. I know in day to day living it’s sometimes hard to schedule our lives around the, but I wonder, when you look back on your day do you feel regret for missing the beer–making, or did it all just turn out to be fine?

  10. Charlotte Dixon 05/09/2013 at 07:37 #

    Patty, this is so great–and I know exactly what you’re talking about. I feel this with a long WIP. Sometimes I just get stuck and I have to stop and think. I’ve learned that it is much more productive if I just remind myself that I’m in the composting time of the creative cycle, and the right idea will arrive–like that ski jump! The alternative–wringing my hands in despair–seems to drive ideas away.

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