Plant Your Butt in The Chair, Already (A Love Letter)
(Warning—this has turned into a loooong letter. But I hope it has some helpful tidbits in it.)
It’s 2019 and this is your year! You’re going to write that novel, finish that memoir. You start out with the best of intentions, fresh-faced and eager. You’re ready to go! But then things start popping up to derail you. I’m not going to bore us all with a list of what they might be—because you know damn good and well what they are.
But even though you know exactly what they are, you still let them stop you from getting to the page. From planting your butt in the chair and writing.
Because that is really all it takes. Somebody asked me on Twitter how I dealt with writer’s block. My answer was that I wrote. I don’t think he liked my answer because I never heard back from him. But that is the simple, universal truth of it: in order to be a writer, you must write.
So why do we make it so hard? As we start this bright, shiny new year, how do we truly, once and for all, make this the year that we do finish that novel or memoir or short story or essay collection? You’ve probably read the same five million articles on getting things done in the new year that I have. They are mostly all variations on the same theme—because ultimately the way to get anything done is to do it. The way to get the writing done is to write.
And yet I constantly talk with people who are having a hard time doing that. (And, um, that never, ever happens to me, of course. Hahahahaha.) But I do have some expertise in this area, based on long, hard personal experience, much study of productivity, and years of teaching and coaching writers. So if I were coaching you (and I kinda am, through this love letter) here are some things we might explore:
–Is it lack of time or lack of energy that’s stopping you? Let’s face it, lots of us have the time. We come home from work and plop down in front of the TV after dinner. Not judging, I do it, too—because my brain is often fried and I don’t have the mental energy to do anything else. Not one more thing. But, theoretically, I could write during that time, if I felt like it. So quit telling yourself you don’t have time. You do. Try tracking your energy levels and fit in your writing sessions accordingly. Because I’m brain dead in the evening, I like to get my writing done first thing in the morning. You may be the opposite. Figure out what works for you!
–Are you telling yourself that it is your non-supportive family that is holding you back? It’s a bitch when the people around you don’t support your goals, no doubt about it. And that gives you a whole other layer to wade through before your get to your own personal stuff. But only you can let them hold you back. Worried the kids won’t have lunches or your husband will miss his bus because you’re writing instead of dealing with them? If they go hungry or miss their ride once or twice, they’ll figure out how to do it themselves. Okay, so maybe that sounds a bit harsh. Sorry. But there is huge truth in it.
–Always know where you are going next. This is when I get writer’s block resistance: when I have no idea what I should write next. I’m stuck trying to figure out the next scene. Or I don’t know some aspect of character. Something is puzzling me. Antidotes: Hemingway famously ended writing sessions mid-sentence, so he’d always have a place to go. You could try that. Or make a note to yourself of what comes next before you end your writing session for the day. Use free-writing (see below) to delve into your subconscious and get your thoughts moving again. Try—gasp—outlining, even a loose list. Momentum is the most wonderful feeling for a writing project, and it will occur when you know where you are going.
And here are a couple of assignments I might give you for those times you are experiencing resistance to your writing. (I think I am going to banish the phrase writer’s block for 2019.)
–Pick a prompt, set a timer and write for 15 minutes. Keep your hand moving across the page. This is key. I once taught a workshop in which we did this and looked around the room and half the people were staring off into space, pondering deep words to put on the page. Don’t let this be you. It is not the point. The point is to break through the resistance that is always at the ready and let the words out. Also, don’t roll your eyes at this advice, it has been known to set many a writer back on the writing path. You can use it in a million different ways—as a warm-up, as the way you get your novel written (spurts!), as a way to figure out where to go next (see above). Trust me, it really works—if you just freaking do it.
–Mind map. This alternative way of outlining is like a mainline to your subconscious as well. Put the topic in the middle of the page and start writing what occurs to you around it, connecting the words with lines. Use the whole page. It’s really helpful to do this, then do a free-writing session. Watch out! You’ll be spewing words on the page with this technique.
My New Year’s wish for you is that you will write all the words you possibly can and by the end of 2019 you’ll be thrilled with your output. It’s my wish for me as well! May we all achieve it, easily, happily, and gracefully.
Leave a comment and tell me your best strategy for getting butt in chair and words on the page!
Here is your prompt of the week:
List all the reasons you can’t write today. Now list all the reasons you can—and must. Now go make a list of starters for whatever project it is you want to write. Set the timer and write on it for 15 minutes.
Virtual New Year Retreat—There’s still time to sign up! I’ll be co-hosting this two-hour retreat with the wonderful Patty Bechtold. It’s free, and you can find more about it here.
France 2019—As I write this, it is gloomy and gray outside my window. Easy to dream about the warmth of southern France. Wouldn’t you like to study writing there with me? You can! Find all the details here.
Coaching—Speaking of coaching, and I was, in the letter, I’m taking on a few new clients in January. I’ve already committed to several people, and don’t have a lot of room for more, so if you are interested, send me a email and we will talk.
Facebook Group–And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.