Give it a Rest.

Writers write. They write every day. There is no writer’s block, there is only resistance so write, write, write, the cure to not writing is writing, even if you don’t feel like writing, just write. WRITE!

Bullshit.

(There is a certain irony in that this blog post comes after I have spent many months not writing, but such is life.)

In all the advice about writing, one of those most common is to write every day. Write if you don’t feel like it. Write a set number of words, for a set number of minutes, at a set time and place every day. Because to be a writer, you have to write.

It’s good advice because I still haven’t found a writer who isn’t a master procrastinator. I mean, why write when there is Netflix? Have you seen how much good stuff there is on Netflix? They say this is a golden age in television, you know.

(Sometimes I can convince myself that my Netflixing is really studying structure in both episodic and long-form, but really it’s because I like TV.)

But the big problem with this advice is that you are not an automaton. You aren’t a machine churning out words. You can’t just put butt in chair and expect words, words, words, magic, magic, magic.

If you are sitting in your writing place with a feeling of dread, if it feels like pulling teeth, if you are beating yourself up for not putting words on the page but then have to force every word of you so that you are still beating yourself up WHILE putting words on the page… you need to stop writing for a while. Make it a vacation, one with a defined beginning and end. Important to define the time so that you can release any guilt over not writing. This isn’t not writing because you are procrastinating; this is deliberately not writing.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve had guilt-free non-writing time, make it a long vacation. It’s not a vacation if you spend the whole time beating yourself up for being on vacation.

Now, go have fun. Spend time with friends. Drink something ridiculously fancy. Check out that art gallery exhibit you’ve been meaning to see. Organize your closets for the sheer satisfaction of having neatly organized closets and post pictures of them on Facebook for admiration.

You cannot expect yourself to write without end without rest. Rest. Enjoy your life.

You may love it so much that you decide that not writing is better than writing and that is fine. It’s no reason to worry that maybe you aren’t a writer. You are still a writer. Doctors are still doctors even when they are lying on a beach beside a margarita. Actors are still actors when they are home doing the laundry. Monet puttered in his garden and was still Monet. You are just taking a rest.

At the end of your rest, open the notebook again. Fire up your laptop and read the last thing you wrote. Write that first tentative sentence, those toddling steps, so uncertain and unsure.

Let it all come back. It will come back. Promise.

Advertisements

Writer Tag and Blog Hop

The last time one of these went around (that I knew about, anyway) I didn’t quite think I was writer enough to participate. So I avoided the whole thing and eventually it went away. I regretted not participating, and letting fear get in the way.

Anyway, I was tagged by Brent van Staalduinen, a writer who has been writing and publishing and shortlisting so much that it would re-ignite my writerly self-doubt again, except for the fact that I’m over that. Today.

Brent also tagged Steph VanderMuelen, writer, creative writing mentor, copy editor, and one of my fellow Story Intensive TAs. Check out her site, because it’s fantabulous and Steph has great things to say about writing and process.

So. The Questions.

1) What am I working on?

Many things, but the big projects are a novel about a marriage (that’s about as specific as I’m willing to get right now, it’s very early) and an autobiographical play about my experiences as a landlord. But I also have some short fiction and a personal essay churning in my brain.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The short answer is that it doesn’t.

The longer answer is that I’m not convinced that being different is necessarily a virtue in writing so I don’t pay attention to being different. Sure, the truly Great Works are both original and good. But what’s wrong with just being good? Why does work always have to be different?

That said, I’ve been writing cross-cultural stories more and more, and one of the things I’ve playing with is to go against the grain in what people expect in these stories, even though I love those stories. No going back to the motherland (so to speak) and learning all the horrible secrets your mother never told you about why she really left and then coming to a new understanding of her and your culture and yourself. (The file name for my novel in progress is Amy-Tan-but-not, though it’s taken a number of twist and turns so who knows what it will be about when it’s done?)

In any case, very little of what I’m currently working on is at a stage where I can analyze it in comparison to other work, which is to say, nothing I’m working on is finished. I’m very wary of comparing my work to other things while I’m still writing it. And stuff I’ve already written that’s out there, well, I’m the last person to be able to look at it critically. I know its secrets too well.

3) Why do I write what I do?

This question implies that I have a choice in this.

This isn’t to say that I’m a helpless slave to a fickle muse. But my writing is very much a reflection of where my head is at, and my head is at its best when I give it free reign. That doesn’t mean that my writing is necessarily a reflection of what is going on in my life right now, though, since sometimes my head gets stuck on something from the past or even something very random like the fate of the Donner Party.

4) How does my writing process work?

I write.

I have never in my life been able to consistently form a good habit.  A bad habit, sure.  Good ones, no.  The moment I’m supposed to do something, I rebel against it.

So my writing process has turned into, write when and how I can.  Sometimes, that’s in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes by hand, sometimes on my laptop. Sometimes, that’s in a coffee shop, sometimes in my office, sometimes in silence, sometimes with the television on.

There’s a lot of value in consistency in terms of creative practice, but rather than beat myself up for not being consistent, I’d rather just make do. Contrary to typical wisdom, I don’t think you have to write every day–you just need to write enough to make yourself happy.

All that said, when I have a deadline, there is no tool I like better than Write or Die.

And the nominees are…. 

Chris Tarry is a Canadian writer and musician, and it’s totally not fair that he’s amazing in two creative fields while some of us are eking out an existence in just one. Chris’ short story, Here Be Dragons, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his debut short fiction collection, How To Carry Bigfoot Home is forthcoming in March 2015 from Redhen Press.

Sierra Skye Gemma is an award-winning writer and journalist from Vancouver who writing is emotionally honest, funny, powerful, and basically everything great creative non-fiction should be. I’m not the only one who thinks so, since she won the Edna Staebler personal essay competition and a National Magazine Award for best new writer for her essay, The Wrong Way.