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.

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Publication is not the point–but publish anyway.

Reading my blog, you might think I’m very anti-publishing. It’s true that I don’t think publication is the magic gold medal that we all once secretly believed it was. And it definitely means a lot less than non-writers think it does. (I keep a secret mental list of the family and friends who had zero interest in my writing until after I had some conventional success whereupon it became a thing for them: I call it the Phony Assholes list, and it’s very long.)

But in truth, nothing annoys me more than reading the work of good writers who don’t send anything out. Particularly on those days when the slushpile is extra slushy. Here is this writer–a friend, a student–sitting on work that is good, that is interesting and well-written, and doesn’t do anything with it. Why? Why? Why must I read 25 pages of “spiritual fictional memoir” when there is good work sitting in a drawer somewhere unsubmitted?

One friend admitted that they just don’t know how to submit. Fair enough. It’s not a very difficult process, but it takes a little bit of getting used to. Here is blog that points to Doretta Lau’s excellent presentation on how to submit to literary magazines.

Some of it though, is confidence. “I don’t know if it’s good enough.” Trust me, if you are conscientious enough to ask yourself that question, it is definitely better than the worst of the pile.

Truthfully, I don’t think you ever really know if it is good enough, but at some point, you have to make peace with that and launch it out in the world. You really can nitpick forever. And really, if you know it is good, you have probably played it a little safe. You haven’t pushed yourself to the edge of your abilities. You might suspect it is good, you might be proud of parts of it–but I think that little bit of wondering “Did this really work?” is a good sign. Some doubt is normal to have.

But I think that goes to the heart of why you should submit writing, even if publication is not really the point. Confidence. Not so much confidence in whether or not something is good–anyone can be confident if they know it’s good. But confident that you accept it as yours. That you are willing to put your name on it and send it out for other people to read.

Sending work out into the world shows a willingness to stand behind your work, whether it’s good or bad, whether you are sure about it or not. This work is yours and you are publicly claiming ownership of it.

(I am now imagining my work as a toddler, standing in the middle of a department store screaming “I want vagina!” while people stand around looking for me, the parent, to come and claim her.)

You need to own your work. You need to stand behind and be willing to say “Yes, this is mine” even though it’s not perfect. Yes, absolutely, you need to revise and rethink and rewrite until it’s as good as you can make it or you are sick of it (the latter usually comes first), but then, one day, you need to format it like a manuscript, find a magazine and send it off. It’s your work and you are willing to tell people that.

Now, unless you are writing a spiritual fictional memoir, dust off a story and submit it somewhere.