when writing gets challenging

when writing gets challenging

I’ve done everything I can to distract myself from sitting down and writing.

And it’s come down to this: I’m standing in front of the kitchen counter waiting for a pot of water to boil so I can dump my kale in. My laptop is right there, and I know there’s no excuse. So, here I am writing my thoughts down.

They say the free-write exercise is supposed to help you get past this spot. When you don’t have anything to write, or at least feel like you have nothing note-worthy of writing, the discipline of being a writer is plunking yourself down in the chair and not getting up until you have written something: a sentence, 300 words, whatever.

And so, to get myself to actually write, I trick myself into thinking that: a) no one will read this or b) it’s just a draft and you just need to get your thoughts out, or c) that bad first drafts are a necessary evil. The last one is probably true.

It didn’t use to be this hard. All I needed was a blank sheet of journal and pen, and the words would flow. Whatever came to my mind leaked onto the sheet, one running line of blue ink.

But now, it’s almost like the consciousness that someone else is watching me trips me up, and I can’t walk straight without stopping a million times.

I like what Elizabeth Gilbert says:

The model I’ve always used to get myself working is to think myself as a mule. Not an artist, but a mule. When it comes to putting a rough draft down on paper, my job is only this – to put my head down and low from one end of the field (the page) to the next

I think procrastination is not laziness, but disappointment. We wish we wrote better, and our inability to translate our dreams to the page can be crushing. But mules – when they are plowing fields – do not stop, turn their heads and contemplate whether or not they’re doing a good job.

That model is the only way I’ve ever been able to get my work done. And when the inevitable voices rise, as I’m writing, saying, “This isn’t good enough,” I just answer back in my mule’s voice: “That’s not my problem. I was only hired to plow the field.”

I think I feel like that a lot of times. I try to keep my head down, and not look up until it’s done.

It sort of reminds me of the days I played in Kiwanis, our yearly regional music competition. I would have spent countless hours staring at black round dots with tails sitting on straight lines, earnestly branding them into my brain. The piece was memorized frontwards and backwards.

Yet, I would be sitting on that church pew, my hands sweaty as I nervously awaited my turn at the looming grand piano.

When it was my turn to play, I would walk wobbly steps up to that piano, rest my fingers on the smooth ivory, and tell myself, “You know what to do. Don’t think so much. Just do it.”

It was a weird experiment in consciousness. I was consciously trying to play unconsciously, because the minute I became self-conscious of the notes (how they were sounding, what note came next, what part of the piece I was in), my fingers would fumble and my mind blank, I would entirely lose where I was in the piece. That was my nightmare.

And so, I tried to pay attention to other things. I would dream up stories for the music that was strangely emanating from the piano, focus on the sound of my piano teacher’s voice in the back of mind.

And somehow, magically, I would emerge from the end of the piece, a bit shaken, but relieved that my fingers had done what they had known to do.

That’s how I feel writing comes to me sometimes. My brain and fingers have engaged in this activity long enough that I know how to formulate words (well, most of the time).

And if I leave them to their own devices, I believe they would string together the phrases that would magically express the nascent ideas brimming at the edge of my subconscious.

But, most of the time, the writing isn’t as romantic as that. It’s quite the mechanical process.

I first munch on a square of a dark chocolate (ah, how its power is underestimated for unleashing the creative juices!). I open my laptop. I rest my fingers on the keys.

Then, I think for a long time. I write down a few words, phrases that don’t quite make sense but I write them anyways.

Usually, I get distracted, because I get too discouraged staring at a blank screen waiting for me to populate it with words. This might take the form of eagerly taking on other chores, like cooking (as was today’s distraction), or reading other people’s writing.

But, after I’ve procrastinated a bit, and the ideas are still brewing in my head, I feel guilty for not giving body to them.

Perhaps someone out there somewhere needs these words.

And so, I write. One word at a time. And I don’t leave the seat until the words are out of me. (Currently, my Mom is telling me we need to go to Bulk Barn to do some shopping, but I told her I’m in the middle of a post.)

As Elizabeth Gilbert said, just like a mule. You just gotta put your head down and not look up until it’s done.

Only then can you stand up from your seat and congratulate yourself – free at last, free at last, oh thank God I’m free at last!


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