Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why aren't we writing?

What do we do when we're not writing? I just read a post by Michelle Rowan ( - Tues Nov. 27, 2007 -- I couldn't figure how to permalink) about the excuses we make not to write. She cites laziness and fear. As I said in the comments, when I got to the end of her post I wanted to shout out "Amen Sister!!" She totally nails it: what really stops us from writing? If writing is what we really want, why do we let anything stand in the way?

Back when JP and I decided to really go after our dreams of writing, we made some big changes in our life. The biggest is that we stopped watching a lot of TV (thank goodness for the DVR -- the biggest friend a writer can have!). Growing up, the default in the evening was always TV. Come home from school/work, eat dinner, watch the shows. At first, it was hard to give this up, but now I can honestly say I don't miss it. These days, we come home from work, eat, maybe watch one show, and then it's into the living room to sit in front of the fire and write.

Only, I haven't been writing. I've been doing other stuff. Reading, blogging, blog-hopping, etc. All things that I can honestly say do help me in my writing life, but still, not writing. A while back a few writers had a discussion on one of my loops about what "counts" as work when writing. I argued that it's like billing time as a lawyer: if I'd bill the client for that work, then it counts as "writing" even if it isn't technically writing. So doing research counts. Editing counts. Blogging counts. All of these things are geared towards my career. On the other hand, reading blogs is like reading trade magazines -- helpful but not billable. Same with fiddling with the blogger template for the 100th time.

I've been spending a lot of time recently (since April when I wrote The End) doing stuff that I think counts towards writing, but isn't writing. Most of it has to be done (editing, keeping up with industry trends) but a lot of it I use as an excuse. I'll spend 2 hours on the internet catching up with writers, writing life, etc., and feel like I've accomplished something. But have I really? Don't get me wrong, I lurve the internet community and I'm not about to give it up, but what does it help me to read a discussion between two strangers on AbsoluteWrite about some obscure writing craft tidbit that doesn't affect me?

I think I'm getting off on a tangent here... I think what struck me most about Michelle's post was the fact that so many people out there really want to write and to be writers, but who don't actually write. It's like dieting -- so many people want to lose weight and get in shape but just... don't. The difference is that it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that you're "writing" or working on a "writing career" but it's really hard to delude yourself into thinking that you're eating healthy when you've got a candy bar in your fist.

If we know what we want, what is stopping us? Why aren't we just sitting down and writing every day (probably the same reason that I'm not on the elliptical runner every day :) Why isn't it a given like brushing our teeth, going to work, taking out the trash. Actually, why isn't it something that we're craving to do every day -- why aren't we coming home from work, changing into comfy pants and shouting "Finally! Time to write! I'm so excited!"

What do you think keeps us from writing if that's what we really want?


Jessica Burkhart said...

I think we let ourselves be distracted by things we *think* are important that really aren't. But like you said, I think blogging and reading other writer blogs counts as research. Since I want to write for TV, I pass off watching as research, too. :)

Anonymous said...

I go with Michelle's 'fear'. Definitely. I didn't write for over five years, and really regret it now. But... it was the f-word that stopped me. I still feel it now - fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of looking stupid. If I don't write - but always say I *Want* to write - then I can't finish anything, can't submit anything.... and can't be rejected. *sigh* It's a great question, Carrie!

Carrie Ryan said...

Jessican -- I totally agree with you. So easy to distract ourselves! Maybe I need to rank in order of importance what I need to get done every day :)

Karen -- my boyfriend says the same thing: fear. I guess the next question would be, how to conquer it?

Karen Mahoney said...

Yep. That's the toughest question of all, but I suppose the only real answer is to Just Do It. :)

Patrick Alan said...

I know, for me, it is about clarity and feeling creative. I realize how much a crock-o-sh!t that is, but I would say that is why.

When I come home stressed and need to unwind, my internal editor is set to extreme high.

It's easier for me to pick up the guitar, because with that I can play old standards until I relax into the creative mode, if I ever get to the creative mode.

I know it is an excuse, because I could spend the time figuring out how to evade my internal editor, and there are many good techniques, but it seems like all that pressure that doesn't gets released through something else builds up in the form of my internal editor.

For me it isn't fear, it is pressure. The pressure to change my situation through writing.

Maybe the new technique is to type a page or two from a favorite book before I get to writing something new.

Part of it is understanding what motivates you as a writer, some people can power through the editor when not relaxed.

For me it is a combo, when I write everyday, I'm usually also able to maintain an exercise routine everyday. So, to get myself on track, I start by planning my workouts and sticking too them. It helps because the exercise controls the stress levels.