On Not Writing

Can’t find time to write? Don’t feel like it? Lost your nerve? If you’re not writing, you might be suffering from simple procrastination–but I’m here to say, it’s often not simple at all. Take it from one who has polished procrastination to a high art: Not writing can be eerily complex.

For one thing, there’s always a reason not to write.

A Dark and Subtle Drain

“I have to clear my email in-box, catch the matinee, finish the sports section . . .” Add to that: “What’s the use? I’ll never find an agent, finish the novel, write well . . .” But what if these distractions and loss of nerve aren’t merely annoyances, but a dark and subtle drain that is at odds with your highest aspirations?

If you long to write and aren’t, you’re paying for this deferment twice: once when you give in to trivial pursuits and negativity and again when you feel guilty about it. So many people wish they could do it, but know that it’s not their strong suit. You, however, may be a writer. If you could only buckle down. If you could only keep your negative thoughts at bay.

We may feel that resistance to writing is such a garden-variety ill that we should easily overcome it; then we feel ashamed when it wins. But it’s not an easy issue; most writers, in fact, let it defeat them. Deferring writing will bleed you dry. This comes from one who resents having to write in the summer, one who loves to be outdoors when it’s fine. Puttering in the yard is so soothing. Nothing says neglect to me so much as an unswept patio. I despise leaves and dust on the porch! But a pursuit like this is not a distraction. It’s a siren song. I’ll have to lash myself to the mast. As one who let not-writing win for years, I don’t think I’m over-dramatizing the problem.

Challenge the Monster

The first step is to recognize that you have a problem. Give it a name. Like Grendel, or something. Look it in the eye. Acknowledge its power as a kick ass foe and declare war.

Get a schedule, and a goal. Ally yourself with other serious writers, and give your writing goals respect. If that means that your email inbox is messy, if your car hasn’t been washed in a year, if you’re not going to make soup from scratch–so be it. If that means we stop indulging all the doubts and fear–well, good riddance.

Take your love of writing seriously. The stakes are high: The freedom to be creative. The joy of pursuing your highest gifts.

11 Responses

  1. Hi Kay, thanks for this post. πŸ™‚ I’m busy writing my first novel (Epic Fantasy) and last night I got in a respectable 1130 words (total now at 41,5K) so I’m chipping away at it – your posts always give me more inspiration and more drive when I read them – I try not to read too much, though, to be honest – my characters clamour for my attention as it is! πŸ˜‰ Thanks again,

  2. Kay says:

    You’re welcome, Dave. Sounds like you don’t need That particular post, though! Congrats on the “chipping away.” Keep going!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Merrilee Faber, Kay Kenyon. Kay Kenyon said: Instead of working on the novel, I wrote a post on Not Writing. A dark and subtle drain, not writing . . . http://tinyurl.com/36gt668 […]

  4. Florine says:

    Excellent advice. I did some monster research and had a good discussion with my son about alternatives. (Learning that Grendel was taken, he suggested Grendel’s mother or, as a Germanic create-your-own alternative, something like Brunhilda but with a ph sounding like f and other variations.) Procrastination ending FAIL (mine, not yours).

  5. Orlando says:

    My first time reading one of your posts, and its sort of ironic that this is the post I read when I have an open notebook with a story that needs writing and a pen beside me that have been there for the last two hours with nothing new written. I’ve had a grand problem with writing for years now, except that I’ve been writing the “wrong” things, I guess you could say? What I mean is that, when I used to settle down to write, I always wrote summaries of future events, possibilities, character bios, ideas and stuff like that. I have hundreds of pages worth of that and now I just have to write the story in my head. It’s hard to concentrate though, and once I realized that I might actually finish this novel, I kind of got scared lol. A million questions just exploded in my head at that notion and, well, oops now I’m ranting. I think this is just what I needed, though, so Imma buckle down on this writing. Thanks πŸ™‚

  6. Kay says:

    Keep trying Florine! It is a very important name. I’m starting to wonder if it would be better to give it a humorous name like Forsythia or, I dunno. And here’s one: what about, in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife in the attic…what was her name.

  7. Kay says:

    In your situation, one idea might be timed writing. This is from Natalie Goldberg’s famous “Writing Down the Bones.” (Worth having a copy.) You select a starter line. Make it a line that might suit a scene you’d like to write, or start with, “I’m writing a story about” or “As the story opens, my character is worried that…” or “Titus Quinn stared at Anzi in bewilderment” or whatever line seems to pertain to your story or your story issues. So you see, you can either write fiction or an essay off a starter line. Then set the timer for ten minutes. Then a different question and set timer for 20 minutes. Finally, after a break, set time for 30 minutes. Do not think, do not take pen off page, do not strike out, do not edit or pause. It takes you into deep material, bypasses a frozen posture, frees you.

  8. Orlando says:

    That sounds like a good idea. Potentially productive, if I can get really down to it. Think I’ll try that, though your post was enough to remind me what it is I want to do and I was really productive that day. Thanks again, I believe I’ll be coming here more often :).

  9. Kay says:

    Excellent, O. I’ll be here!

  10. Lisa Forgan says:

    This is such a great post. Can writer’s block lead to procrastination of a novel? I feel that the hardest part of writing is always the start. Trying to figure out how to begin seems to delay the start of a novel. But once overcome, I can fly through it easily.

  11. Kay says:

    Beginnings are so crucial, aren’t they? I fuss with where to begin, myself. But if you pay close attention to story structure as in the post on Story Structure Demystified, I think the beginning becomes more, well, inevitable.

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