People seemed to like the prescription part of last week’s email, so I’m going to try and do them more regularly. I will answer the questions I can. Please do not be frustrated if I cannot respond. It does not mean your writing and/or life is hopeless. It just means I do not have the answers or the experience to come up with any suggestions for you. Take a walk, have a glass of water, write in your journal. The answers might already be there anyway.
A young writer I know asked me:
I'd be interested in your perspective on seeing a project from inception to completion — I have a lot of trouble finishing and getting through that sticky middle part where I hate it, so I'd love some advice.
I originally didn’t think I had an answer to this question because I am sort of a robot writer, I almost always make it through to the end, whether what I am writing sucks or not. But then I realized that is actually part of the advice: write through it even if it sucks.
There is no first draft in the history of writing that comes out perfect. If you are feeling stuck in the middle, skip it and come back to it later. Your brain is going to chew on that part anyway — it just might not have all the answers for you yet.
Pick a point in the distance that you can see and then write to it, even if you’re leaving some holes behind in your wake. The point is to keep in motion, keep yourself limber and fluid, engaging with your work even if it’s not in the spot you think needs work.
I have been rewriting the second and fourteenth chapter of my new book (there are twenty-three chapters total) in my head for the last three months, even though I haven’t been anywhere near them in the drafting process. I knew that they existed and they needed to be tended to more specifically at some point, but I wasn’t quite ready. And then in these past two weeks I was able to circle back and finally resolve some bigger issues with them. I just had to trust that my brain would do its job eventually.
That is perhaps one of the hardest parts of being a writer: allowing that time might be the answer to the problem.
I have an extremely productive and overachieving friend who works on multiple creative platforms and also leads a very online existence. I have always wondered how she does it all and then I got this message this morning:
I have just not been able to do my novel writing. I am being moved to tears. I am so frustrated. I do not know what’s wrong with me. The words are all wrong. Please help me.
I said, “First of all, get off twitter for three weeks. Give your password to a friend. I mean it. Second of all, you are absurdly prolific and your brain attacks a million things at once, so perhaps it is spread too thin and you need to lose one thing (or two things) to gain another.”
She said she thought I might be right, and she should get off twitter.
I said, “I am here to tell you that when you go away and come back it is pretty much exactly the same only slightly worse.”
She said that social media was such an impulse for her. “It’s a habit and I need to get out of it.”
I said, “Were I a therapist I would say, ‘Examine the impulse.’ I might sit down with a journal and write down a list of what it is I get out of tweeting. You probably already know.”
She said, “Yes, it’s the escape hatch so I don’t have to sit with silence for even a second.”
But we all know we need to sit with the silence in order to write, right?
We need to sit with the silence in order to write.
The next time I tried to message her on twitter, she was gone, her password changed.
I cheered from here.
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