Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when you’re invited to ask questions and share your experiences of being a writer – not the glamour side, but the realities hardly anybody talks about.
One big question rarely addressed is the problem of not writing. The dreaded P word – procrastination. You know the problem – you desperately want to write and you finally steal a few hours to yourself. You even have a fabulous idea you can’t wait to explore. You sit down at your keyboard and…Zilch. Nada. Nothing.
The words that sparkled in your head when you woke up that morning have been sucked away as if down a drain. You find yourself doing almost anything but facing that blank screen.
Okay, you get the idea. So what is the problem and what can you do about it?
First, cut yourself some slack. Creative work doesn’t run to a timetable. Nor can you produce something new without at least some struggle. That’s why you don’t try to write the perfect novel at first draft. You try to write something approaching your idea for a novel – what Nora Roberts calls “the dirty draft.”
The aim of a dirty draft is to get the story, chapter, scene or sentence down in some form. Even Michelangelo had to throw raw clay into a heap before he could shape it into the vision in his head. And that’s before he tackled the unforgiving marble.
Writers are lucky that we don’t have to work in stone. Everything can be changed. And trust me, it’s far easier to change a rough draft than to stare at the screen until sweat beads your brow.
Instead of going off to clean the fridge, force yourself to stay put. Write something, anything. Write a letter to yourself describing the story in your head. Sneak up on the story by writing around the scene. Draw the scene as a stick-figure cartoon. Write a ransom note from one character to another.
This kind of craziness can have a surprising result. You get caught up in the story almost against your will and you start writing. When this happens don’t stop to edit the work or consider if it’s right or not. Just let the words come. When you’ve done as much as you can, stop and breathe. Admire your achievement. You’ve gone from nothing to actual words. You’re a star.
This is really all there is to writing a novel. Figuring out the first bit, writing that; figuring out the next bit, writing that, and so on till you have your dirty draft. Then you can start to knock it into shape as a sculptor does the clay.
If you’ve tried all these suggestions and a few more and cleaning the fridge still looks good, ask yourself whether the idea is ready to be written? I frequently find that a major block is often a message from my muse telling me I’m going in the wrong direction. Give your story a shake-up, take it somewhere different and see if that helps. Then go do some mindless chore or sleep on the problem.
Writing Homeworld, Book 3 of my Beacons sci-fi romance series, I was well and truly stuck. After leaving the book alone for a bit I woke up one morning sure that the character I’d thought of as male was actually female. Further, she was a weather engineer, a profession I didn’t know existed until I went looking. As soon as she arrived, the book was off and running.
Procrastination is a strange beast. We may find ourselves doing almost anything but the work when actually, the story is bubbling deep within our subconscious and will surface when it’s ready.
Writer E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Is procrastination your problem? What have you tried to get back on track? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
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Coming up – Canberra Writers’ Festival 25-27 August 2017
Meet Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate, “in conversation” at
The National Library Friday 25 August 4pm-5pm, details
Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now
3 books complete in one volume
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