So you’re writing—which, if you’re me, means going down the YouTube rabbit hole for five hours—and you’re overcome by a bunch of emotions and thoughts that shouldn’t be part of the deal.
Sometimes, these thoughts discourage you from writing. Other times, they could even make you doubt your worth as a writer.
If you’re going through a similar thing right now, fret not because I have just the thing for you. Today we’re going to put these thoughts under the spotlight and help you realise that you’re not alone, and that it’s all just part of the process.
And perhaps we should start with the most common thought, which is…
My living room is looking mighty dirty
If doing the chores seem like… well… a chore to you, yet you suddenly get the desire to mop the floor when it’s time to write, then you’re in good company.
Because I’m not a particular fan of the broom or vacuum, but give me a choice between a cleaning tool or a word processor, and I’ll always opt for the former.
And yes, you might convince yourself that you’re doing good work. After all, who doesn’t want a clean house, am I right? But it’s all lies. Lies so dirty that no amount of Windex is going to clear that smudge from your scumbag brain.
So the next time you hear your broom calling out to you when it’s time to finish your chapter, just chalk it off as a siren song, and do what you promised yourself first: write.
Why am I doing this
It’s so easy to forget why we started writing, especially on a particularly tough day when our sentences don’t make any sense.
Then suddenly you get this desire to try something new. Maybe you’d fare better in singing, or painting. And maybe if you embark on that journey now, you won’t waste years of your life only to realise that you suck as a writer all along.
You know that Nietzsche quote ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how’?
That’s going to be your stopgap. This particular thought is fairly common, but it’s also quite easy to deal with. The only thing you need is time at the drawing board.
So go deep. Use that ‘ask yourself why five times’ technique if you have to. Remember to be honest though. Don’t trick yourself that you want to ‘change people’s lives through writing’ when you actually want the pride of writing a bestseller.
Write down your reasons and keep them close. And the next time you find yourself faltering to doubt, break out your ‘whys’ so you can soldier on.
This will never end
You can’t write a novel without having this thought this at least seventy-nine times through the process.
Once your motivation wanes after chapter two, you’ll essentially be left with fumes to power you through the other fifty-eight. You’ll sag through the midpoint of your novel, and in this format, everything beyond the first chapter is the middle.
Your first draft could take anywhere between a few weeks to a few years, yet it might as well feel like centuries every time you sit down to write.
And in a novel, everything is the middle until you type ‘The End’ at the end of your final paragraph.
You first draft could take you anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, and every time you sit down to write, it’ll almost feel like you’re still lightyears away from the final chapter.
Don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal. Even after completing five manuscripts, I still feel that way when embarking on a new story, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling that I’ll never finish this time.
But I always do. And so will you.
I’ve got more important things to do
This thought particularly applies to those who don’t write for a living. Because if that were the case, you’d instead be thinking ‘I have more important things to write‘.
If you routinely feel like you’re wasting your time writing, then you’re either one of two things: you feel guilty for pursuing your hobby, or you have much more pressing life matters that you’re not addressing.
And it’s the second bit that you should be worried about. Are you neglecting your health? Your finances? Maybe you need to *cough* do the chores *cough* before you feel at ease to write?
Let’s go back to our already-established drawing board. What’s bothering you? Why can’t you write now, just for an hour? Again, be honest. Because sometimes the gift of writing is not in the actual craft, but in the realisation of what you really want in life.
I can never be [insert your favourite author here]
Whoa, there. Hold up. What’s with the negative talk?
Yes, you’re probably writing because your favourite author had changed your life through writing, and you wish to do the same for others, but comparing yourself to your idol only means setting unrealistic goals for yourself.
I know this because I wanted to be Neil Gaiman when writing my first novel. I bought the fountain pens he used, and even tried to grow the mop of hair he had.
I remember him saying this about writing: “You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”
And I remember thinking: “Easy for you to say. You’re a word sorcerer. What do I get by putting one word after another? A word salad that reeks of rotten spinach?”
But as it turned out, it really was that easy. And that hard. I managed to get traditionally published, solely based off putting one word in front of the other. Didn’t sell 45 million books like Neil Gaiman though.
So look up to your idols. Find strength in their journey. But never, ever, pressure yourself to follow in their footsteps.
Do I really love writing if I hate the work?
Sure, we all joke about hating the blank page. I do it all the time. How did you like my jest about preferring to vacuum over writing? Funny, right? Ha ha.
But deep inside you know there’s some truth to it. You do dread the work sometimes, to the point where you question your passion.
Yet have you come across any pursuit that doesn’t require work? Even ‘dream’ jobs like travel writing or being a professional gamer involves doing things you don’t want to do.
You think Fortnite players just waltz their way into million-dollar cash prizes? It’s not unheard of for the gamers to spend 12 hours a day practising mundane skills that can easily suck the enjoyment out of a game.
I remember when I used to play Tekken competitively. What was once a fun pastime quickly turned into teary eyes and brain fog from staring at a screen for hours at a time. Life consisted of mindless drills, the repeating of moves, thousands of times over, just so I could react a millisecond faster.
We used to have to memorise frame rates too. I needed to know how fast all your moves were in comparison to mine, and I needed to do this for all characters (there were 59 characters in the game). All this, just to be decent at the hobbyist level.
Likewise, do you think writing success awaits behind your two hours of fun writing per week? There’s bound to be the sucky days as well, and when they do arrive, it’s up to you to thank the universe for this test.
Because you have to take the good things with the bad in any pursuit you embark on. You can’t just pick the rainbows and unicorns without experiencing the rain and unicorn poo.
I need my lucky underwear
Wait. This tip’s for another article. No idea how it appeared here. Moving on…
I must pet the pets
Have you actually stopped to stroke or cuddle your pets after every sentence? This occupational hazard applies especially if you have a clingy furkid. And boy can they be irresistible indeed.
Nothing much to say here. If you’re prone to this, then you’re a perfectly normal person. In fact, I actively sought out my dog after writing the previous paragraph. Don’t resist it. Your pet deserves all the love anyway.
Holy shit, it’s been three hours?
Ah, the fabled state of flow. Sometimes you fall into a vortex and come out on the other side with a draft you never knew you wrote. Then you look outside and wonder where the sun went.
Be thankful that you’ve made your trip through literary Narnia, because your next visit isn’t promised. This is why most writers write. This is why most people do anything, really, especially since flow is accessible through any activity of your choice.
But if you’re a regular connoisseur of flow, you best keep your mouth shut, unless you want to be the subject of envy, particularly from the likes of me.
This is my magnum opus
If you’re thinking this, you’re most probably drunk. Don’t ask me how I know.
And yes, writing after a few tipples is one of the best feelings in the world, because it’s nice not having to second-guess your words for once.
In fact, your first draft might as well be the best work of literature humankind will ever read. Maybe this liquid courage thing really works. Never again will you write sober! Because if it was good for Hemingway, it’s good enough for you.
What kind of bullshit did drunk me write?
If you had the previous thought, you’ll have this soon after. Unless, of course, you’re a sociopath. Or a very confident writer.
This is when you’ll curse Hemingway’s bones for his ‘write drunk, edit sober’ quote. But after a quick Google search you learn that Hemingway didn’t write drunk. You were probably looking for Charles Bukowski, or Hunter S Thompson, or Stephen King.
But that’s not the point. What’s more important right now is that you’re looking at what you wrote yesterday, and it’s shit. You’re shit. You’ll never be like the greats, and this will never end. It’s like you’re starting this list all the way from the top again.
Yet if you nurse your hangover and you keep working away at this shitty first draft, you might reach the ultimate pinnacle of writing. And that’s…
This is fine. I’m fine.
You realise that you’re not going to change the world. And maybe that’s what the greats thought too, before their works were picked up by the world.
You’ve written enough to know that with every writing session—both good and bad—you learn something new, and that can’t be a bad thing, right?
The doubts still haunt you, but they’re like your old friends now. Annoying old friends that are more of an annoyance than a danger.
You know that no matter what happens, you’ll still come back to writing anyway. This is your medium of choice. You may or may not explore something else in the future. Dancing, maybe. Or Tekken, because you heard about it from a Malaysian blogger once.
But right now, you’re writing. And that’s all you can ask of yourself. Because even with all the self-doubt and fears and obstacles this craft has to offer, you know you can’t see yourself doing anything else.
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