Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Just Do It

It's the best advice one can give to any writer, and in my opinion, the hardest advice for any writer to follow. Just do it. Write. Sit yourself down at a table or at a computer desk or put your tablet of paper down on the nearest giant tortoise shell and write. Make words flow out of your pen and make the words into sentences, which become paragraphs which become chapters which become a complete manuscript. Hey, presto.

The first trick is finding time; because (for me, at least) I can always find something else to do. There are days when the prospect of cleaning out my refrigerator is a more delightful idea than sitting down and writing. Non-writers cannot understand this. "How lovely," they say, "you can spend your days writing. How creative! How fulfilling!" I don't want to shatter their dreams and say that some days it's just "How painful!" I can tell if my writing is going to go well because there's an urge to get my fingers dancing across the keyboard before the words and phrases that are sparkling in my head dissolve into the murky back recesses of my consciousness. I know I'm going to get the next unit done and I may even go further. It's possible for me to write for a few hours before my pace starts to splutter and my fingers become too busy typing typos.

Writers come in all guises, but all of us have responsibilities outside of our writing. It's very easy to allow those responsibilities to take first place and say "I've no time to write today. I've got to get whatever done." It's a simple shift of priorities that affects no one but ourselves. Of course we'll meet our deadline, but we're simply not writing today. We'll write tomorrow. All's well with the world.

There are those writers (how I wish I were one) who will write on and on and not particularly care about the quality of the writing, it's getting to the end of the manuscript that counts. After all, they rationalize, that's what self-editing is for. That's what second, third and fourth drafts are for. Just get to the end and then the real work will begin. I simply can't work this way; trust me, I've tried. If I'm not liking what I'm writing, if the rhythm is wrong or the vocabulary is stale I simply cannot keep going. I have to fix it. I have to figure out what's wrong. For me, there is no point in writing just to write because I know I'll be deleting it before the day is through. I am a very harsh judge of my own work. I like it when my writing makes me laugh, I like it when my writing makes me cry. I do not like it when my writing makes me angry.

Just do it. Sit down and write.


  1. I laugh! Cleaning out the refrigerator. I had a writer character that was having a plot problem and chose to clean her bathroom instead. It's how her husband knew she was stuck. (Note - not based on personal experience.)

  2. It's so funny--I think because I have a day job I HAVE to do, I usually just wish my family and chores would go away and leave me free to WRITE. I probably write 350 nights a year, but always after 8pm--it is my unwind... my ME time. My whole identity is tied up there.

    I periodically am stopped up on a specific work--then I write a short story, or work on a couple ongoing fanfiction things for a little while... maybe I will skip to a part that I have more clear in my head (it is easier for me to fill in those rough spots if I know where they are going) but I NEVER don't want to write.

    That will probably change when I get to where it is what I am SUPPOSED to be doing.

  3. I'm one of those writers who plunges ahead and finishes first draft. Sometimes I even type in caps - I KNOW THIS SUCKS - after a particularly awful passage.

    The reason this works for me is often I begin plot lines or character identities that go nowhere. Or I change them to something that works better in midstream.

    So I never really know what I'll leave on second draft and what will go. My second drafts are about getting everything in order.

    It's on third draft that I really become concerned about the writing.

    That all said, I try to make each draft the best I can. And I probably do 3-5 passes on the first chapter before I move on.

    We all write for different reasons and in different ways. This is what I've found works best for me right now. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time :)

  4. I can’t argue with just do it. I might add, though, that some prepartation and knowledge is helpful. I wish I’d been smarter about writing techniques and tricks when I began. Had I been, that pile of dead MS in the closet might not exist. Those are products of just write. Still, I’m not dissenting, because this nut can be cracked from several angles, just saying knowledge can save you heartache later.
    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  5. Sara; People in my house know things are going badly when the house is exceptionally clean.

    Watery Tart; You seem to have a winning attitude, you write because you can't not write. It works well for you.

    Carol; I'm glad it works for you; it would drive me crazed. I think all of us write in our own way; the end result is a finished manuscript.

  6. Galen; Knowledge is power. Knowledge can make your writing easier and better. Or it can let you know your writing blows goats.

  7. I'm with you on writing that makes you cry. I do not like that either. Unless I wrote it to make the reader cry, of course. I think doing some free thinking plotwise works well, so that you don't end up crying.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Elspeth - You're right; sometimes it's important to just sit down and write. If it's not good at first, it's important go back and fix it. Those are two simple but so critically important things to think about. Thanks.

  9. So true! I'm guilty (sometimes) of finding things to do other than write. I think it mostly happens when I'm stuck, or unhappy with the way my writing is going. Often, when I leave it and do the other things, the next time I come back to my writing I'm "unstuck" :) or feel like my writing is better.

  10. Helen; Sometimes it makes me cry for the wrong reasons, some very good days it makes me cry for the right reasons. Honestly? It's happened once.

    Margot; It's important to me to fix it. I can't seem to leave what I consider bad writing just sitting there. This means I'm slow.

    Karen; I know exactly what you mean. Sitting down is easy. Writing well is hard!

  11. Carolyn; It takes an incredibly amount of self-discipline to continue when you're not pleased with what's showing up on the page. Time away is good; but there are those who will argue we should just soldier on.

  12. Elspeth, you always have such good advice. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Write.

  13. Alan; I'm very wise.

    Old Silly; Yes. I am She Who Must Be Obeyed. Also She Who Has Trouble Following Her Own Advice.

  14. Oh, I hear you. You have nothingness, if you don't sit your butt down and get those words on paper. I find it particularly hard to write as much as I'd like to this time of year. Too many distractions and temptations eating up my time. I am forced to work right now, which really is a good thing. I have a strange off and on pain in my upper leg that is causing some discomfort though, so I have to take breaks and write standing up for a spell, like Hemingway used to do. Great post, Elspeth. I couldn't agree more.

  15. Those darned deadlines can make us not want to write, too.

    I'm one of those persevere at all costs writers who just pushes through to the end and cleans up the mess later. I wasn't that way at first, but I've adapted to my deadline reality.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  16. I am sooo guilty of putting everything else before writing over the last few weeks! I wrote my last WiP over a three month period, full steam ahead, no looking back.

    It was an experiment, and I got my 80,000 words down. But in all honesty I'm afraid, very afraid, to pick it up and read it... Oh, I will, but I am NOT looking forward to it :)

  17. Good post - just doing it is one of best parts of nano for me. I feel forced to do what I love. I don't feel guilty about making the time, about stealing the time from other priorities. Time is also my biggest challenge :)

  18. Elizabeth; I admire your determination. Sometimes we need to be forced. I hope your leg feels better soon.

    Elizabeth SC: Deadlines are the axes looming over us. I think each of us approach them in our own way.

    Deb; Congratulations on 80,000 words. I'm sure you're in for a pleasant surprise.

    Jemi; That is one thing NaNo is good for; just to keep writing, come what may. I always feel guilty taking time from other things, because I seem to be in an endless game of catch-up.

  19. Elspeth- right now my problem is not the wanting to sit down and write but trying to find the place and some quiet. Please Cosmos- Give Me An Office with a DOOR!!

    But you are right- writers MUST write.

  20. Elspeth,

    This is so true! I am fighting this very thing. Finding time to write vs. making time to write. How does one find the balance? Once I get into it, I'm actually able to turn everything else off and focus. It's the getting there that's the problem :) I actually wrote my second and third book without self editing (too much) while I worked. It was very liberating but very hard! I'm used to editing as I go, like you. I do envy those who can just sit and let the words gush out and worry about edits later.

    Oh! You asked a few days ago how I hung up the large key that's on my wall. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond! Honestly, I used a screw that was already in the brick. I've been fortunate to find screws and nails already imbeded in the walls everywhere and just hang stuff where I find them! The key I have isn't a "real" key so it's not as heavy as one made from metal. I'd suggest finding a stud in the wall and using a good, heavy duty screw and then hanging the key on it. Hope that helps!

    Happy Thursday,

  21. I feel ya! These were very inspiring words. I think most of our pain comes from fear. We get to that point in the book where things are tough and we're afraid we're going to take a wrong turn somewhere. But I've found if I can just push through those rough spots, I usually get to a much smoother patch of the book. The murky middle just always gives me trouble. Beginnings and endings are a breeze!

  22. Great advice, Elspeth. When you really come down to it, that is all there is to it. Which, perhaps, is why I am so happy NaNoWriMo happened in my life when it did. I knew I could never do the 50k words I needed to do to win, but it got me writing, and by the end of the month, I should have my first draft done.


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