Don’t Tell me What, Tell me How

Hello, Happy New Year, sorry for not posting in a while and all that.

Something’s bugging me, so I’m going to get right down to business.

It’s business time.

Blogs about writing. I’m not talking about updates on the blogger’s writing, here, but advice. From writers to writers through the medium of a blog.

The problem I consistently have is this:

The blog describes your problem. (Unless it has a misleading title or is poorly tagged or you’re just having a stupid moment and forgot how to read and interpret words. But no, let’s assume the blog is written about the problem which you are currently facing. In my case, this would be discipline/self-motivation – surprise surprise. How’s my New Year’s Resolution to write every day going? *High pitched* Well…)

As you’re reading the description of your problem, you find yourself getting your hopes up. Yes, you think, that is exactly the problem I am having. It’s like this person is reading my mind right now. This is amazing. They are going to cure EVERYTHING.

(You assume that because they understand your problem so completely that they’ll be able to tell you exactly how to overcome it. Perhaps this isn’t reasonable but you’re desperate. You’re done trying to solve it alone. You’ve googled this shit. Maybe you’ve gone a step further and used some kind of writing advice search tool.* Either way, shit has got real.)

You keep reading. The blog moves on to tell you what you need to do to solve this problem. Write every day. Silence your inner critic. Set yourself a deadline. Whatever. It’s the usual crap, you’ve heard it all before. But maybe…maybe there’s one special piece of advice. The golden nugget. The magic key. It will be here. At the end of the blog post. You know it…oh.

It isn’t there.

You re-read. Did you miss it? Was it tucked away somewhere?

No.

Because the problem is they’ve given you a list of things you should try. What you should do. But they haven’t told you how.

How do you write every day?

Er…hmm…no I don’t know. Can’t manage it, myself. Some people seem to just…do it. Could those lucky people please tell me how? Please?

Maybe they do it by silencing their inner critic.

Again – how? Is there a switch somewhere that I’m missing? Behind my ear? No? Sorry – can’t do it either. Except for those rare occasions when it just…happens. If there’s a way of making that happen or at least encouraging it, that’d be good to know. Not much good you telling me to do it, though, unless you tell me how.

Maybe setting yourself a deadline would help you silence your inner critic and write everyday. But, again, how do you set yourself a deadline? OK, this one is actually easy. You write it in your calendar. Stick it on your wall. Set a reminder on your phone. Easy peasy. Right? Thing is, though, who’s making you keep to this deadline? What happens if you miss it?

Nothing.

So why should you care?

You shouldn’t. There is no reason to. It doesn’t matter if you miss your deadline – there will be no consequences. OK, there’ll be the consequence of you not writing everyday and not improving as a writer and not getting one step closer to your goal. But really, is that a noticeable consequence? I don’t think it is. It’s actually very easy to ignore.

The real question is: how do you set yourself a deadline and stick to it? How do you create real consequences when there are none? You can make some stuff up about rewards and punishments but, at the end of the day, who’s dishing those bad boys out? You are. You could reward yourself if you fail or – no idea why you would but it’s theoretically possible – punish yourself when you succeed. No-one’s going to stop you from eating that brownie a little early or catching up on your fav. TV programme when you haven’t written a word. I sat at my desk and opened my laptop! I showed up! That’s totally a step in the right direction – I should reward myself and watch Bob’s Burgers NOW. I can write later. After I’m all inspired.

Yeah. Cause that’s gonna happen.

I don’t have the answers. I’m not pretending to. And yes, I appreciate you trying to help but the thing is…you’re not.

Because I have heard that advice before and it didn’t help me any of those times either and, while, yes I can see that it is theoretically a great idea and would completely work…I just can’t make myself apply it. In, you know, the real world. It just doesn’t happen.

Maybe I should just stop whining about it. Maybe I should accept the fact that every writer is different and what works for you may not work for me and I just have to find my own way of doing it. But then again you’re someone who’s had my problem and has overcome it and all you can tell me is the same old advice I’ve heard over and over again? What about personal experience? How did YOU overcome it? How did YOU make yourself follow this advice?

HOW?

Ahem.

So, in conclusion, my message is this. If you’re writing a blog post about how to overcome some common problem we writers face (and let’s face it – we’re a problematic bunch) don’t just compile a list of what to dos that the person will have already read/absorbed through the ether, explain how to do them. Or, better, yet, explain how YOU did them. In practice. How YOU REALLY overcame the problem. Give it the personal touch.

And, finally, to the people who can do discipline and self-motivation and writing every day, I implore you: tell me how!

*I use Writers’ Knowledge Base but I’m starting to think it’s more a curse than a blessing. My first creative writing tutor said that thesauruses are a curse. Why? Because they send you off on a crazy rabbit hunt in search of the perfect word. That word doesn’t exist. But the thesaurus says otherwise. It makes promises it can’t fulfill. Now, I love thesauruses and therefore cannot agree with him – I guess he hates them because he has a problem with them which I don’t have – but I’m starting to think theĀ Writers’ Knowledge Base (I’m using it as an example because it’s the one I use – I don’t mean it specifically) is my thesaurus. Hummm…

4 thoughts on “Don’t Tell me What, Tell me How

  1. I write everyday because I can’t relax, and do other things (TV, reading, etc) unless I feel that I’ve earned the right to do them. Sure, I could watch Netflix all day, but the whole time I’d be feeling bad about doing it.
    On the discipline side I keep a log of what I do at what times, and how fast, to pinpoint when the best and worst times to work are. I also figured out what my skiving triggers are as well(Once the Playstation is turned on, the writing day is more or less over).
    Do you have a set word count for each day? You could try using a pyramid scale, starting with a low daily goal, adding a hundred words or so until you are really flying, then scaling it back, and repeat. I used this after not writing for a week or so over Christmas.
    Good luck!

    • I’m guessing the reason you can’t relax until you’ve written is because you’ve trained yourself to feel that way – that just sounds like learned, rather than instinctive, behaviour to me. But please correct me if I’m wrong. And if I’m not – could you tell me how you did that?

      Your discipline structure is very organised. I have a spreadsheet all ready for me to log my daily wordcounts. I’m good at setting these things up. Not so good at writing anything to log.

      I don’t set a wordcount for each day. I have tried that and sometimes it’s useful but other times it’s not. For first drafts it is but for rewriting/editing – sometimes cutting a lot of words is more productive than adding them. Currently, I’m plotting so wordcounts wouldn’t work for me, right now. But I like the sound of your pyramid scale. When I’m on to the writing I may give that a go,

      Thanks!

      • I don’t think neuroses can be trained, or at least they probably shouldn’t be. In this case it’s an advantage. It has got worse over time, seemingly in proportion to how seriously I’ve taken writing as a hobby. When I first took a class a few years ago I was happy writing infrequently and badly, putting the assignments together the day they needed to be in, whereas for the last year or so I feel terrible if I skip a day, or even if I put writing off until a time when I know the work I put in will be worse. That said, it might be age, since I have a similar attitude to running nowadays.

        My wordcount goes on a sticky on my laptop screen. Sometimes I will email it to one or more people(not the words, just a number). I tend not to aim for clean multiples of 1000, since seeing it progress from 11,000 to 12,000 is not as satisfying as seeing 10,850 go 11, 670 for some odd reason. Every now and then I calculate how much I would have to write to make my next goal (e.g. monthly wordcount/pagecount)

        If I’m not yet caught up in the flow of the story I write in white font, ignoring all the red underlines. The next day I read over only what I need to to continue. Edits can only be made in a separate document until the current draft is complete.

        When I write a new draft I write the entire thing out again, so I still keep to wordcount goals. As such no particular draft is intimidating since it will all be redone, until it feels right. No deadlines for finishing, only progress. I don’t expect to ever finish things, until one day it’s done.

        We probably have very different approaches if you are in a planning phase, something I don’t really have. I wish I did, but I never end up writing the stories I plan meticulously. Once I have a clear enough idea of the characters and setting I charge through the first draft, which is usually short, scrappy and underdeveloped. From there I rewrite it from the beginning, exploring any interesting offshoots even if they don’t really fit anywhere. This takes up the most time. Then I cut up what I have and arrange it into something someone else might make sense of, rewriting it in a more cohesive style and tone.

        What do you do in the way of planning, and how much time/paper does it take for you to plan something? The Snowflake, etc never yielded anything for me.

  2. I don’t get on with the ‘snowflake’ method, either. I never used to plan much but then I used to write short stories so it never seemed necessary. Writing novels feels like learning how to write all over again and I’ve just reached a point where I feel the need for control I guess. I started like I usually do with stories – an idea turned into a vague plan and churned our a first draft. A lot happened I didn’t expect, which was great, but also made a lot of earlier material redundant or, well, wrong. So I started rewriting, basing it on what I could of the first draft. Got about a third of the way through and took a break. When I came back to it, I hated it and decided to start again. This time I approached it like another first draft but ended up writing every single day in the life of my characters and got incredibly bored and frustrated by the knowledge that I would have to cut most of it. So I began rewriting again, this time typing (I write first drafts by hand) and calling it a rewrite – trying to get it better, basically. Then I got stuck and thought maybe I need a plan. I’ve been working on plans in several formats – I’ve got a calendar, a timeline, a spreadsheet, a list of bullet points and, most recently, a table in word. To put it bluntly, I have no idea what I’m doing! But I’ll get there in the end.

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