Don’t Practice Not Writing

Writing methods, as with any creative endeavor are for the most part, “to each his own.” No one creative process is superior to another. Advice is just that, advice. Advice from successful people may carry a bit more weight for a time, and it may help you a great deal. Yet no matter who gives it, it’s just advice. Do what works for you.

That being said, my instinct is that certain advice, while possibly helpful to a few, are more likely to be problematic. I don’t say that in order to cast  myself as a sage, but only to ironically, offer my own advice on them. Not a warning, per se, but considerations.

Today, I’m pondering the advice many give about sitting down with your paper or computer no matter what when it’s time to write. By extension, this means that if writing time is 3PM to 4PM each day, some sit with their tools, even if they have no ideas. That is the writing hour, and though you’re tired or out of ideas, you must, so goes this method, sit in front of the computer for that time. Discipline. Even if you write nothing the entire time.

I humbly submit that for the majority of writers and would-be writers, following this advice does more harm than good.

Write every day at the same time? Sure, I’m all for that. I don’t do it myself, but the concept makes perfect sense to me. Yet sitting in front of your blank screen or page for that hour when nothing presents itself is, I think, counterproductive at best and harmful to creativity at worst. Great things sometimes come under duress, I can’t deny it. What is a deadline after all but a tiny form of forcing the issue? But to stare off into the void of you own (temporary) inability to produce a single word only serves to reflect your dry spell back at yourself, enhanced. It’s putting a gun to your own head and saying, “you better write this, damn you.” Taking writing lessons from Misery isn’t the best thing to do.

I kid, somewhat, of course, when I say that. Yet I’m in earnest when I advise against forcing yourself into confronting your inability to write at any given moment. You’re only human, after all, and you are going to have a bad day, or even a bad couple of days with your novel. (Or whatever piece you are working on right now.)

Another way of putting it is that by sitting in front of your writing tools for that hour without writing, you practice not writing. You need to practice writing.

Consider: you need your physical exercise, and are just not feeling it today. Sitting in the gym parking lot looking through the window because this is your “gym day” is discipline gone fruitless. It does nothing. You can either give yourself a day off, or you can get moving and hope that once you start, the inertia will shift and you’ll get your workout in. (Which is what happens most of the time anyway.)

What you do during an off day at the gym, you can do with writing. Okay, so your short story isn’t coming to you today, yet you are a stickler for 3PM to 4PM being writing time. Write a long email to someone. Write a poem. Write a blog post or something nobody will ever read. A diary entry. An open letter to somebody, like I do every other week. (Though I forgot last week…) If you must write every single day at the same time, make sure that is what you do. Don’t dedicate writing time to the act of being unable to write.

Writing is about momentum. It’s about getting something done, even if it isn’t your main project at the moment. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. So, I mean no offense at all to those who feel that keeping “butt in chair” is vital, even if one is writing nothing. For my money, however, if it isn’t coming, it isn’t coming. If you refuse to write anything but your current project when the words aren’t coming, go do something else. That walk you could be taking or that movie you could be watching, or even that paperwork you could be filling out is better for you than succumbing to the silence of having nothing to write. Besides, any of those activities and a million others may just get you writing again anyway.

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