Be open, and let yourself love this.

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I received the following question from a subscriber this winter:

Dear Sarah, I am really struggling... I am able to write a bit every day but I can’t seem to get enough words on a page. My thoughts aren't growing enough. I’m unable to give enough descriptions, etc. to help draw in the reader. Most of the time it’s coming out very matter of fact instead of storytelling. I am new to daily creative writing and my word count always seems stuck in the 500-word range. This is nothing. But my brain stops telling me I’m done. I've been able to write 1500-2000 words twice in two weeks but only because I had a moment of inspiration where it was just flowing.

I want to write at least 1600 words a day. I’d love to write more, but again, it doesn't seem to be flowing. How do I keep the flow? How do I summon the inspiration? How do I expound?

Hold up! 500 words a day is not nothing. It’s 500 words a day! It also means that you’re facing resistance every day. This is good. Now you want to sink into that rock hard practice you've developed and enjoy yourself more often.

1600 words a day is an awesome goal. I like word count goals: go for it. It’s good to get out of your own way and write whatever comes, and you can surprise yourself when you write toward a word count.

But if you, dear reader, can relate to this subscriber’s question, I wonder if you're being too hard on yourself.

Strictness and judge-yness kill creative joy. And play and flow are inaccessible without joy.

I know it can be frustrating! Showing up to write can feel like you’re pounding away at hard, dry, packed dirt with a little trowel and there’s nothing but dust coming up. And you’re there day after day, and still all of your sentences sound dead. Where is that luscious, rich, loamy soil you need to plant seeds in?

It’s there. It’s always right there for you. Maddeningly, it is your state of mind that is keeping you from the rich soil and the connection and flow you desire. You need to shift your perspective so you can see it. This is the struggle that writers face.

Writing isn’t hard work — you love writing. What’s difficult is changing the way you think about the creative act of writing.

First things first: please read this post and see if you need to do something about an inner critic.

Once you’ve taken care of your critic (nice work), you want to start to collaborate with your creative self. Respect it and remain curious about it. Do not beat it up. When you feel negativity, respond with kindness.

Your creativity will respond to positive reinforcement.

If you’re too pushy or demanding, if you have expectations before you even get to the page, then you’re not really collaborating with your creative self: you’re trying to be the boss of it. That's not good.

Nobody wants to play with a bossy control freak. Why do you think Smashing Pumpkins broke up? Billy Corgan wanted everything his way. It’s no fun to play with someone who won’t even listen to your ideas. And if you’re working with someone who ignores your fun ideas and you feel shut down over and over again, what are you going to do? You’ll stop coming up with fresh ideas. You’ll show up because you have to, but there’s no sparkle to what you make.

Sure, you can grind through 500 words every day, if you had to.

But what if it's not a problem that you are writing 100-500 words a day?

What if you enjoyed writing 500 words a day?

If you allowed yourself to enjoy it, you might find that you enter the flow state more often, and lo! end up writing more words.

The thing about flow is that you have to let go and surrender to process in order to find it. And there’s so much pleasure in process! Once you get over the discomfort of the uncertainty and risk involved, of course.

The antidote to that kind of discomfort is to enjoy yourself. Let joy happen.

Remember what you love about writing: making something out of nothing. Feeling something, or seeing something in your mind, and then finding the words to recreate it.

This is magic. You love it! Right? Remember how much you love writing?

To do:

Give yourself more of what you love.

Tell yourself that you’re doing GREAT.

Know it and feel it: you love what you’re doing!

When you show up to write, know that the writing is enough.

Feel how grateful you are that you make time to write every day.

Celebrate your love of writing — don’t punish it.

This is what you WANT to do. So want it, already! Want it like chocolate. Want it like romance. Want it like dancing to Santigold. Want it like tradewinds on Maui.

It’s there. It’s yours. You have it.


Sarah Selecky


ps. For more on understanding the flow state, read this book. And to help understand resistance and creative blocks, read Stephen Pressfield.

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Stephen D. Forman

I'm certainly no expert, but I have a different take. If the letter writer is consistently stuck at 500 words and can't get out of her own way, I suspect she has filled her writing environment with too many word count signals and has created a mental block. Her page may explicitly show a word count in the corner as she writes, or she may always use the same paper and pen (with predictable results). Break the habit! As the Mariners used to say to break a losing streak, "Change your look, change your luck." Then they'd take the field in new uniforms. Try choosing a writing platform that disguises word count, or a completely new paper (horizontal pink postcards) that makes it impossible to count words. Get lost in your head. Or... do what my old screenwriting prof used to tell us, "Having trouble writing ten lines? Then write 20 lines." I don't disagree with anything Sarah has said (after all, joy, love and forgiveness are no less important to a writer than her pen), but there's no better cure for not writing than... writing. Good luck! Stephen D. Forman
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Sarah Selecky

Hi Steve! I adore your take on this. What I love about your holla to "Break the habit!" -- and the suggestion to write on horizontal pink postcards, especially -- is that your angle illuminates another key element for our letter writer (or anyone else who feels frustrated or stuck) -- and that is FUN. I mean uncertainty and discovery and trying new things. In other words... play. There's a playfulness inherent in starting something in a new way. In this case, making it impossible to count words may just snap this writer back to a more creative (and less punitive) place. Thank you so much for your insightful comment!
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Peggy Elms

Dear Sarah, I came across your newsletter by a friend on pinterest. She sent me your course and how I would like to do it someday. Money is a bit scarce right now. Still, how glad I am to be finally writing. I started last week and do all the prompts, I had not been writing for at least 2 years and it shows in the way I have become. I am not so thrilled with me these days and you and my sweet friend are life savers. I enjoy my 10 minutes of writing in the morning, I am feeling better and better everyday. I believe writing is curing my sadness, so I shall continue to do so. Thank you so kindly, Peggy P.S. I had no idea people like you existed. I wish you much success with your future books , I know you deserve it.
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hi there. I'm a poet, but ten plus years ago I was given a contract to write a prose book. Wonderful. Terrifying, though I'd already been publishing for thirty years. Then I remembered my motto: Don't build in failure, build in success. So I did the math. If I wrote one paragraph a day, real work, it would be enough. And knowing myself, if I wrote one paragraph, I would probably be just starting to cook, so I'd probably write another. Two paragraphs. Wow. And by the end of the second, I might need to move on to paragraph number three, though it wasn't required. But three would be amazing. Three paragraphs of real writing, saying what I needed to say in each, might even end up being a page. But only one paragraph was required, and the willingness to stay open to writing the next if I was connected in the work, saying what needed to be said. Here's the math part: If I stayed with that programme, one paragraph a day, probably leading to two authentic paragraphs, at the end of a year I'd either have a book, if my paragraphs were long, or be well on my way to having one. After all, one does tend to lead to two and to three, though the key was that only one was required. Some days I'd write just one. That was all I had. Mind elsewhere. Too much domestic bliss, which is what I call chores, in the way. Some days, truly, I'd write five pages because I was cooking. Then, if I needed a day off for more domestic bliss, I could have one - but not two. That's too dangerous, and besides, I had a contract, a deadline (which is a lifeline for writers) so one day off is enough. It works. Give it a try. Thanks, sarah. important discussion. peter
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Meg Sharpe

Is it a terrible thing that I find encouragement in knowing there are so many other self-flagellators out there amongst this odd class of humans we call writers? Having for years written editorials and a certain form of magazine articles that had to conform to an exact word count, I find I write to any given word count effortlessly and without thought, but that quirk does nothing to enhance my creative juices. I have a couple of valuable quotations that I keep on my desktop which I thought I'd share in hopes they might be an inspiration to this (and other) "really struggling" subscriber/writers: In the Letters of Ernest Hemingway, from one he wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934 (and Hemingway, remember, never wrote more than 500 words a day): "I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket." And Isasc Asimov: "I write for the same reason I breathe-because if I didn't, I would die." I think we need to assess if that's true for us, and if it is, then we will always find a way through the struggles of self-loathing because we have to. It doesn't hurt to remember that 500 words a day translates into two solid novels a year. That's not a bad production for any self-respecting writer.
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Laurie Calland

I am so grateful for this post. I work as an educator. The 2013 - 2014 school year ended last Friday. It always takes me a little while to find myself and my voice again after 9+ months of thinking about little more than work. Yesterday, this post gave me permission to trust my own process of returning to life, and today it made it possible for me to write and to enjoy writing.
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