Stop what you're doing.
There have been times that I've believed writing was supposed to be really hard work, and that it was unreasonable to think that I could enjoy it.
Writers talk about this a lot. They talk about it through time and space. Even after death, they're talking about how hard it is to write. "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed," Ernest Hemingway says. "I hate writing. I love having written," says Dorothy Parker.
The worst part might be the fear that if it's fun or smooth, it's not going to be good. Or worthwhile.
I've spent countless hours writing through something while feeling stuck or sleepy or bored or forced — just making myself crunch through or numb out in order to get something down on paper that would make me feel worthy.
It feels like grinding, this kind of writing.
Now: picture yourself driving a cute blue Fiat 500.
It's a standard. You're not using the clutch properly, but you keep driving anyway. Dark sounds come out of the vehicle. Metal crunches under your feet.
Your bones rattle. Your stomach turns over. You're grinding the gears instead of moving. It's hard work, and nothing good is coming from it.
What if writing could feel like the work of driving the Fiat properly?
You listen to the engine and pay attention to the road and the speed. Your actions are an integral part of the drive. You and the car work together. It's work — but you're involved. The fun of driving is the work of changing gears when necessary.
Easy is a misleading word for what I'm talking about here. You don't necessarily want to feel detached and carefree when you're writing. Even if what you're writing is true and unforced, you're still going to write difficult characters, conflict, anger, sadness and frustration sometimes, and you're going to want to be involved in that.
But you can drive along a bumpy road without grinding your gears.
Try this: check in with yourself while you're writing, and be honest about how you're feeling.
If you're not enjoying yourself, or feeling interested, challenged or becoming stronger because of the way you are writing — that is, if you are bored, resentful, angry, stressed or numbed out — stop what you're doing. Right away. Pause. Reflect.
Stop grinding your gears.
If you feel bored or resentful while you're working on a scene, it usually is a sign that you're on the wrong track.
If you feel bored or numbed out, take a short rest.
Find something about the scene that makes you feel engaged again — even if it's as small as an un-popped kernel of popcorn on the table.
By the way, this works for other parts of life too: when you're cooking, banking, watching Netflix, writing emails. Check in with yourself.
I actually have an alarm that I set on my phone that's labelled "Stop what you're doing." I set it to go off in the afternoon, when I'm most given to grinding away at something on the computer. It goes off when I least expect it, and helps me remember to pause and check in with myself.
Try it out this week. Let me know how it goes — please leave a comment below.