Stop what you're doing.

watching cat

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.

Blue carIt'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.

Switch gears.

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.

xo,

Sarah Selecky

In the Spotlight: Jen Manuel
Be stubborn.

8 comments

Wendy Woods :: Personal Style Coach

Sarah, I always love reading your sweet whispers, but I especially love this tip about setting an alarm to check-in. I'll be giving this a go, starting today.
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Heather Adams

This is such good advice. For a while I was caught up in writing a certain # of words per day and I would keep writing a scene even if I wasn't feeling it at all. Even if it felt sort of like torture. And inevitably those are the scenes I end up cutting out because they just aren't very good... Interesting, huh?
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Kimberley McGill

I agree! Thanks for this. Everytime I come to visit your blog I fall in love with it a little bit more.
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Kathy Martens

Hi Sarah, My grinding happens as I gear up to actually sit down and write. Once my fingers rest on the keys, I take a deep breath, and relax my bunched up brain, then (mostly) the writing shows up, and I think, "What the heck was I freaking out about?" :) Of course, the sitting down sometimes doesn't happen at all, 'cuz I sit down, then get up again to pee, get some coffee, check the laundry, oh, there's some mail... oh, need to clip that hangnail, hmmm, what shall we do for dinner, really should meditate first, wow I need a nap... xo
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How lovely to read this. My trusted reader/writer friend came over and I read her a passage from my novel in progress. She told me how much pleasure it gave her to hear me so excited about what I had written. My first thought was maybe it wasn't right because it had been such joy writing that piece, that it flowed of its own volition out of my fingers and it hadn't caused me blood, sweat or tears to write it. Then I appreciated it for what it was, really fine writing, even though there were spots that were tough to work through. So beep beep! My Fiat is flying over those potholes lately.
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I love this!! I NEED to switch gears badly!!! My gear shift is almost broken. Thank you Sarah!
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Sarah, Thank you for this - I sometimes wonder if I should be writing when writing feels like grinding gears or like something that needs to be endured, but the advice at the end of your post to focus on something engaging no matter how small has been really helpful. This may seem silly, but I had never really considered that there were ways to make writing more engaging or fun - I always just assumed that doing it feels a particular way. Thank you for changing my perspective!
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We plod along with blinders on so often. I know it's cliche, but we remained so focused on the end product (the destination), that we forget to check in with our internal map along the way (journey). Sometimes we get this mentality that we need to push through those obstinate blocks in our creativity, no matter what. I really like your suggestion to not necessarily give in, but rather take a short respite, recharge, and return with a new and fresh perspective. Thanks Sarah :-)
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