As a young writer I found it difficult to start (and finish) a story. I often found that "motivation" or "inspiration" were to blame, as they were avoiding me. Such cruel and elusive creatures, those two.
They are liars. They lie and convince you to possess them so you will avoid doing what you must do. But writing, like taking a leak, is an unavoidable function. An unmistakable signal provided by your body informs you to pop in the restroom and relieve yourself. You do not wait for a subject or an opening line, you head to the toilet. You get the job done.
The wait for motivation / inspiration is the urinary tract infection of the writing bladder. They provide false signals that you need to go and do. These signals continue until you do something about what is wrong with your body. Coincidentally, the best thing for curing writer's block is to write.
Many exercises are available online to help you practice the craft of writing. My favorite is to write one word. A simple task, no? Yet I found it insurmountable. "What if I pick the wrong word?" I said.
I wrote for myself. For whom, then, would it be the wrong word? And here we hit on the key to "writer's block."
I am no stranger to anxiety. Even now, writing this, I am sweating. The adrenaline thuds through me at the prospect someone will read this and somehow "assess" me as a person. Anxiety held me from writing for many years. I thought one opinion mattered more than my own.
What brought me back to the page was something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft."
"By the time I was fourteen ... the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.
This ground at me. I found other reasons not to write (too old, too male, too busy, etc.) but none, not one, stood the acid test. Aminatta Forna (The Memory of Love, The Hired Man) published her first book, Ancestor Stones, in her early forties. Steig Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Frank Herbert (Dune, et al.), and Roald Dahl (Matilda, et al.) were male. Beth Miller (The Good Neighbour, When We Were Sisters) is a mother of four. I could find a better excuse.
I found in my old friend Time such an excuse. Mr. King states he writes 2000 words per day. What a pile of words! I didn't have time for that.
However, my writing bladder was filling up. The urge to do was stronger. I had to spill something onto the page. Instead, I procrastinated further and started doing some math.
I took a typing test. As it happens, I can type around 25 words per minute. That means if I sit uninterrupted for 80 minutes, I can type 2000 words. Damn. It also means I can type 250 words in ten minutes. That's an entire manuscript page.
If I type one manuscript page per day, every day, I have a novel in less than a year. I broke my excuse. I have ten minutes a day. As a stay-at-home dad, I have at least that. But what if I write four pages a day? 365,000 words after a year!
I knew I needed a goal, but I also knew I needed a limit. I don't want to burn out anymore than I want to be mute. I set myself a window: 500 - 2000 words per day. This allows me to do the things I need and want and provides me an achievable goal.
But how do I start? A single word. And I doubt it is the correct word every single time. I am a harsh critic, my worst troll, and my cruelest commentator. If I am to reach my goal, I must trust the single word I begin with is, if not the best word, the right one. When I meet my goal, I must trust I have established something.
You can write, and you have a story. Set a goal even if it is just fifteen minutes a day broken into five-minute segments. The story will come. The first run doesn't need perfection. It doesn't even need to be good. But you cannot edit what isn't on the page.
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