“Oh, man. Is it really Friday again? Do I have to write another post?”
“I’d rather just watch something on Netflix. Star Trek THG or DS9 would be good.”
You should be writing.
“Seriously?” <whining> “I’ll show you. I’ll just sit here and stare at the screen.”
Just don’t open YouTube or fall in a Twitter hole.
Why is it I can’t focus on the work at hand?
I think everyone can relate to that question. It does feel like, now that I’m focusing on creative work, that it should be less of a problem. I’m not doing personnel evaluations or TPS reports anymore. I’m creating whole new worlds, cutting characters from whole cloth and breathing life into them. That’s pretty damn interesting and I should be able to dig in. Shouldn’t I?
But sometimes I can’t. There’s a variety of different reasons that this has been happening–burnout, writer’s block, and lack of interest in the material to name a few.
If you’re interested in a great review of writer’s block and BIC HOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) check out the team at Writing Excuses. The episode is called, strangely enough, Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard and approaches the topic from the perspective of writer’s block. If you’re an avid listener of Podcasts like I am, I can’t recommend Writing Excuses enough. This episode is from their first season, but they’re in the middle of season 12 right now. Every episode I’ve heard has given me some insight or inspiration. If you’re a writer, check it out.
I’ve been in the process of trying to build my daily word count. Just like training for distance running, some days I’ve pushed myself to write longer or faster. The longer writing has helped build my endurance and the faster is helping me get out of my head.
Writing longer has had a very positive impact. I feel like the first 30 minutes of every writing session is an exercise in clearing my throat. The warm-up words are usually not very good but everything after that is workable and requires a lot less editing.
If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure how much the faster is helping. My normal word count is about 500 per hour. Trying to get 1,000 words down in and hour or less has generally been producing steaming piles of … words. The amount of cutting and editing seems to be yielding less usable story overall. I’m not going to give up yet, but this may fall out of my training regiment.
Like running, I need a break after going four or five days to avoid hurting myself. Burnout is the pulled-hamstring of writing. Take a break. I take weekends off (mostly) to help rest my brain muscle. Don’t push yourself so hard you pull your brain.
I’m not sure about writer’s block. I haven’t experienced it unless you count the previous 25 years where I wanted to write but didn’t. Does lack of energy/confidence/self-awareness count as writer’s block? Maybe, but that exploration is probably a post all on it’s own.
I envision the traditional writer’s block to one where ideas just won’t come. You stare at the page for hours and nothing makes it out. I haven’t experienced that and I hope I don’t. I have looked at the computer with revulsion and thrown away notebooks of ideas. At the time, I knew that anything I wrote would be shit and and every idea I had was shit and there was no way I could ever create anything meaningful or worthwhile.
I think that all creative people experience that from time to time. I don’t believe that BIC HOK will ever fix that for me. When I get into a depression cycle, the only thing that helps is connecting with family and friends or a session with my therapist. I highly recommend a therapist. Staring at the screen will only dig the hole deeper. Have you watched Kubrick’s The Shining? Jack Torrance was getting some great word count, but he was seriously blocked.
Lack of Interest in the Project
Maybe I have experienced traditional writer’s block after all. When I find myself staring at the screen, it’s almost always because I’m bored with what I’m working on.
Since I’m writing sci-fi action adventure, boring scenes are bad. The boring ones are usually bridge scenes between dynamic moments. I feel like I need a transition and I end up taking all week to write a chapter that could have been done in a paragraph. I haven’t advanced the story or the characters enough to justify the word count. It’s a learning experience. I know if I can identity the cause of the boredom sooner, the more time I can save myself. In the future, I’m going to try and write the transition in a paragraph or throw in a literary grenade to get my interest level up.
I’m sure that if I’m not interested in what I’m writing, you won’t be either. I know I’m in trouble that if something takes me days instead of hours to complete. BIC HOK can help here, but taking a step back and examining why I’m struggling is way more effective.
If you start hearing Netflix calling, take a break instead. No media. Take a walk. Do some push-ups. Fold laundry. Think about your story, then back to BIC HOK.
Crap. The dryer buzzed an hour ago. My underpants are going to be wrinkly.