As writers, we face a ridiculous amount of obstacles when it comes to getting words on the page. From internal issues to external pressures, we are constantly battling to do what we love: write. Here are five common threats to your writing – and the one thing you can do to overcome them (spoiler: it’s word sprinting).
Your Inner Editor
We all know it – that voice inside your head that is constantly criticizing what you write AS you write it. “No, change that cliche”, “that’s a horrible idea, this would never happen in real life”, “you need more dialogue”, “this whole paragraph is a mess, just delete it.”
But when we’re writing, especially when we’re writing a first draft, it’s alright to produce something messy. A draft is, after all, a draft; it’s something that is meant to be revised later. LATER. Not while it is being written. If writers let their inner editors run wild during the initial draft, the story would take double the amount of time to get done.
So how do you turn it off? Well, you learn to ignore it. But what’s the easiest way to do that? To do a word sprint. When you’re doing a word sprint, you’re aiming to get as many words as you can. It’s one of the few times in life that quantity is better than quality. Who cares if that isn’t the right Elizabethan terminology? What does it matter if there’s too much description? These are all things that can be revisited later during the revision phase. During a word sprint, you give yourself permission to write crap, as long as you’re writing.
Time (or lack thereof)
We’ve all said it at some point or another during our love affair with writing: “I don’t have enough time to write today/this week/ever.”
I get it, life is hectic and full of other responsibilities. How can we justify delving into an imaginary world we’ve created in our heads when the bills need paying, the kids need dinner, the dog needs to be walked, and our day jobs need our energy? The answer is that we justify it because we love it. But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes we need to push ourselves to make writing a priority. The easiest way to do this is with a word sprint. If you make an effort to join in a word sprint (or host your own), every day for only 20 minutes, and really switch off your inner editor and WRITE for those 20 minutes, you’ll come out with at least a few hundred words every day. And hey, within a week, that’ll be well over 1,000 words. Pretty good for someone who had no time for writing at all, right?
Also, if you want to hold yourself accountable for daily writing practice, considering joining Faye’s Write Chain Challenge.
It took me a good hour to finally sit down and write this section since I was busy browsing social media and getting all excited for Camp NaNo next month! The irony of this does not escape me. But it’s not surprise, considering that out of nearly all the problems I face when writing, procrastination tends to be my biggest. It’s hard to collect yourself, put other real-life responsibilities aside, and get yourself in the right mindset to write. And about 60% of the time, when I say I’m going to “get some writing done”, I end up sitting at my computer, pinning clever quotes to my Pinterest boards or tweeting about how much I love wine (a lot – I love wine a lot).
More often than not, the key to beating procrastination lies in actually STARTING. Just typing a sentence or two usually pulls me out of whatever distraction I’m facing and puts me in writing mode. So what’s the easiest way to get yourself started? Any guesses? Of course: word sprints. When a word sprint starts, you better start writing, as fast as you can, to get your word counts up. There’s no room for distractions or procrastination. You only have X amount of time, so you better actually write.
Now, I wasn’t entirely certain if I should include this here since the term “writer’s block” is such a vague one. Are you blocked because of your inner editor preventing you from letting the words or ideas flow? Are you unable to get started because of procrastination? Or is it something deeper? The form that writer’s block assumes varies from person to person – and every writer has their own methods of overcoming it. But the one method I fall back on is word sprinting (surprise, surprise). It helps me shut down my self-doubt and gets me started. It helps me write, even when I think I have nothing left to say, because the worst-case scenario is that I end up staring at a blank screen for 30 minutes. But, without fail, my brain always gets tired of staring at a blank screen and starts coming up with words to put there. And just like that, my block crumbles.
Before I get into this one, I want to throw something out there: It is important to have friends and loved ones who are not writers. Very important. It can be tempting to only surround yourself with other people who understand the challenges of being a writer, but our non-writer friends keep us grounded. They remind us that there is more to life than Scrivener, and they offer us chances to give ourselves much needed breaks from the craziness that is writing.
That being said, maintaining relationships with non-writers can be a challenge. Often, they won’t understand the discipline and dedication it takes to be a writer. They won’t understand that just because you don’t have any official deadline set for you, and that you may not be getting paid for your writing, you still need to treat it like a job. They might complain when you pass on plans to get dinner or drinks because you want to stay in to finish this latest chapter. They might even tell you that you’re foolish for chasing down your dreams (if that’s the case, then I suggest you have words with them or cut them from your life – nobody needs anyone who doesn’t support their passions).
While it’s important to make time for the people who matter in your life, it is equally important to make time for your writing. Sometimes that means passing up on certain social gatherings. But as long as you’re striking a kind of equilibrium, the people who deserve to be in your life will understand. But if they don’t? Introduce them to word sprints. Maybe they’ll want to join in the fun too. ;)
Being a writer, what are some of the biggest obstacles you face? How have you dealt with the issues we tackled here? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below! And make sure to join us for word sprint on our twitter account!
And now – your next Story Shuffle prompt!
Character(s): A group of American college students in a study abroad programme
Setting: The frozen wastes of the Bahamas
Era: Future Wild West
Item of Interest: A dusty, out of tune piano
Have fun with this one, guys!