Creative Roadblocks: What keeps you from writing?
As I look back on the past year, I am reminded that I didn’t write that novel I’d planned to get on paper. I wrote plenty for this site, and while I can count that as practicing my craft in a sense, it did not get me any closer to my goal to write a novel. So why didn’t I write what I’d planned? Well, I’m a bit of a master procrastinator when it comes to my creative muse. If she takes a hold of me, I can’t do anything else but write her genius. When she’s merely in the room tossing out ideas in my general direction, my attention span takes on a SQUIRREL! quality I haven’t had since I was a toddler. It’s as if my psyche is purposely sabotaging me with creative roadblocks. So what ingenious, or not so ingenious, ways have I worked at not reaching my goal?
I’ve employed the usual need to fold the laundry, deep clean the house, exercise, prepare enough freezer dinners for a month, clean the oven, and alphabetize our DVD collection. I remind myself that if my house is uncluttered, so is my mind and my creative muse will be free from distractions… I know, right? This never works because my psyche will throw more creative roadblocks in the form of odd jobs that need to get done, and she will continue to push that agenda when my creative muse steps into the room.
And just when I think I’m going to conquer those tasks and free my thoughts by assigning those jobs to my children, my psyche throws in the old guilt card with, “You don’t spend enough time with you children.” Usually when I cave to this one, my children (teenagers) look at me as if I’ve grown three heads and ask me what wrong they’ve done to deserve the torture of my company. The same thing holds true with my husband, especially during football season. If I sit down next to him on the couch, he’ll just had me the remote and go upstairs to finish watching his game because he knows I don’t watch football and he doesn’t want me to “talk” while he enjoys the game.
So my psyche tries a new tactic: you don’t spend enough time doing things for yourself. Haha! She throws everything at me from catching up on favorite television shows I fell behind on and flying out-of-state to visit my sister every other weekend to tracking down old friends from college to reconnect with. And while each of these things are wonderful, I’ve learned to see them for what they are: distractions. I’m on to you, psyche!
But there are other distractions I must master. As an editor I have to passionately R. U. E., which means Resist the Urge to Edit for those of you not in the know. If I see a mistake in my writing, I feel compelled to fix it. Most of the time the argument in my head goes something like this:
Editor Me: I spelled that word wrong.
Writer Me: Leave it.
Editor Me: It will take me half of a half of a second to fix it.
Writer Me: You can come back later and fix it.
Editor Me: What if I miss it?
Writer Me:You won’t.
Editor Me: But it’s right there!
Writer Me: Resist the urge!
(It’s about this time that Editor Me clubs Writer Me on the head and takes over my brain and fixes the error.)
Editor Me: Ah… I feel much better. While I’m here, I may as well fix the rest of these mistakes.
If you’re thinking I need to seek professional help, you’re probably right. It’s gotten to the point where Writer Me doesn’t want to come out and play because Editor Me is OCD. But it gets worse. A new Me has joined the gang: Google Me. I didn’t realize I had a Google Me until I started seeing R. U. G., which of course means Resist the Urge to Google. Don’t get me wrong. My Google Me has been with me for a long time, but she’s craftier and isn’t limited to those times when I want to write my novel. Google Me is there even when I’m reading my e-mail or replying to reader comments or breathing. And because I have access to the internet through my computer, phone and tablet, Google Me is a distraction all the time because she knows I’m plugged in.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You start writing and realize you need more information about the setting or whatever activity your character is doing, so you stop writing (strike 1), search Google or your favorite search engine (strike 2), and get distracted by a funny cat video (strike 3). Before you know it, two hours have passed wherein you have nothing to show for your efforts but a head full of adorable cats, a brand new Pinterest board dedicated to all things cute and furry, and an undeniable urge to adopt a cat even though you husband is allergic.
So how do you overcome the insurmountable odds stacked against you?
Decide if the roadblock is a distraction or a need.
For example: Decide if cleaning your house is something you need to do before you write. If it is, clean one room and then write something. Or give yourself permission to ignore all housework, distractions, and puppy-dog eyes for one hour a day before you tackle those needs. If those items truly are needs, not only will you have a manuscript but a clean house to show for it.
Set aside part of your limited “me time” for writing time.
For Example: If your only free time is also TV time, set your DVR or TiVo to record one show, turn off the TV, and write during that time. Then continue watching the rest of your shows if you have more than one. You can always watch that recorded show on the weekends or late at night when insomnia strikes.
Find hidden moments that can become writing moments.
Buy a notebook or journal and use it for writing only. If you have an hour for your lunch break, use part of that time to write, even if it’s fifteen minutes. Find a quiet spot (not your desk) and jot down a few sentences in you notebook. If you carpool, write when it’s not your turn to drive. If you ride the bus or train, write during the ride. Even if all you have time for is a rough outline for a scene, write it down so you don’t lose it. For those of you drive alone, download a voice recording app for your phone or buy a mini voice recorder and dictate your thoughts. You can transfer you notes to your computer later.
If you have children, schedule your writing time when your children take a nap, go to a friend’s house to play, go to school or daycare, or watch their favorite show on television (and no, you’re not a parenting fail if you do this). Give yourself permission to do something for you. Even if you have to do it in ten, twenty, or thirty minute increments. It’s okay to take a break from your children. And no, I’m not suggesting you neglect or do anything that would endanger their lives. But you can find the time to write, because really, how many times do you need to watch Sesame Street or the latest Disney video? You can still be in the same room; just put on your headphones, play your writing music, and write. If your creative muse only comes out to play when the house is quiet, get up an hour earlier in the morning to write. Whether you have children and/or a significant other, don’t let your writing get in the way of being with them but also don’t let them be an excuse not to write.
Create a designated space for writing.
This could be in your favorite chair, the corner of the couch, the cupboard under the stairs, your home office, the dining room table, a closet, your favorite coffee shop, or the library. What’s important is that you have a place for your creative muse to run free.
If you’re like me you will need a game plan for R. U. E. and R. U. G. Here’s mine.
My Inner Psyche, R. U. E., and R. U. G. Busting Plan for 2014
- Give myself permission to take time out of my busy day to write.
- Give myself permission to write like crap. Excuse all errors.
- Give myself permission to skip the research and add a comment or note to myself to research later.
- Buy an egg timer or download a timer for my desktop.
- Schedule a set time to write Monday through Thursday.
- Set a time limit on how long I will write for on each of those days.
- Set Friday aside with a time limit to make minor edits and tackle the research notes I left myself.
- Give myself permission to recharge on the weekends, do housework, and do something fun with my family.
- Accept my limitations and do NOT beat myself up when I am less than perfect.
Remember, even if you only write a page a day, at the end of the year you’ll have 365 pages and that, folks, looks suspiciously like a novel.
So what creative roadblocks have kept you from writing? Is it a continuing battle or have you conquered those distractions? Share your experiences and ideas.
Go write something!