Just stay in the room. Stay in the chair.
Don’t get up, don’t go re-fill your water bottle.
I repeat: Don’t take your ass out of that goddamn chair.
Don’t put the cat in your lap, even if he is in one of his rare loving moods.
Don’t throw that ball for the dog. In fact, put her out of the room. You don’t need those puppy dog eyes guilting you into getting up.
Don’t open Facebook or ESPN.
Don’t go look out the window.
Don’t stand up and try to straighten out that picture frame that is already perfectly level.
These are very common thoughts that run through my head while trying to write, and we’re going to talk about this struggle today.
As a writer, I both love and hate writing, simultaneously.
I’m sure there are plenty of others that feel the same way about their chosen craft or career. Creating something good using the written word, for me, is one of the most fulfilling feelings I’ve ever experienced. My heart rate accelerates, I experience a release of endorphins, and when I’m done with something (although, if we’re being honest, nothing is ever really done…) I get a giddiness that I almost can’t contain. It fills me up until I nearly explode into a battle cry, declaring my victory over the blank page.
That’s the feeling we’re all chasing, in some way or another, when we’re grinding away.
For me, it’s the feeling that writing gives me…a fairly small fraction of the time.
In between the start and “finish” lines of a story lies the self-doubt, writer’s block, self-deprecation, inadequacy, and the feeling that I’m never doing enough, and hating myself for it, calling myself lazy, and listening to that little devil sitting on my shoulder telling me to give up and trash whatever I’m working on.
And yes, I know all these things are very unhealthy (other than occasionally trashing something, we all write something that’s pure shit once in a while). But unfortunately, there’s no magic switch to turn them off.
As I struggle with these things, I know that one of the first ways I can begin to solve some of my problems is to be more consistent. Not being harder on myself or pressing myself harder, but developing consistency slowly over time, until the act of writing is a part of a schedule, not just something I “try to do at least four times a week”. That, of course, was mentioned in my New Year’s resolution post, where I wrote about developing consistency. I also discuss it in The Moonlighting Miner. It truly has been my greatest struggle when it comes to writing; finding the time between work, personal life, social life, and everything else, to write consistently, with a clear mind to boot.
So far, I’m not anywhere close to meeting my New Year’s goal of writing four times per week. I can give excuses on why I haven’t been meeting the goal, such as the wild beginning to the year Amber and I had, nearly moving to Bellingham and all. But the fact is, as I wrote about last week, life is always going to be crazy, and what separates the “do-er’s” from the “don’t-er’s” (as Johnny Wu would call them…) is that the do-er’s continue to make things happen regardless of what’s going on around them.
This consistency has been my biggest hurdle. And recently, on nights I do lock myself in my office to write, sometimes I haven’t hardly been writing at all. I stare at the page for a while, then allow my mind to wander. I study the world and United States maps on my closet doors, or I make the grave mistake of opening Facebook and falling down the social media rabbit hole, or I remember that I needed to change the laundry so I get up and do that. My mind finds any possible reason to escape the chair, so I don’t have to stare at the blank page.
Of course, not everyone can be Anne Patchett (one of my favorite authors, if you haven’t read Bel Canto, go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy…like now…), churning out short story after short story through her early twenties, and I find solace in the fact that I’m certainly not the only writer who has struggled with this condition, Tryingtoescapefromtheblankpageitis.
And, unfortunately, I believe there’s only one real answer to my problem…
STAY IN THE CHAIR!
For a class I recently took at WSU, I read a couple different books, one by short story genius Ron Carlson named, fittingly, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, and one by novelist Anne Lamott named Bird by Bird. In both books, Ron and Anne talk about this desire to escape from the chair, particularly when you come to a crossroads in a story.
I’m not a coffee-drinker myself, but Ron Carlson explains the feeling perfectly here, “I look up from the page or the screen and I think, hey, I want some coffee…But now, I’ll tell the truth: I’ve come to a little place in the story where I’m not sure of what to do; there’s some decision here that I’m not fully comfortable making; in short, I want to leave the room and see whats happening in the rest of the house. I’ve even had this thought: maybe I’ll be smarter in the other room.”
When I was in college and still discovering my love for writing, I used to sit out in the kitchen of our apartment to do my writing. My desk was in my bedroom where distractions hid around every corner; a television, my PS3, the internet, and the most dangerous of them all, my bed.
Although it may not seem like it, the bed really was the most dangerous distraction, the urge to turn and flop onto the bed and stare at the ceiling was almost unbearable when tired and stuck in a hard spot. I still occasionally find myself crawling out of my chair in my office and lying on the floor, staring up at the white popcorn ceiling, yellowed by the soft light of my lamps, getting lost in the sea of texture, and losing any momentum I had previously gathered.
So, I would sit out in the kitchen and write for a while, and when I came to a scene change or some other transition point in the story, I’d stand up and wander aimlessly around the apartment; out onto the deck, into the living room, into our “man cave” where magical flowers begged eagerly to be smoked, or somewhere else in the apartment. And most the time, I never made it back to write, because all my momentum had been lost. I’d eventually click on the TV, or find my roommate to talk about sports or women, or take a closer look at those flowers, and come back to the story in a few days.
At the time I hadn’t developed the self-awareness that I have today about staying in the room, and didn’t understand the importance of fighting through that urge to get up and mill around or do something else. I didn’t know that I was missing out on some of my best writing. Here’s how Ron Carlson views it, “All the valuable writing that I’ve done in the past ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I’ve wanted to leave the room.”
Anne Lamott wrote about this same struggle in a little different, but equally relatable way. She writes, “If you are not careful, [radio] station KFKD (pronounced K-fucked) will play in your head 24 hours a day, non-stop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the list of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”
A brilliantly comedic writer, this passage from Anne is a bit extreme, but also incredibly relatable. Any writer who ever lived takes part in self-flattery or egotism in some way or another, while also battling the need for validation, and battling thoughts of inadequacy.
There’s a constant back and forth in the mind of most writers, which in turn leads to deep introspection, and inevitably to the discussion of the product of that introspection (what you’re reading right now), and the subsequent feeling of “who the fuck really cares about my problems with writing?!”, and the thought that you’re being that annoying person talking about themselves too much.
However, when I’m able to sit back and think clearly, I recognize that I appreciate hearing about writers, such as Ron and Anne, who have struggled with these problems, as it not only validates my struggle, but also helps me to continue trying to work out of it, and improve. I hope my talking about my struggles may help other struggling writers, too.
Ultimately, to my knowledge, the two best things we can do in this battle are this:
- Schedule your work time
- STAY IN THE FUCKING ROOM!!!
Obviously, there’s much more to writing, or being successful in general, than this, but I’m going to utilize the K.I.S.S. approach, and “keep it simple, stupid”. This is a great first step to being more productive and consistent. And I thank you all for reading this today, as saying these things out loud for an audience will help me hold myself accountable as well, and hopefully continue to improve.
What are some of your struggles with your interests, passions, crafts, or careers? Let’s talk about them in the comments.
Happy hump day!