The Way Through Writing Problems is Known!
There is one powerful writing tip here for each of the most common challenges for academic writers trying to get tenure or finish a dissertation. One of the things I love the most about writing advice is that it can be given in the same media that the art itself is practiced. The best authors go through the same writing block and same writing fear that stops us from writing faster and writing more.
Check these out and you will have a good writing day today!
You get extra writing power by connecting with the wisdom of other writers.
As quote #1 puts it, from Julia Cameron,
“You are on the look out for experience, strength, and hope. You want to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly how disappointments have been survived. It helps to know that the greats have had hard times too and that your own hard times merely make you part of the club.”
I love to also start with these famous words by Ann Lamott, which I believe every writer needs to embrace:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a sh**ty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
Madeleine L’Engle faced a lot of discouragement. Her prose style was, let us say, less than ideal and she had a lot of trouble publishing. But she recognized something many of us need to recognize: that we are just plain better off and feel and act better when we have a regular writing practice:
“I got so discouraged, I almost stopped writing. It was my 12-year-old son who changed my mind when he said to me, “Mother, you’ve been very cross and edgy with us and we notice you haven’t been writing. We wish you’d go back to the typewriter. That did a lot of good for my false guilt about spending so much time writing. At that point, I acknowledged that I am a writer and even if I were never published again, that’s what I am.”
And again from Lamott:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you insane your whole life.”
Natalie Goldberg understood that there is a sanity and well-being that comes with writing, and you don’t have to have it to start!
“We have to accept ourselves in order to write. Now none of us does that fully: few of us do it even halfway. Don’t wait for one hundred percent acceptance of yourself before you write, or even eight percent acceptance. Just write. The process of writing is an activity that teaches us about acceptance.”
Get Clear About Getting Started Writing Now
Walt Whitman really understood that writing happens in the moment, it always happens now:
“The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.”
EB White put it plainly:
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
And on the other side of that, you can embrace the moment even if you don’t know where things are going. The key is to keep moving:
As Joan Didion put it–
“My writing is a process of rewriting, of going back and changing and filling in. In the rewriting process you discover what’s going on, and you go back and bring it up to that point. Sometimes you’ll just push through, indicate a scene or a character, leave a space, then go back later and fill it in.”
And here’s Earnest Hemmingway on how to stay in motion:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day… you will never be stuck.”
As academic writers, I’ve found we work best by setting a small, doable amount of regular time dedicated for writing. Our work is varied and it’s not always about the number of words. But the idea is the same—
Set a minimum that you know you can do, and then stick with it.
Here is Arthur Hailey’s rule:
“I set myself 600 words a day as a minimum output, regardless of the weather, my state of mind or if I’m sick or well. There must be 600 finished words – not almost right words. Before you ask, I’ll tell you that yes, I do write 600 at the top of my pad every day, and I keep track of the word count to insure I reach my quota daily – without fail.”
Barbara Sher gets straight to the point, one we have to keep in mind especially when we get reluctant and slothy. Once you get down on the floor and do a couple sit-ups, often your resistance to exercise melts away and you even like it. The same with writing.
The most important thing is to take action:
“Action is absolutely essential for people who don’t know what they want. Action will help you think better and more clearly than if you sat still and weighed all the theoretical factors. Even action in the wrong direction is informative.”
And let’s bring in Mark Twain here to reinforce that taking action and saying yes to writing is the right thing for you:
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
20 years from now, or 5 years from now, you will probably be here. That day will come, one way or the other. You will be here with your book written, or without your book written. Which way do you want it to be? Choose!
And take heart that every one who has made that choice faced the same sorts of challenges and the way through, the path, is well worn and well known to be traversable.