• Confessions of a Lapsed Writer

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 103 comments
    Jan
    30

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    Discussion questions: Are there days you don’t want to write? If so, is there any pattern to them, or trigger? Do you try to force yourself to write anyway? Do you feel guilty on days you don’t write? Where do you suppose that guilt comes from?

     

    We’re told to write every day. Without fail.

    A writer writes every daywe’re told.

    So, are you not a writer on days you don’t write? Or worse, are you not a writer *at all* unless you write every single day? “I really want to be a writer but I’m not there quite yet — I write only six days a week.”

    It’s been more than 100 days since I’ve written. Has it been more than 100 days since I’ve been a writer?

    Once I start again, after how many consecutive days of writing can I again claim to be a writer? Seven? Seven thousand?

     

    Last week a college student asked me “Are there days where you don’t want to write?”

    Here’s a part of my response:

    We’re always told to write every day… which is great, if that’s a groove you’re able to get into and life allows you to do so. But when taken as an imperative — if being told “A writer writes every day” to you means “I *must* write every day or else I’m not a writer” — it applies a lot of unnecessary pressure.

     

    I used to apply that pressure to myself. If I went a few days or weeks without writing, I’d be wracked with guilt. As if the world is waiting on the edge of its seat for my words. As if I owe it to myself to force myself to write when I don’t want to.

    Most of us have days when we don’t want to write. Some of us write on those days anyway; others of us don’t. There’s no universal right or wrong. There’s only you, and finding the approach that best fits.

    And most of us have days where we legit can’t write. Life laughs at the idea of “write every day.”

    For me, in late October life started laughing hysterically. I haven’t written a word since then. In theory, I’ve had time. But I haven’t had the capacity. The necessary headspace.

    I’ve learned not to beat myself up over these things. Once I get through this phase, I’ll write again. On the days I feel like it. And sometimes — but only sometimes — on the days when I don’t.

     

    This blog has been pretty thin lately, as I’m sure some of you have noticed. I miss you guys! And these discussions. I’m going to try to post more frequently again.

    I’m going to try to get back to writing, too. It’ll take some effort. This post has taken me more than two hours; my word count is about 450, and I doubt it’ll be nominated for best blog post of the year.

    But I’ve done it. On one of these I-don’t-want-to-write days.

    Do you have days when you don’t want to write? If so, do you recognize any pattern in them?

    When you don’t want to write, do you try to do it anyway?

    Do you feel guilty when you don’t write? Where do you think the guilt comes from?

    Do you feel like you have to write every day to be a writer? What other kinds of pressure do you put on yourself?

     

    david blogWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2021 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesFor your FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer, join our mailing list

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    Raymundo

    Your 450 words broke the ice dam of your dry spell. Artists have to do that a lot. That in itself, is a sign of you actually being a writer. You hit it with your response to the student in saying “writing every day” should be a strategy and not an imperative. This is a deeply psychological thing. I think it helps to concentrate on how much progress you’re making on writing goals, rather than what writing you do on any given day. Even so, I have certainly beaten myself up very much about not writing enough. When I go… Read more »

    Malou Babilonia

    And thanks Raymundo for: that guilt comes from worshipping the Lord of Form. Indeed!

    Raymundo

    You can be attached to absolutely anything (i.e., stuff): persons, places, things, concepts, ideas, wishful thinking. “Identifying” is another term for the idea. It’s where you place your self-worth, your happiness, in something outside of yourself. If I attach to “being a writer” then I cannot be happy unless I am meeting whatever criteria I setup to make me believe I’m a writer (such as writing everyday). Problem is, those criteria are easily toppled or are unrealistic to begin with. Better to start with “just being,” and then I have a better chance of accomplishing what’s important to me, which… Read more »

    Malou Babilonia

    Thank you for this – so much pressure released thank to your honesty here.

    E the Contrarian

    I agree with Malou. I think we all deserve some slack. Writing takes enormous mental and emotional energy. One has to bring up memories long buried, consider myriad observations about life, contain the psychology that shapes us, and conjure up an imaginary world from fragments of all of this, weaving it into a believable and fabulously entertaining plot. It has to be grammatically correct and in the right format. Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, each time going through all the above. Meanwhile, keep reading the old lit while learning the new lit. Networking. Pitching. Etc. All the while wondering if your efforts… Read more »

    Charity Marie

    I find there are times where I just don’t feel like writing and while there’s lots of people who say you have to write every day, I find that so restrictive it’s stifling. I find that when I tell myself it’s okay if I don’t write, I’m much more willing to try. I have to give myself freedom – feeling like I have to do something is a surefire way to kill my motivation. So what I do instead, is I make sure I get up everyday at the same time and I tell myself I will try to write.… Read more »

    Kay

    Ha! Writing is fun. Editing is not. That’s what I’ve discovered in the short time I’ve been attempting to write. Is it fulfilling? It seems too much like the visual arts to me. You don’t make much money, highly competitive, everyone is an artist and a critic, people want to charge you to even look at the thing, takes years to build a career of any sort. A calling, maybe, something you have been called to do or you feel constipated or like throwing up. But I love it, and I’m sure most of us do. It’s like that bad… Read more »

    Kay

    Right on, about keeping them separate, but sometimes so difficult. Wow, I need to team up with a person like that and write a book. What a load off, not to edit. Ha!

    Kay

    Exciting topic, David. I read your post and many of the replies, but in my mind, at this point in time, I believe for me, if the process didn’t lead to a product, I’m not sure I would put nearly as much time into it. I’d find excuses not to do it. I don’t think you have to be on the best seller’s list or anything like that. I guess each person has to reach their own conclusion about what would satisfy them. Maybe you don’t have to publish. It could be enough to write that book or screenplay. For… Read more »

    Kay

    I love it, “Eh, publishing schmublishing.”

    Christina Del Pozzo

    I’ve always been a writer, however, I cannot call myself an author. I have an active mind – usually when I am not in a position to write my thoughts. I’ve been known to keep a dry erase pen on my refrigerator, so it is handy when I get a thought while doing chores in the kitchen. I carry a notepad in every purse. I started writing novellas at the ripe old age of 68 and have edited each book a minimum of 8 times over the past 3 years. Each rejection I receive is taken as a lesson; not… Read more »

    Christina Del Pozzo

    Thanks, David. After writing that, I started a new novel. Even if I only share my stories with friends and family, I will die a contented woman.

    Barbara Mealer

    As one famous author said: I wait on the muse to hit me. I’ts a good thing it arrives at 9am every morning. (paraphrased) Anyway, even if I don’t ‘feel’ like doing anything, I either write or edit every day….no, I don’t miss a day even if it’s nothing more than rewriting a paragraph, which usually leads to something more. It becomes a habit and that habit leads to a lot of words being written or edited or junked, but you are doing it. I’ve had days where I didn’t want to do anything, like today, but I’ve got two… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    Cailin Briste, the Sons of Tallav series. They are….interesting, as is the writer. She writes romances but usually in the sweeter category. In this series, the four men as friends and each book goes into how they find their wives and each ties into this planet called Beta Tau where people go for sexual adventures of the sort where you can do whatever you want (BDSM.) The books do get graphic but it’s so well woven into the story that it just fits and isn’t gratuitous like a lot of erotica which doesn’t really have a real story attached to… Read more »

    Kay

    Smart, make the goal achievable, you’ll meet it, and keep doing it!

    Brigitte

    Good morning everyone, When I read this topic, I felt compelled to write but where do I begin. Honestly, there are days I doubt when people would look at me and notice I am a writer. In addition,there are several days I doubt I would even be acknowled as being anything more than a human. As for feeling like something and being something, they are slightly different. Although, I have many labels ranging from mom, to daughter to artist and friend….I do not always feel I am all of those at once and sometimes I doubt what I am suppose… Read more »

    Brigitte

    Hi again, I am finishing up organizing my first book that I ever wrote for the public, with the help of a publisher. Sometimes, I do not feel I am a writer just because I write. Maybe after someone writes a book. then they feel more like a writer. It is hard to say what a writer should feel like and what makes someone a writer. If someone likes to write and create stories. are they considered a writer? If someone never publishes a book but only keeps a diary, are they a writer? If someone claims they cannot write… Read more »

    Brigitte

    HI David,
    I guess I do feel as if I am a writer. I do not need a label or anyone else to define me. Just as I am a woman and a human being and I also have other defining characteristics, I am sure.
    I do not need to remind myself or ask someone if I am a human being. I just know I am. I know it. I think that is the way I feel. If one is something, I feel they just know.

    KevinW

    Ask Fran Lebowitz…

    KevinW

    I haven’t yet. I’m only just discovering her now. I was sort of aware-ish of her, but I never really delved. I was reading Mencken and I wanted something less…dated (it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that if H.L. were better-known, he would be high on the list to be culturally cancelled), and suddenly Fran is omnipresent. I think I prefer younger Fran to current Fran. I get the same impression as I did when I saw George Carlin near the end, that here is a sharp,observant wit unfortunately devolved to bitching about those Damn Kids Today With Their Damn… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    I’d like to share some encouraging thougths from an old (60 years alive, 52 years writing) and very inconsistent writer. My first rule is not, “Writers write every day.” It’s “writers (and artists) don’t do what we are told.” Process and results are one, Gandhi tells us. A predictable process is in danger of creating predictable prose. Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous admiration for writers like Ray Bradbury, who wrote 500 years a day his whole life, and Alexandre Dumas, who wrote 1,500 words a day. I hear that there is a manuscript page from Dumas that contains… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    Thanks, David. Affirmation of the legitimacy of my fear is actually supportive. It’s kind the opposite of what daddies are supposede to do with a flashlight, “See! There are no monsters under the bed.”

    There are monsters under the bed! No wonder I’ve been scared! Let’s grab a camera and go hunt them! That’s the writer’s spirit for me.

    Sid Kemp

    … and bring back a story to tell!

    David, you’re good with a stick yourself! It takes courage to discuss your own lack of writing when you make a living by encouraging others to pursue our difficult craft and calling. You got me thinking and caring – two steps towards writing. And, as the comments show, I am not alone.

    Thank you for being you, caring, and sharing the challenge.

    Sid Kemp

    I just found this quote on the same topic: Stephen Colbert inspired by talking to Viggo Mortensen about the memories from which art is made: “The flame alive and the wound open are the same thing. It’s one of the greatest pains, but you wouldn’t want anyone to take it away from you because the pain is also part of them.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1WVXzMtE4c

    Kris Lindbeck

    This is so good and so much from the heart! I too am 60, and for me too it has been a struggle give up asking, “am I a writer?” I am — and that’s not just because I have self-published a few kindle stories and some scholarly work — it’s because I have things to say that can only be said in writing. In addition to Sid’s list of things that are also writing, I would add that pacing, spider solitaire, and, most productively, thinking about how to express something or what happens next when washing dishes, etc. are… Read more »

    Kris Lindbeck

    Good question, David. The first question was “am I a poet?” asked with much pain and drama, because I wrote some good poems in college (and had the great privilege of taking a workshop with Denise Levertov despite not being a C. Writing major), and then in graduate school I found I could not write poetry. I did start writing fiction: one half a circular filed novel, the start of another I still hope to finish. While an visiting prof in the early 2000’s a poem in the voice of a biblical woman – “Gomer’s Complaint” – came to me,… Read more »

    Last edited 4 months ago by Kris Lindbeck
    Sid Kemp

    And it has been wonderful to watch you open and flower and keep turning towards the Creative sun for 40 years.

    Elizabeth Brent

    How does one “prove” they are a writer? I am reminded of a scene from the movie Naked Lunch (which was released in 1991 and is based on the book by William S. Burroughs) – The main character is driving across Europe and is stopped at the border of some Eastern Bloc country. “What is your profession?” a guard demands. “I am a writer,” he replies. “Prove it.” The M. C. plucks an object from his breast pocket and holds it up for the guard to see. “I have this pen,” he says. If you believe you are a writer,… Read more »

    John Liebling

    I participated in a UCLA writing course many years ago and that teacher said the way he completed his book, which took 10 years was to write two pages every day…that is what he encouraged all of us to do. Editing is writing. David if you are not in a place to create something new, maybe a way to get your writing juices flowing again would be to go back to your first page or the last chapter you worked on and edit. There was a time many months ago when I spent not just hours but days just on… Read more »

    John Liebling

    Mane was intentional. Historical footnote…US ship in Havana harbor was blown up in 1898…Remember the Maine became a rallying cry. Fake news (papers) put out the disinformation the Spanish blew up the ship killing many Americans. Spain was very weak in 1898, they would gain nothing with US entry in their war against the Cubans. Cubans wanted their independence from Spain, they blew it up. This is also the war Teddy Roosevelt used to gain his fame. Three years later he was President, after William McKinley was assassinated. You are correct I like to play with words. That is why… Read more »

    MJ DelConte

    You are what is in your heart and your head. As is the case with most humans, we have learning centers with use it or lose it logic. You can choose to practice your craft or become that Schwinn sitting dormant in your garage: rusty and undriven. Or, you can find what inspires you and reach for the stars. Greatness is a lack of success practiced repeatedly until it is no longer lacking. You must find you.

    Last edited 4 months ago by MJ DelConte
    MJ DelConte

    Hello David! Leave the Schwinn in the garage. April is an unforgiving month filled with rain, rain, and more rain, and that can’t be good for anyone’s bike. I really enjoy your blogs. They are fun, witty, and thought-provoking, so, keep the posts coming! Especially in April when we’re craving sunshine.

    MJ DelConte

    Plus I can’t help but think of some guy willingly marooning himself and his family in an enormous hotel in the middle of nowhere, all the while he is pecking away at his keys.
    ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY.
    ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY.
    ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY.
    Surely, writing has its limits.

    Kay

    I think the whole you must write everyday thing may be overblown a bit. It’s almost a rule in every book on writing I’ve ever read. I’m taking a class right now, and the instructor said something that made sense. You don’t necessarily write every day. You might edit, or you might go somewhere and observe and save that memory. You have to stock up your reserves to be able to write. Lately, it does seem like I’m writing every day, for five or six hours, but it took me a long while to get to that point, but I’m… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel is my favorite prompt generator. https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780811814812

    Elissa Malcohn

    Just realized I also have this bookmarked:
    https://randomwordgenerator.com/

    Elissa Malcohn

    To be honest I haven’t done much with the random generators, but if I did I would probably use one or two words as a theme and impose a format, because the limits make me focus on shaping the piece. Using the exact words might also be optional; they could instead be used to set up a scene. For example, I just used the site to generate the words “tip, colorful.” At first I envisioned the business end of a highlighter. Then I envisioned a tilted rainbow as viewed out the window of a car that had skidded off the road and rolled over.… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Yay! The second image that hit me from tip/colorful wouldn’t leave me alone, so I wrote the following early this morning: Have you ever seen a rainbow smile?   It has the miraculous about it, like something you would encounter in a fantasy epic, or in scripture. Benevolent ribboned lips that end in a true skyline, vanishing into buildings and roads that float in air. One is almost convinced that the car has rolled on retreating storm clouds and not tumbled down the grassy bank. That the world has always been like this, with rainbows that curl upward, an enigmatic, celestial Mona Lisa. Fractured… Read more »

    elizabeth hogan

    Thank your for this fabulous blog post and wonderful discussion. I write (a bit, but it’s an important part of my creativity), and primarily consider myself a studio artist. This discussion is totally appropriate, as mentioned, for artists as well as writers. The past few months I never entered the studio. It just wasn’t going to happen. A lot of artists criticize that, but I couldn’t even beat myself up over it. I knew it was not the time. Last week I got back into it! With that studio engagement, I received the mind blowing gift of having no sense… Read more »

    Catherine Margolin

    Hi David, I think your quandary is common with all writers and wanna-be writers. I’m more in the latter category as I have a full time job that is more than full time these days, and am often too tired in the evenings to even think about writing. However..I love to write. What I do when completely stumped? I have been taking those MasterClass courses (one fee for the year gets you all the classes you can stand). I especially love the writers’ classes. James Patterson is, for whatever reason, particularly inspirational because every time I listen to him, I… Read more »

    Catherine Margolin

    Likewise! I love hearing your perspectives and reading those of other writers. As a thought, regardless of what you feel about James Patterson’s writing (I get it), he is one of the most prolific writers in the world. He makes something like $17 million a year so there is definitely something to learn from him. Have a great Sunday!

    Catherine Margolin

    Understand that. But he didn’t start out being a brand; he worked his butt off and lived like a pauper to start. Seriously, it’s an awesome course. And there are lots of other writers teaching MasterClasses too. Much to learn.

    Kay

    Yes, taking a class makes you answer to someone. I take at least one class every quarter. I like the writerstudio and the other place where I’m currently taking a class is catapult. A wide selection, poetry, fiction and non-fiction and lots of things on editing. I’ll have to check yours out, sounds interesting as well.

    Elissa Malcohn

    I knew there was a reason I came across this “Run the dishwasher twice” story last night. One can apply it to writing as well: https://forge.medium.com/run-the-dishwasher-twice-e24ff24def60 Blocked for days? Months? Try years, if one defines “writing” narrowly. For years all I could manage was my journal. It was still writing, but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I had stories in me aching to get out, but I was also working multiple shifts and caregiving and I simply didn’t have the focus for it. On the third hand, my writing was not solely confined to my journal after all, because writing was also part of my… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Hiati! Love it.

    Hans De Léo

    I understand the blog being thin, my own blog hasn’t seen a new entry since Father’s day. I should change that soon. The idea that writers should write every day is one of those good-sounding ideas that don’t work. Every writer has dry spells, and most writers I know have been experiencing that to some level recently. I have to blame the changes associated with the pandemic. But that’s a subject for another blog. For me, I’m a writer because I write, not because of the frequency of when I write or the number of words that come from my… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    Definitely flowing.
    After posting my answer here, I posted on my blog. Finally. Oh, yes, and I’m in the process of writing a new ending for my upcoming sci-fi novel, “Stolen Youth.” The villain has one last surprise for our heroine, just when you thought it was all over. I haven’t decided if yet if the villain will escape to cause trouble another day or not.
    I’ll have to finish the scene to find out.

    Hans De Léo

    Unfortunately, the villain escaped, running away like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs. For now. There’s no telling if, when, or where he’ll show up again.
    I have a few ideas….

    Louise Voillemin

    Hi,
    I have started a novel. My hope is to turn it into a detective series. It is about a over weight ice fisherman who dies an inglorious death. He wears a big over sized hat with ear flaps and name is Iggy. Something along the lines of an inglorious death series. BR Louise

    david lemke

    I’ve written more fiction this year than I did last year, if you exclude January , and February of 2020. I usually write 4 pages a week. I ‘m less than that right now but about 8 pages for the month is better than 4 pages in 10 months. I don’t know where you put the bar for, “You’re a writer or not, but last year, Ii couldn’t call myself a writer. If being a writer is defined by an attitude as compared by an production numbers, I’d say I was only a writer by my guilt at not being… Read more »

    david lemke

    I think that would be a good bumper-sticker. “If you have writer’s guilt, you’re are a writer!”

    david lemke

    Word! Get any snow? I tried to post a picture. i don’t see that it worked.

    Last edited 4 months ago by david lemke
    Jenny Pommer

    My recent experiences of wanting to write, saying I will write every day this week, yet not writing a word; right now I believe this pandemic situation is either wrecking the motivation of some or providing fodder for others. I was in the former for about a more than a month. It seemed all my plans were going haywire and would probably continue for the foreseeable future. The only time I was writing was one morning a week zooming in a library writing room, and even then, I was only organizing my journals. I then joined a seven day writing… Read more »

    Jenny Pommer

    Hello David, Your idea of ‘zooming’ sounds nice and social, but it actually relates more to the pandemic vocabulary. I spent about a month at a writing workshop in the in Forbes Library in Massachusetts a few years ago. When I was no longer in Massachusetts, I subscribed to their newsletter. During the start of the pandemic they decided to have the workshop virtual via Zoom so I’ve been able to join the weekly writing workshop since las year. [NB: I can hear my high school English teach say “be specific” – ‘zoom’ could be anything!.] The ‘homework’ was to… Read more »

    Jenny

    Well, it’s really more of a seasoned writing group with specific ways of doing things. It’s very much like the actual group setting in the library. We start the group by saying what each of us going to work on. This takes about 15 minutes and you only say if you want, but it’s also a time that people mention their writing status, ie, didn’t write at all in the past week or working on poems, etc. Then, there’s a solid 2 hours of writing. People can leave their video going or not. This can also include things like emails,… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    There are always days when I don’t want to write, but I sit and either write or edit. I also allow one day for marketing. You will find that setting that time and just doing it soon turns into a habit which becomes a routine that you miss when you can’t do it. Even on days that I work, I will write or edit daily as early in the morning as I can get to it. My days become crazy as they progress, so I’ve learned to get it done when I can squeeze it in. I’m so glad you… Read more »

    David Duhr

    “My days become crazy as they progress.” Yes! You get behind more and more as the day goes on, and so the writing time you’ve saved at the end of the day shrinks. Making it a priority in the early part of the day — if you’re lucky enough that your brain works early in the day! — is definitely the way to go.




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