5 October 2009

Ignore anyone who tells you to write, write, write!

In my relatively short time in the blogosphere, I’ve come to understand a couple of things.

First, most people who blog about writing are passionate about it and, in my experience, very nice cyber-people indeed. Second, things work in cycles.

The truth is there are only so many things you can write about and so many angles you can take on a specific subject. It’s inevitable that some repetition creeps in and we all end up saying similar things.

And I’ve no problem with that because the blog format isn’t exactly kind to new readers and there’s every chance they won’t find old content. Some recycling of previous topics is fine.

However, there are some subjects, some pieces of advice that get thrown around like confetti, which a) I don’t agree with, and b) are said as if they are a given, to be taken as read, absolute certainties.

Well they’re not. Absolutely not.

Write – for goodness sake write!

The concept that’s particularly tickled my irritable bone this past month is the one that says in order to be considered ‘a writer’, we must write, write and continue writing until we can simply write no more.

It’s the idea that when we’re struggling to find the words or finding some part of our work particularly tricky, we must plough on regardless. Because that’s what writers do.

It’s nonsense. Writers are not machines. We are people. Life (and writing) is rarely that simple.

An analogy about a plumber, some piping problems and a biscuit

Here’s a rubbish analogy for you. If a plumber cuts his or her hand on a pipe and it’s bleeding all over your nice new carpet, you don’t say ‘Carry on plumbing! Plumb man (or woman). Plumb like you’ve never plumbed before!’

Instead you say, ‘Goodness me, you’ve made a mess of that haven’t you? Here, sit down. Let me make you a cup of tea and get you a biscuit. Perhaps when we’ve got that blood cleaned up and you’ve had a chance to think about what’s happened, you can crack on again. Tell me, do you charge by the hour?’

Here’s my point…

Don’t write for the sake of writing

There is no use in writing continuously, relentlessly, if you’re only doing it because you think that’s what you should be doing. If you’re only doing it because, you know, that’s what you do. Because you’re a writer.

What will you have gained, and I mean really gained, by ploughing on when you’re entirely lacking inspiration? 500 words of useless content? 1000 words? More?

Writers do a hell of a lot more than just write. We are not in any way defined by the number of hours we sit in front of our computer screens. There are other things that you can be doing when the going gets tough.

I advocate all of the following as preferable alternatives to the write, write, write claptrap I’ve seen spouted so often in the online writing community:

  • whatever you’re working on – read the flippin’ thing
  • write something else – anything
  • use a pencil and paper to make a suitable plan
  • use a pencil and paper to draw an entirely unrelated picture of an animal holding some fruit
  • speak to a friend or family member (not about writing)
  • eat something brown and sticky, preferably chocolate
  • invent a new game with elastic bands and fluff (any fluff)
  • have a bath and work out which toe fits best in one of the taps
  • read a cor-blimey-blinkin’-book for crying out loud!

Whatever it takes

What I’m saying is that I don’t care what you do, just don’t think that to ‘be a writer’ you have to grind yourself into the ground, because you don’t. You have to work hard, yes. But you don’t have to spend every waking hour trying to do what some blogo-nitwit on the internet (including me) says you should be doing.

And if someone questions your commitment because you chose to watch X Factor or American Idol rather than attempt to beat your writer’s block with an hour and a half’s worth of horrible, depressing, turgid, ultimately unusable writing, please tell them to shove their judgemental claptrap right up their bum.

Writing for the sake of writing is a waste of time.

A writer does whatever he or she needs to do to produce their best work. And sometimes it’s really, really tough. But there are many ways of approaching your writing. You have alternatives. There is no prescribed method.

Jerry’s My final thought

My advice is this:

Ignore anyone who tells you that you must or must not do something, anything, for you to legitimately call yourself a writer, and that includes the act of writing itself. It isn’t always the answer and it’s definitely not the qualifying criteria.

Instead, do whatever you want. Do whatever it takes. Do what’s best for you.

Amen to that, sister. I’m off to have a bath.

Share your thoughts

I’d be very interested to know what you think about this one. Are there certain subjects that get bandied around the blogosphere that you don’t agree with? Are you fed up of being told what you should and should not be doing for you to call yourself a writer? Got an interesting fluff-and-elastic-based structure to show us? Help yourself in the comments section below.

105 Comments

  1. I find the write, write, write group are more in the self-help vein, driving a mass of wannabe writers to consume and consume their cheery garble without ever addressing the most important attribute that all great writers have: talent.

    I appreciate your post because it sets you out from that crowd.

    How often you write, which is what all of these blogs that are more interested in their own traffic keep pushing with lame prompts and edicts, is not as important as what you write. And sometimes, to do that, you need to stop and think.

    Great post.

  2. Thanks for writing this! Thanks for thinking the same way I do–lol. I guess I’m in good company?
    I always hated that saying ‘just write!’ when a legitmate complaint about writer’s block comes up. People on Writer’s Digest are especially guilty of this which is one of the reasons why I don’t visit that site much anymore.
    For me, whenever I feel artisically blocked (going through it right now) it helps to take a break from a current project. Clear my head. Just leave the damn writing for a little while and NOT feel guilty about it. That can sometimes be hard to do but it always work. After I get some distance (I’ve left my novel for almost 6 months once), the words and inspiration just starting flowing again.
    Another way I like to help cure the ‘block’ is to read a book that I wouldn’t normally read. There’s something about a challenging read that helps you think about your own novel or whatever it is you’re writing.

    Your plumbing analogy? LOL

    Sheri

  3. I consider the time I spend doing other things (than writing) just as important as my writing time. Everything I do outside of writing informs my characters, plots, settings, style, etc.

    The writing quip I can’t stand is something like: “Writing is easy: all you have to do is sit down at your desk and open a vein.” I don’t get folks who present themselves as sufferers for an art. I enjoy a challenge, but if working on the work-in-progress feels like slitting my wrists, I’m gonna crank up some ABBA instead. At least then it’s only my husband who’s suffering. :)

  4. I am of the group of “writers write.” I am not trying to push a bunch of talentless drones into writing and doing what I say. I just firmly believe that to be a writer, one must write. Talking about writing, dreaming about writing, staring at a blank screen, etc. does not a writer make.

    BUT…

    If a writer gets caught up and cannot get anything productive on the page, it is useless to force words out. While I think writing should be done every day, I also think it is prudent to step away from a terribly troublesome project and write something else. Something fun and easy. And if it takes a “lame prompt” to get words flowing, then so be it. These new words won’t put anything towards the original manuscript, but they will put words towards *practice*. Even with all the talent in the world, writers don’t improve without working at-and practicing-their craft.

    So, yes, I believe that writers write. I believe that writing every day, whether it be one the same project or not, makes one a better writer over time.

    But my believing it does not make it a commandment of writing. Other writers can do what they want.

  5. Writers need to do more than write to make a good living. They need to do marketing, networking, researching and plain ol’ taking care of themselves.

    But then there’s something else. Muscle memory. The more we write, the better our muscle memory. But maybe writing for the sake of writing and without purpose won’t help here.

    Great insight, Iain.

  6. I was being taught by someone in that school recently, and I found it really hard (or rather my natural inner rebel did…) It didn’t actually lead to me writing more – probably less in fact – and all it embedded was the idea that ‘you’re not a writer then…’

    One thing I did get from the argument though was the idea of the many things you can do as a writer when you’re not in a writing frame of mind – which weren’t just of the eating chocolate variety. Things like editing, proof reading, sorting out notes, doing some research… are all things that can keep you moving in a forward direction

  7. Donna Sorensen

    It’s all about the old “Sharpening your Saw” chesnut, which is not related in any way to nuts, nor is it that old. It is however related to trees. It’s from that book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and it works for writers because lets face it – there are some writers out there that are more effective and prolific than others. It doesn’t necessarily make them better. Some of us need time out.

    Anyway, just in case you are not familiar with it…

    It’s no good hacking away at a tree with a blunt saw because you’ve been so busy going at it like a rampant dingbat, that you haven’t had time to stop and sharpen it. If we stop and sharpen our minds (oh yeah, now we’re talking) we’ll be better and more efficient woodsmen and penspeople.

    Phew- I’m so exhausted from all that, I’m going to go and lie in a darkened room and get sharp.

  8. Jen

    I think the whole “Write write write!” advice thing comes from the fact that a lot of people who want to write, don’t. They talk about it, long for it, join groups, discuss in forums, and agonize constantly, but never actually sit down and WRITE. It’s hard to break through that kind of habit-forming resistance, and I find myself telling a lot of people to “just write already,” simply because it’s the one thing missing from their plan to be a writer: writing anything at all!

    But it’s true that this advice doesn’t work when someone actually does write some of the time. You’re exactly correct, everyone has their pace, they need their rest periods, and they need to make it work the way it works for them. I consider myself a writer, and if I actually thought I had to write every minute of every day, I’d probably rather be a plumber.

    I adore your plumbing analogy. :)

  9. Agreed.

    ‘use a pencil and paper to draw an entirely unrelated picture of an animal holding some fruit’ Excellent advice.

    Lynda Barry wrote a whole book about that one, called What IT IS– that is spectacular– she always keeps paper next to whatever she’s writing to doodle and collage. Collage helps me out greatly. (I also happen to have written about these 2 things on my wee blog), amusingfire.blogspot.com

  10. I find when I force myself to write I rarely get anywhere, only on the very rare occasion does it work and then it doesn’t make up for the hours of anguish on the other occasions. Ideas do arrive when you stop trying to force yourself to write and go off and do something else, I am quite partial to random pieces of art as my way back into my story/ideas.

    enjoyable post.

  11. I’m also one of the “write write write” camp but like Jen, Rachel and some others who have posted, I -don’t- believe it’s all claptrap and rubbish. Neither would I expect a writer to keep writing if it isn’t what they want to do.

    As Rachel said, it’s meant to be more advice for those who talk more about writing than they are actually writing. Or who angst about needing the perfect weather or the perfect lighting or for the right inspiration to hit before they write.

    I do believe that even if it may not seem as if you have the talent of a great writer at first (and I do envy those who ARE great writers from the beginning, without needing to work at it first ), you CAN improve your craft by writing. Yes, sometimes by writing garbage. Eventually, there are more and more good bits.

    But in the end, writers should do what works for them. When I attended a writers’ conference in LA recently, I couldn’t help but notice how the writing advice given in various workshops and talks often contradicted.

    As far as I’m concerned, however, I’d like to know “the rules” before I break them. :-)

    Thanks for the insight, Iain.

  12. Your analogy would be fine if plumbing were anything like writing or writer’s block anything like a cut hand.

    I advise to keep writing, simply because, as a professional writer, I know how many reasons I think up for NOT writing and don’t want to add “writer’s block” to the list!

    Incidentally, I don’t believe in inspiration.

  13. If you can’t write or it isn’t working, what about the other parts of writing, like research, character descriptions, experience. Those are great ways of dealing with writer’s block.

    My “problem” is all those things that say don’t edit what you write until you have a first draft. I can’t help it. I edit… I only have 7 chapters or so on paper and what is there has been revised extensively.

  14. Great post, Iain.

    This was a major problem between me and an ex (also a writer). He was very prolific and had write, write, write tattoed on his three hands. I however, worked like a maniac when I was working on something, but would just let other ideas sit in my notebook for weeks or even months (I’ve currently got a few great ideas to start work on, but I don’t feel they’re/I’m ready yet)
    Anyway, the ex was a lovely chap, we’re still friends, but I found myself comparing my output to his and it made me feel less of a writer. He’s bash out so many pages of script a day. I was so impressed. But as I started working more I realised that some of it was very shoddy.

    I have written much less than him, but I certainly wouldn’t want to swap. Because, well, I think mine’s better :p

    An excellent book I’d recommend full of reassuring advice such as this, is Russel T Davies’ book – Doctor Who: A Writer’s Tale.
    You really don’t need to like Doctor Who, though it’s even better if you do. It makes you realise that even the top TV writers in the UK put things off to the last minute and prefer to mull things over much more than time usually allows.
    And if you’ve got the time, no deadline, let it mull.

  15. I’m generally in the camp of “Writers Write!”

    Writer’s Block isn’t a really real thing. By which I mean, it’s not a physiological problem like cutting your hand. It’s a mental block (unless you’ve broken your fingers or something or were kicked by a mule), and it’s important to push through it.

    Now, pushing through it doesn’t mean writing-writing-writing all the time. Me, I go take a walk. It gets the blood flowing to the brain. I drink tea. I play with the dogs.

    But then I always go back and write, write, write. Always a return to center.

    People often assume that writing through a writer’s block when you’re unmotivated and uninterested is a useless endeavor — you’re generating junk and should just take a breather and re-center yourself and find the muse. I don’t agree, really. When I don’t feel like writing, the work I strain to accomplish is often as good as, or better than, the work that was easy and that I *thought* smelled like roses.

    Here’s why I’m also uncertain about the plumber analogy — the plumber who cuts his hand and doesn’t keep working also doesn’t get paid. My family comes from farmers, and you hurt yourself, you keep going, because the cows don’t get milked otherwise. (Obviously, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny if you *really* hurt yourself. Like, “Holy crap, I’m on fire.”)

    Professional writers — meaning, people who want to get paid for it — are best when they follow the “writers write” advice, I think.

    Non-professionals — people who write for whatever other reason — may be better served by not committing themselves so wholly, because they’ve other things to accomplish.

    Do you have to do things other than write? Yes, absolutely. But if it’s a professional focus, it should be always what you return to. It is a muscle, and it can atrophy. I trained myself to write through writer’s block, and as a result, I don’t really experience it anymore.

    Of course, I have ulterior motives: I ramble on endlessly at my own blog about writing –

    http://terribleminds.com/ramble/tag/writing/

    Just my two cents, of course. My advice isn’t the “One True Way,” it’s just the way I approach it, and the way I ideally find success.

    – Chuck

  16. I think the emphasis on volume and output in the writing community is basically positive and driven by keeping everyone productive in a measurable way. However, I have detected a bit of self flagellation going on as a by-product with some of our people, when the desired goals are not met. I would like to see more discussion on the power of writing to make a difference to other people, rather than simply a volume of writing leading to a desired personal goal. To be a good writer, you may not need to write more than a postcard, as long as you have reached your audience in a transformative, powerful way. But to be a career author, well, that’s a different undertaking, and does require perseverance with the basic calling – regular, expansive writing.

  17. Writing badly is no great sin and all practice doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m in the Write, Write, Write school of scribbling and I teach my students to do just that. Why? Because developing the daily habit makes them better writers. Talking about writing without actually doing it can erect an unscalable wall of Writer’s Block. All writers need permission to write badly now and then, to take chances that don’t pan out.

    That said, there’s always a time to push yourself away from the notebook and go live your life.

  18. Here’s why I think the ‘write, write!’ advice is helpful – people often have the idea that you have to be inspired before you can create. This myth certainly stopped me creating anything for years, and it wasn’t till I read The Artist’s Way that I realised it wasn’t true.

    Sure, when you feel inspired, it’s great. And sure, there are are times when the best thing really is to put the work down and go and replenish yourself (replenishing is vital, natch). But if you sit around waiting to feel inspired, you’re more likely to end up wondering why you don’t have any ideas than anything else.

    I find that if I sit down and start just writing (or designing, drawing, whatever), allowing myself to produce total crap, then sooner or later I find I’m producing something I really like.

    This is the approach I was taught in art school, too. It’s ok if you don’t have any ideas. If you work anyway, you *stumble* across ideas. Sketch what’s outside your house. Sketch out three ideas, even if you think you hate each one. Set a timer and sketch ten random ideas in five minutes. Anything to break the tyranny of the empty page, to get stuff coming out of your head, because sometimes (usually) the inspiration fairy finds it easier to talk to you while you’re scribbling than when you’re sitting around wondering where the arse she’s got to.

  19. Great blog post! I never force myself to write — unless it is absolutely necessary to meet a deadline that cannot be changed. But that rarely happens as I try to plan my time and writing assignments to allow for some down time and flexibility.

    I find that when the writing comes naturally and without force, the end product is much better and requires little — if any — editing.

    There really is something to the concept of listening to your muse. Follow it, and your writing will sing.

  20. Iain Broome (Author)

    Thank you all for your comments so far – they are hugely appreciated and I’m glad that the post has sparked a discussion.

    Whichever side of the fence you sit, I think it’s really important to stop and question even the most common pieces of writing advice from time to time.

    I’ll respond in more detail later, which is another way of saying ‘not at work’!

  21. Hi Iain, Your point of view certainly gets my vote. I think a blogger is far better off publishing nothing than publishing something far less than his or her best. That said, I like to have a healthy pipeline of draft posts in the works, knowing that my creative output will ebb and flow. With a backlog of drafts, I can publish on a somewhat regular basis.

  22. All I can say is that I utterly agree.

    Except (there’s always an except) I do think that one time when the “just write” instruction is a good one is that moment when you’ve sent off your wonderful MS to agents/publishers. I think that the best thing to do then is start writing the next thing. It is often better than the first one …

  23. PS – I didn’t ask for that blog link to go up, btw – it appeared automatically! I am not in the habit of jumping into comments boxes just to promote! I see that it happened with some other commenters too, so it’s not just me. It’ll probably happen again as soon as I click send …. Sorry!

  24. Such interesting discussions you have spawned here Iain – this is my first time here :)

    I have a friend who is also a writer and a very prolific one. I have spent two long comparing myself to her and trying to keep pace with her, because all she ever does is write write write. And I fell into the trap of doing it also and burnt myself out pretty quickly.

    It turns out there are lots of other ways to “write”. As many writers at the Byron Bay Writers Festival stated – the actual words on the page are more like the tip of the iceberg … there is often a lot going on before words even hit the page. I know I spend a lot of time thinking and I guess, almost rehearsing in my head. So even if weeks go by without committing words to paper, I am always story telling, constructing narratives, conversing with my characters in some form – even if it’s just in my head.

    You mentioned about the cyclical nature of writing blogs … I have noticed I have a cylical nature when it comes to my output – the start of the year goes off with fireworks and runs down to a mid year drought – a time to regroup and then come charging out the gates. And I am totally OK with this (now!) knowing this is they way my creative rhythm works.

    And I think your plumber analogy is brilliant. Following on from a mention of The Artist Way a few comments back… if you don’t take the time and attention to care for yourself (as JC comments “to keep the well filled) you can’t write. The plumber takes time to care for him/herself when s/he realises they are being bled dry. Continual, unending, relentless and soulless writing will do that to you.

    For me I have loved writing from a very early age and I never want it to feel like a job – I want to write because I love it.

    Thanks for myth busting or at the very least opening the can of worms :)

  25. I’m absolutely in the “write, write, write” camp because of a particular word – deadlines.

    There are times when a missed deadline could have some serious consequences on your career. Self-imposed deadlines like a “write, write, write” mantra help writers understand that yes, there will be times when you have to write — even if you don’t want to.

    No, we aren’t machines, but there’s a difference between “I want to be a writer” and “I am a writer.” Drilling the “write, write, write” mantra helps aspiring writers take the glitter out of their eyes.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      @Monica Yep, I agree deadlines can give you little option. By day I’m a full-time copywriter for a design company, so I appreciate that when your career depends on it, you should probably crack on!

  26. I don’t think that forcing yourself to keep writing a fiction project when your heart isn’t in it is as important as just writing. It’s through writing that we develop our unique style, so ‘write, write, write’ is important. As with anything, practice leads to skill, whether the practice produces something useful or not.

    However, I believe you can still call yourself a writer if you don’t write every minute of the day. A baseball player – professional or otherwise – doesn’t throw a ball around every minute of every day. But if you don’t pick up a ball on a regular basis, are you really a baseball player?

    A writer writes. That’s what makes us writers. No, we don’t write every minute of every day, or even every day, but wanting to be a writer without writing anything doesn’t make you a writer.

  27. Iain Broome (Author)

    @Nicola Don’t worry, the link to your blog comes from the CommentLuv plugin. It’s designed to give people an idea of what your blog is about, to give your comment context and to encourage people to visit if they want to.

  28. Hi,

    Enjoyable post! You certainly do get sick of being battered over the head with advice all the time. I posted something recently on my own blog about all the “polish, polish, polish” advice you get.

    That all said, I think “write, write, write” is often good advice. If you’re stuck on your current WIP, you can always go off and write something else. I’ve recently tried giving myself a 500 words/day target and it is working for me. Having this invented target focuses the mind, and once you just start writing, the good stuff often starts to flow.

  29. Liz

    The only thing I adhere to is: BIC – butt in chair.

    Purely because without butt in chair, you can’t write your novel.

    After 2 years of procrastination I did BIC and wrote my 56k MG novel, completed first draft, in four months.

    Now I’m thinking: why didn’t I do that in the past?

    Really good article – really enjoyed reading it. Have subscribed in RSS feed and am now happily stalking you on Twitter as LizUK.

  30. I do think “Just write” is helpful for people who have to get over some mental hurdle to write at all. I was stuck for years looking for “the perfect thing” and “the brilliant idea” – I wrote nothing for many years.
    I recently started writing again, and I literally picked a topic and started a blog and off I went.

    Now that I am writing, though, it isn’t a piece of advice that helps me get through points where I am stuck (for an idea or just the right way to express it). What helps me get through that point is to go do something else. Walking my dog is great for clearing my head. I do some of my best writing just after a dog walk. If I ever get published, I will have to credit my dog as co-author.

    Great post and great discussion. Thanks much.

  31. Iain,

    Cheers, mate. Thanks for the shout out.

    Such passion in this post. It is written deep from within I can tell. This is probably one of those posts that get banged out in an hour because things flow flow flow.

    I have certainly been one of those who have pushed folks to write no matter what. Your thoughts here are sound in that beating ourselves up about it is not the best of ideas. I do advocate a life of balance. When things aren’t happening in your writing world, go do any number of the activities you posted here.

    Spot on, Iain.

    George

  32. Very well said. I’ll add to it by saying that writers hardly need any more guilt than they already carry around. Especially writers who aren’t yet able to do it full-time.

    I am a mother, which means my writing time is unpredictable, spotty, and often stolen. I just went through a 3-month period where I couldn’t work on my book at all because we had guests, then were on vacation, and then my son was repeatedly ill for about 3 weeks.

    Of course I wrote when I could during this time, on other projects, but if I followed the ‘write, write, write’ advice to the letter I’d walk around thinking there’s no point to even trying to be a writer until my kids go to university!

    And that’s hardly the sort of encouragement I need in writing or in motherhood. So I’ll just keep scratching away when I can and feeding my inspiration in whatever ways occur to me when I can’t.

    Cheers,
    Antonia

  33. Vanessa

    I agree wholeheartedly for this. I would add to your list of suggestions that maybe they should call a friend, go out and live. The best inspiration to write often (always?) comes from life.

  34. The value of the “write, write, write” prescription is debatable, but what felt particularly good about this piece is that you had the audacity to challenge anyone’s right to dictate how “real” writing must be done, or what constitutes a “real writer”.

    As an indie publisher, I find there’s a similarly poisonous distinction being made online a lot these days that says anyone who isn’t publishing for commercial reasons, aiming for astronomical numbers of sales is just a “hobbyist”.

    Worse is the neverending bile-storm of blogs that say everything self-published is necessarily bad (which implies that everything commercially published is thus worthy and good, which we know is just not so).

    If you can find some way to identify your audience and connect with them, then you’re doing the work. You don’t need a business’s permission to be an artist, and no one has the right to dictate your definition of success. My press is very small, but I declare it a success. Could it scale up? Sure! Is it a failure at this size? Not on your life! I’ve got four novels out in the world, and readers to boot. Would I be more of a success if I was doing this the proper way, honing my written-to-guidelines queries, still mailing manuscripts out to struggling publishing businesses who, months later, say they like the novels but can’t commit money to them? Yeech. No thanks.

    So I totally agree, Iain. A writer at any stage of development should ignore anyone who tries to diminish them in any way. If someone’s saying “write, write, write” out of a genuine concern that you get the chance to access your best writing, great. But if they’re just trying to stamp out your campfire because you’re not following their idea of what’s proper, yes, ignore them.

    Things are changing, and we don’t know where they’re headed, but one happy outcome is that we’re challenging this idea of gatekeepers, that anyone is entitled to dictate to a group of others what they should do or enjoy.

    Work hard, find the best, truest work within you, and find whatever means you can to share it with others. Advice that helps you is true; advice that doesn’t can be ignored. Whatever you want to do, you’re allowed, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

  35. My feelings on this (very well-written post)are mixed.
    On the one hand, I agree that there is a lot of work that goes in to writing which doesn’t involve physically writing at all. Personally, I spend more time thinking about what I’m going to write than actually doing the writing – but the thinking is absolutely as much a part of the writing, though it may look like, ah, procrastinating.
    However, during particularly blocked-up periods I’ve actually found that the physical act of writing helps me get going again – which is why I do ‘write write write’, but emails or blog posts or whatever other thing strikes my fancy that is not the difficult project.

  36. I’ve seen too many bloggers who write for the sake of writing just to keep their quota of X amount of posts per week, and it shows. Telling someone force themselves to write is like telling someone to eat when they are simply not hungry. It doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t work for me. If I don’t make my self imposed quota – so be it.

  37. It’s really hard to stop writing and leave a novel for 6 months, when it’s contracted and you have a deadline. On the other hand, if the story is Really Not coming together, short breaks can be helpful in maintaining one’s sanity.

    Um–don’t want to write a blog-post’s worth of comment here, so I will just say that I personally believe that if one wants to be a professional, published writer, it helps to start acting like there are deadlines before one actually acquires real ones from editors. And when you have a deadline, sometimes you have to Just Keep Writing–while you’re doing all the other things trying to get unstuck.

    I’m going to go write more at http://magysty.blogspot.com

  38. I was in a conversation with a friend earlier today who shared with me the ambition of his daughter who seeks to become a writer. He lamented the fact she studies English at a local university but never writes anything.

    My friend, a lawyer by trade, quoted the oft cited phase: “I can’t seem to get her to understand that writers, write.”

    Indeed, writer’s by their very nature write. Yet the activity which currently engages my friend’s daughter is an object lesson to all writers. We must all take time to study our craft by listening to the nuances of the language through sight and sound.

    theharveyjournal.blogspot.com

  39. I think there is a difference between the sort of advice you need at the beginning of a writer’s career and the advice you need later, once you are producing sellable work and getting it published.

    For newbies (who I count myself among), getting over the idea that writing is some mystical, unknowable art is one of the biggest hurdles. It was too easy to find all sorts of other writing-related activities that made me feel like I was writing without actually doing the leg work.

    Once you write enough, the process becomes understandable, manageable, malleable. You start to shape your own habits and processes the way you do your words. When that happens, the push-push-push of write-write-write may not be what you need — but at that point, you’ll know what’s best for you and your work.

  40. When I hear someone say something like; “A writer must write, or he/she is not a writer.” I generally agree.

    To be clear, that kind of statement conjures up memories of many people I’ve met who have written a novel, a few short stories, comic books or screen plays and haven’t produced anything in months or years.

    To me, a writer DOES write, but within reason. I write full time, and an average day includes writing new material, editing, and a couple of hours of marketing. My average work day is ten hours long.

    That’s not the norm. The average writer only has a few hours a week to spend on a piece. That’s great! They’re practicing their craft.

    To me, it is important to write regularly in order to improve one’s craft. If you don’t write regularly, then you’re not a writer, you’re a hobbiest. If you tell me you’re a writer but haven’t strung a sentence together outside of a self sensationalizing blog for years, then you’re a bloody poser.

    A writer writes. Whether it’s for an hour a week because you’re busy, or every day because you can afford to do it full time, a writer writes.

  41. Iain Broome (Author)

    Well, wow. This post has really taken off and as a type, sits proudly on Delicious’ homepage. Thank you so much for all your contributions – I genuinely appreciate it.

    Rather than take up loads of comment space responding to you individually, I thought it would be better to just clarify a couple of points in general.

    With this post I was really trying to say two things. First, that the ‘write, write, write’ mantra gets tossed around the blogosphere as if it’s gospel. As if the very act of writing is what defines us as writers.

    I don’t buy that. Of course, if you never write, you’re probably not a writer. But we all come from different backgrounds and have different things happening in our lives. Sometimes, it’s okay to not write. No one should be persecuted, preached to or demoted from their writerly status because of it. there are no rules.

    My second point was indeed more about writer’s block and this is what many of your replies have disagreed with me about.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that you’ll never get anywhere by ploughing on. For some people, I’m sure it works.

    What I am saying is that there are alternatives, many of which I believe are preferable.

    Of course, my list was a bit silly. But I think it’s important for writers, both new and experienced, to not get caught up in what they think they should be doing.

    Instead, stick at it, but find a way to write that works for you.

    I hope that makes sense. Thank you again for your comments, both for and against what I’m saying. The discussion is great.

    I’ve actually spent the last three months working full-time during the day (I’m a copywriter for a design company), then the evenings editing my novel until the early hours of the morning.

    I’ve been doing a lot of write, write, write recently. Now I’m having a right old rest.

    Keep your thoughts coming!

  42. Excellent perspective. I have found this mentality of “write, write, write” in blogdom popular as well, and I do believe it can lead to writers giving up entirely when they think they don’t have what it takes to keep up such a lofty work ethic.

    For inspiration it is good to watch a movie, chat with family and friends, read another book, review your own writings…. I find it especially helpful to reflect and introspect my philosophy in times waiting for the next writing idea.

  43. I appreciated your post and even the comments from both sides of the fence. As a fellow fulltime copywriter who tries to hammer out my manuscript evenings, I deal a lot with having to be creative on demand and also just feeling depleted word-wise. People need to realize there are many ways to work out a “block” that don’t have to do with writing through it. The end goal is to get back to that writing, but you’ve also got to get out there and fill the well back up.

  44. Another thing I read ALOT is that a newbie freelancer should write for free in various local places in order to build their clip file. Then I read a blog published last week that finally said the opposite–that you should get paid for anything you write, whether you have years of clips or not. One of the rationales is that you don’t work for free in any other profession unless it’s a true volunteer position, so why your writing? It’s advice I haven’t seen anywhere else.

  45. Well, I completely disagree with most of this post. In fact, I think this post disagrees with itself when it offers the following as a substitute for writing: “write something else – anything.” Um, that’s still writing.

    I think that is exactly the idea behind “write, write, write” advice. The point is to write a little bit each day, even when you don’t feel like it and yes — even when you’re feeling uninspired.

    I get the feeling this post takes the stance that “write, write, write” means that you should do nothing else but write whereas I understand that advice to mean “don’t just sit there thinking about writing — sit down and do it, and do it frequently!”

    Having said all that, there are some ideas here that I do agree with, such as taking breaks, eating chocolate, and basically breaking away from writing to enjoy other activities. Writing is definitely not something one should do all day every day (and there are definitely other tasks a writer must accomplish like research, planning, etc.), but in light of the fact that practice leads to mastery, I do think we should all put pen to paper for a time each and every day.

  46. Iain Broome (Author)

    @Melissa My point really is that while it’s a good suggestion, I think, to try and write a little (or a lot, I guess) each day, if that doesn’t work for you, then you shouldn’t be made to feel like you’re not ‘a writer’.

    When I say ‘write something else – anything’, I’m saying I think that’s a better option than to plough on with whatever you’re currently writing, simply because you think that’s what’s required of you, again, as ‘a writer’.

  47. thesophie, I love your mention of deadlines. I feel they are often the best source of “inspiration” of all!

  48. JeneriaX

    Thanks for your anti-”writing as punishment” stance. I “write” while gardening, cleaning the grout or riding my motorcycle. My brain is chewing and when I get things right in their, the right words flow easily from the keyboard.

  49. @Iain, I understand what you’re saying. Actually, I think we are mostly in agreement but have different ways of expressing our views. I almost always stress that each writer must find a process that works for him or her — but I also stress that writing doesn’t happen when you sit around daydreaming about it. At some point, you do have to do the work. Also, I generally consider the peripheral work (editing, research, honing skills, etc.) as essential parts of writing.

    In any case, this is an excellent discussion.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      @Melissa Yes I think I was just ignoring those that daydream and never put pen to paper. Truth is though, there are a lot of ‘em about. I do get a bit annoyed with people who when they hear about my novel, say ‘Hmm, I’ve always thought about writing one of them.’

      Really? I mean really?

      Thanks for your input Melissa, always greatly appreciated.

  50. Great piece Iain. Can of worms, much? ;0)

    I think there’s something to be said for both sides of the argument, as I think you’ve covered in your responses.

    With a deadline of any sort on your back then it’s write write write all the way. But if it’s a personal project then you should do what works for you and forget everyone else.

    Like @TheSophie said, it’s too easy to start comparing your working habits to that of others. But what works for someone else isn’t always going to work for you.

    Do your own thing writers. You’ll be happier :0)

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      @Mr Uku Yep, like I mention in an earlier comment, if you’re working regularly to deadlines, then you have no choice but to keep writing, of course.

      I think it’s worth reiterating that I’m in no way suggesting we should all lounge around doing nothing or throw our keyboards out the window when the going gets tough.

      What I am saying is that you don’t need to write relentlessly to call yourself a writer, and you certainly don’t need other people telling you the opposite. As for writer’s block, my point is you have options. You’re not a failure if you choose the ‘take a bit of a break’option.

      Thanks for your contribution as always!

  51. AMEN TO THAT, BROTHER!!! You’re preachin’ to the choir, but this is a sermon that needed to be heard. Thank you.

  52. Interesting perspective on writer’s block. I think there’s a happy medium between writing drivel until your brains bleed, and allowing yourself to not write anything.

    I advocate keeping up the writing habit, even if to a lesser degree. That might mean only writing for a few minutes a day, or working on a blog post instead of a bigger project.

    A few days off won’t kill anyone, for sure. There are many nights I’d rather be watching a movie than writing.

    Thanks for this.

  53. I absolutely agree with this post. I currently run two blogs and for a little over a week I have felt brain dead. At first I moaned and battered myself about not posting onto my blogs and then I finally decided, why do it if you are not feeling it. Why stress myself out about it, and I have not posted or thought about posting. I am finally feeling back in to mood to post and will probably start writing again later on today.

    I am a writer and it is ok for me not to feel like writing.

  54. I love your Wit and Wisdom,Iain.I think one definition I heard about insanity is doing the same thing over and over again (like write, write, write) and expecting the outcome to be different. We do have such a struggle around being kind and understanding with ourselves, don’t we? When we face writer’s block (which is our collective unconscious saying we have some personal issues we need to address)it’s time to visit our Journal Therapist and let it all hang out. One of my favorite Journal Therapy sessions is asking my Journal a question, then meditating for 4-5 minutes and writing the answers in My Journal. WriteON!

  55. Capital post.

    I write because I love it. When the times come around where I’m not loving it so much, I stop writing for a bit. I have a cup of tea and clean up the blood. Inevitably I come around to loving it again, and off I go again.

    I feel the “write, write, write” brigade are not actually teaching me anything, they’re just selling hope. For people who are needing a bit of confidence and direction. They’re making a buck off folks like this with their preaching “the craft” and making more people feel like they can’t keep up. Ugly!

  56. I really enjoyed this.

  57. You have a good point here about the plumber. Even people who are passionate about writing need a break sometimes. Up until the last couple of years I never really put my ideas on paper, now that I am a writers job is never done. A dictionary and thesaurus become your best friends.Oh and don’t let me forget reading is what makes writer grow like weeds.

  58. Iain

    I agree with what you say but there’s a caveat. My background is journalism and my character (perfectionist, loves research and chatting to people) is such that I can procrastinate before starting the writing. So I used to spend a lot of time researching and making sure I’d got my facts right. But that meant I often did far more work than I needed to. Not good if you’re freelance.

    So when writing articles, I do better if I start writing a rough draft early on – then I can see what gaps I have to fill – what extra details I need to get. It focuses me for the research. Being ponsy about it you could see this as the sketches an artist draws before they go back to their studio and do the full colour painting.

    On the creative writing front – again as a perfectionist my temptation is just not to start writing because the pressure to be fab is too high. The inner critic can feel like driving with the handbrake on.

    I love the Hemingway quote “the first draft is always crap” – well he was a miserable git! But I find that quote freeing. Because all I need to do is get something started. I can make it work later.

    Obviously it’s not till you leave a draft overnight or even longer, that you can see all the holes in it.

    So on the write-write-write front I think it’s generalised advice. And it depends on the character and the strengths of the writer. Perhaps what we need to do is learn our strengths as a writer. And find a way of working that gets the best out of us. This process of discovery is the most exciting part of writing for me.

  59. Yes ahem, I meant to spell that poncey.

  60. I once ended an essay about journal keeping with ‘there is one rule to keeping a journal there are no rules(and you may substitute the word “journal” for writing. You have to first have a life before you can write and your writing is only the tip of the iceberg and to continue to write you have to have plenty of “empty spaces” which I wrote about in an poem “If You Want To Write” which can be found in this link

    http://siggyscafe.com/id4.html

  61. I both agree and disagree with you on this point.

    On the one hand, yes, it is silly to force yourself to slog through a dry spot to the point of self-flagellation. Similar to exercise, sometimes a break is better than pushing through.

    But not always. Let’s keep my (in all likelihood faulty) comparison to exercise. Sometimes I just don’t want to exercise. It will hurt, it won’t be fun. Should I listen to this voice every single time? No, because then I would quickly transform into a lumpy piece of humanity. Sometimes, I do need to push myself through a workout — and I never regret. Writing can be the same. Sometimes, to get to the good stuff, you need to weather hte slog.

    That said, I think there are ways you can work without writing. My favorite is taking a walk. It helps me clear my mind of distractions, and sooner or later the ideas start flowing.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      @Betherann Thanks for your comment – I think you make a valid analogy there with the fitness thing.

      My concern is mainly with the kind of writer who likes to tell other writers whether they are in fact writers at all. For example, since handing my novel over to my agent in October, I haven’t written a word. It’s true.

      Sure, I’ve put together a few blog posts, worked on a couple of redesigns for my sites and made a start on ideas and planning for my next novel. And of course, I’ve written every day at work as part of my job. But I have haven’t written a word of fiction.

      Life, having been put completely on hold over the summer, has had to come back to the fore. And what I’m saying is, I don’t think that makes me any less of a writer. I think people are far too quick to judge the writing habits of others.

      Many thanks for your contribution – really got me thinking about this again.

  62. Andrew Brodsky

    Interesting and thoughtful post … but I (mostly) disagree with your premise.

    For me — and I would guess this goes for all sorts of life goals, whether it is completing a novel, finishing grad school, or cleaning the house — the key to success is HABITS. The moment when I felt like I was actually a “writer” instead of a guy hoping to be a writer was when I had really encoded the HABIT of writing into my daily schedule. Now, my goals are based on time spent, not production. The only way to push through those difficult sections is to do it, to spend the time. Every single day, if possible. It’s like something I heard about meditating — by getting into a pattern you create a sort of chain that is stronger than the individual sessions.

    That said, there’s much to be said for taking a break when you need it, eating chocolate, toeing the water faucet, etc. And especially turning your writing attention to something else — but that’s writing too.

    The thing that successful writers have in common is that they write frequently and regularly. Finishing a novel takes many hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours, and whether or not you’ll finish is largely a question of math: put the hours in and it will happen.

  63. Hilarious! I almost laughed right off of my seat! I especially love your plumbing scenario.

    I think this article provides excellent advice. I believe that the reason why others give the “write write write” advice to fellow writers is because writing constantly often improves one’s writing, as they’re practicing their craft and getting better at it through trial and error.

    Of course, if you’re writing useless content that doesn’t really have a clear focus, that is a complete waste of time.

    And, I agree. Writing continuously until you pass out from exhaustion shouldn’t be what makes a writer. I’d take a creative writer who writes really good content any day than a babbling fool who pens out 10 articles an hour.

  64. Lisey

    I have to agree with this article! Not everyone is Stephen King. Not everyone pushes through their writing problems by writing as much as possible in as short a time as possible. Personally, I don’t write to write fifty pages of shit to realize six months later that I could have written ten other pages of shit, that were at least less shitty than the fifty pages. I’d rather write the ten.

  65. Great post! Thanks. :)

  66. Thank you for saying this. I get so tired of people saying that we have to write everyday or we’re not writers. I have a life! There’s an article on Reuters about a 99yr/o Japanese woman who just started writing poetry and became a best seller. She didn’t write everyday. Great blog! I’m a new follower!

  67. RAWR! I love your blog by the way but RAWR!
    Sorry. Just thinking of these “celebrity writers” (even though i havn’t heard of them thats what they say they are) who say that if you don’t write at least 800 words a day or something like that you’re not a writer and you should just give up the dream! What kind of person SAYS that, anyway?!?!?! :( Never giving up the dream, no matter how many words I write a day.

  68. Oh, I just found this… I might actually just print this out and stick it on the wall!

  69. Francis B

    A good article, but I’ve a few issues with it. Sometimes one simply must “write, write, write” or else one realizes that bills are piling up and the job offers from old publishers just aren’t coming in anymore. It is amazing what one late article can do to ruin the hard work one has put in over the years.

    When that plumber hurts his hand, he of course stops plumbing to take care of it, but as soon as that hand is fixed he goes back to plumbing. And if you’re a writer, and you hurt your hand, then I assume you bandage that up. But if you’re lacking inspiration, it doesn’t mean you should stop. I’ve seen too many dissertations and half written (good concept) articles to see people continue that trend.

    Take some time to learn more about your subject, if you’re writing fiction then do some freewriting exercises, just write about the character or the scene or the whatever happens to be involved in your piece. If you still aren’t feeling the muse then feel free to take a break.

    But if at the end of the day (figuratively speaking) you still are not feeling inspired than for god’s’ sake man keep writing. Maybe you end up with a 1000 or 5000 words you cannot use, but the rest you keep and you tighten it up in editing. Maybe it isn’t your best work, but that’s ok, at least you conquered the mountain, even if you had to slog along at a crawl when you got near the summit.

    Not because that’s what writers do, but because you’re the only one who can write that and the world deserves the chance to know it.

  70. Oh! I found you from a Joanna Penn podcast. I’m very glad this is the first blog post of read of yours. I completely agree. And I have just printed this out. Although I love writing and wake up in the morning wanting to do so for the fun of it, writing just for the sake of writing is not always beneficial to my writing. Many times, doing just about anything else benefits me the most. I go back and can see everything clearly. Great post.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Hello! Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, it caused a bit of stir this one, but I still stand by it. Sometimes the not writing can be far more valuable than banging your head against the keyboard.

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