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The Writing Life: Wading Through Treacle

9 February, 2010

(Before I begin, a quick caveat: as I said in my last post, I’m not a professional writer. These writing posts are about my daily struggles with fiction writing and are as much to help me work through my problems as they are to help others. That said, hopefully some of the things I say will be helpful to other aspiring writers.)

I’ve felt today rather like I’ve been wading through treacle. It’s an odd kind of feeling: everything seems to take longer to accomplish than usual, including the brain functions needed to write. As a result, it took me twice as long as usual to reach my morning word count and at least half of what I wrote felt like utter crap. I kept stopping and starting, adding a few more words, then wandering off to get a cup of tea or check my emails.

Now, my initial response to feelings like these is ‘just get on with it’. Nothing beats general laziness like getting down to some hard graft. Writing is one of those things that tends to get easier the more you do; this morning, that held true. Although that morning 750 words felt like squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, this afternoon I added another 600 words with much greater ease.

Sometimes though, that treacly feeling can’t be solved by being tough on yourself. I’ve learnt over the last few months that, if you’re not careful, pushing through mental blocks can just make things worse. Today I was just being lazy, if I’m honest, but sometimes I’ve got to take a step back from my work and re-evaluate. It could be that I’m writing something deadly boring and need to start the scene again. Alternatively, I might be tired or hungry or ill.

Hardest of all is when a reluctance to write can’t be traced to anything so tangible. Then I have to decide whether I am just being lazy or if I’m coming close to what many writers call ‘burning out’. In those cases, I find I have to step away from the computer for a while, to read or take a walk or do some baking – anything that allows my creative batteries to recharge and stops me from getting so fed up with a story that I abandon it entirely.

The process of deciding whether to write when I don’t feel like it has been a difficult one for me to learn, but also an invaluable one. It means that I’m overall producing words steadily and consistently, as well as enjoying writing. After all, when you’re not getting paid to write, why do it if you’re not enjoying it?

So, if you’re a writer, how do you deal with those ‘wading through treacle’ days? Do you give yourself time off or is it tough love all the way?

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