It’s well established that the best advice for writers is to just write. This has come up before. Write more, more often. So why don’t more people do it? Why aren’t there thousands of writers powering through book after book, filling the world with fantastic stories and novels the size of Saudi Arabia’s oil deposits? Why don’t writers write more?
What happens when you try to write more
I’ve experienced it myself, and I’m sure you have as well. Bouyed by a sudden bout of inspiration, you rush to the computer and resolve to get loads of writing done. Maybe you’ve seen a really good film that set off another idea somewhere in your head, or maybe you’ve listened to a podcast with some really good ideas. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been on Facebook and got a mini pep talk from another writer. The keyboard and the blank screen become a canvas begging to be painted on. And you’re the person to do it. You’re going to tell a story that people will be talking about for years…
Then the unthinkable happens. All that motivation just seems to drain from you. You sit at the keyboard in what you thought was a totally motivated state and find that you don’t actually get anything done. No matter how long you stare at the screen, the cursor stares back, that blank screen now accusing you of negligence, of bad craft and poor discipline. You might have managed a sentence or two, but you’ve also managed to convince yourself that whatever you’ve written is of poor quality and deserves to be scrapped. So you do and with one tap of the keyboard you’ve taken your word count from twenty to zero.
Then you slink away from the keyboard like a child caught drawing on the wall. You tried to be creative, but there’s a niggling feeling that you did it in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong tools. After such a poor experience you decide to give yourself a day or two off writing, which turns into a week and then bleeds into a month.
Then the positive, motivated feeling has totally gone and you’re left with a horrible feeling of failure. And still, the cursor blinks at you and you know you should ‘write more’.
Why this happens
The mantra that is given to everyone to ‘write more’ isn’t enough for most people. Some people probably need no more encouragement to get writing. But for the majority knowing that they should be writing more is more of a hindrance than a help. It becomes really easy to start despising the time you spend at the keyboard, to dread, rather than enjoy, the story you want to tell. All of a sudden writing becomes a chore with negative connotations. You see people advertising their new book on Twitter, delirious with excitement about their new story. To compensate, you sit away from the screen and mutter to yourself that one day, you’ll crack the technique and be able to write more.
It’s my opinion that lots of people go about writing the wrong way. They concentrate so much on what they haven’t done, they don’t look at the reasons why. And when they do well, they definitely don’t look at the reasons why. The original goal, to be a more consistent and diligent writer, falls away from consciousness and the lottery starts again the next time you sit at the keyboard. The advice to ‘write more’ has lost all its usefulness and you find yourself back in the same spiral of self-loathing and annoyance.
I hope that the above sounds familiar to you. In fact, I found writing this blog post very cathartic as I recognised feelings that are so familiar to me.
Remember: you are not alone
So why does ‘write more’ not work?
Because we’re human! Simply being told that you need to write more is not enough information. It’s too high level, and that reduces its usefulness. There needs to be more detail and more information for you to get the best from it. Let’s step back from writing for a second and think of the “write more” advice in another context.
Imagine you’d paid a significant sum to a golf coach for him to teach you how to be a better golfer, and he said, “just play more golf” and then sat back and started knocking back the martinis, you’d feel a little aggrieved. There’s so much more to golf than playing more (although practice does help). What about the grip, about the swing, about how to read puts? That’s what you’re paying the golf pro for. Now I’m not suggesting that you should all go to your local golf coach and start to demand they improve your game immediately. Practice is important. Professionals do very little than play golf. But it’s about more than simply putting the hours in. You need to make sure that your practice has a positive outcome. Each time, a positive outcome. Each sentence, each chapter, each swing, each putt.
When you practice you are should try and concentrate on what’s going well, and what’s helping you produce decent results. If you don’t do that, I would argue that what you are doing isn’t really all that worthwhile? When I think back to my golf swing, I must have hit a thousand balls down the range in my time. Yet all the practice in the world won’t help be become a better golfer if I’m not paying attention (if I’m chatting, worrying about the cold, looking forward to a pint).
It’s the same with writing. If you are determined to write more, you may lack the skills and techniques to turn that time into something really productive. That’s where a blog where Write with Phil comes into play.
We need to look into ‘write more’ in a bit more depth. We need to understand what we need to do, what we need to put in place, to turn ‘write more’ into a reality.
All is not lost!
I started Write with Phil to help writers get the tools that they need to help them create their own productive way of writing. Because, as my interviewee Tim Loane said, it’s not just the what, it’s the how. If you’re in need of some inspiration after that post, why not look at my author interviews here.
And if you want some good places to start on Write with Phil, check out my start here page.