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When Writing Goes Wrong—10 Things That Get Writers Down

doodling by the computer, when you are distracted from work

There are so many things about the writing process that I love. It doesn't feel like work when you enjoy doing it. However, there are several phenomena or "things" — if we drop the literary attitude for a brief moment — that do affect my productivity as a writer. Here they are, (in no particular order).


Writer's Block

The most infamous of vibe killers. Everyone experiences writer's block at some point. It is that insurmountable wall that suddenly appears out of nowhere, like an endless blockade between you and your act of doing. Climbing is futile. Tunnelling below is a waste of time. Walking around is meaningless. You just have to wait/keep busy/distract yourself until the wall disappears.


Internal Distraction

You have the best of intentions. You are doing everything that you should be doing — everything that you usually do — and yet your mind is wandering like a care-free toddler. You find yourself thinking about completely random things.

Did I buy peanut butter or was that almond spread?

I wonder where my 3rd grade violin teacher is right now?

What is the difference between a living room and a salon?

You find that you have typed random letters or words on screen: tuna, longevity, slime, fortitude. Your notepad is filled with random doodles of unicorns, guitars and cactuses.


External Distraction

Once again, you have the best of intentions. And maybe others do too, but it is definitely when you are most productive when your kid's teacher calls to 'discuss' something.

Or, the stuff that you purchased online is delivered to your door.

Or, you suddenly realise that that sound coming from the washing machine doesn't sound right and you better go and check.

In an instant your rhythm is lost and you find yourself in the middle of real life: not the one of your own invention.


Fuzzy Big Picture

You thought you knew where you were going. Kinda. But, all of a sudden you find yourself rudderless in a sea of words, unable to see where the ocean stops and land begins. Writing cohesively needs to begin somewhere, travel forth, and end somewhere. If the big picture is fuzzy, the whole experience begins to feel pointless and non-sensical.


Stuck on Minutiae

The tendency to get stuck on the littlest of details is almost like an exorcism. By the time you have wrestled the demon out, it is almost too late, but, you just can't help yourself.

When you find yourself dwelling on the slant of the earlobe, or the aglet of a shoelace on a really minor character, you are probably in too deep.


Being Killed by Deadlines

Some deadlines are milestones that you choose almost randomly — I want to finish outlining the story within one month. Why one month? Because I said so! Other deadlines are real — I need to finish what I am doing by 5:00 because I have a meeting. Either way, deadlines — whether they are flexible or not — can prompt you to be more productive, or they can kill productively in mid-flow. There is little more debilitating than being in the midst of a great writing session only for it to be cut off because of something seemingly trivial, like needing to get to the post office before it closes.


Idea Storms

Idea storms are almost the opposite of writers block. You have so many ideas, so many possible avenues, scenarios and progressions. During this tempest, as a writer, your instinct is to get everything down: even if you know that the paths you are going down are wild and unruly and will need to be weeded out and whittled down. Maybe an idea that is not used now will be developed into something else later. So you ride the storm and write and write, knowing full well that the vast majority of your work will be chucked out on reread.


Mind/Hand Marathon

Sometimes you get lucky enough that you know what to write. You know what each character does, how they do it, who will prevail and how your story will end. This knowledge gushes and spills in your mind like a volcanic eruption. Only, your ability for your hand to get it down doesn't match the speed of your thoughts. Your mind wins the marathon against your hand with ease. When the race is over, your are left trying to make sense of the nonsense that you managed to capture and to recall those thoughts that were simply too fast to hold onto.


Fleeting Thoughts

Then there are those ghosts in the night. The shady images that come to mind and spark something, but disappear long before they become tangible. If you could only recall what you were thinking you just know that it would have brought clarity, resolution or that elusive ingredient that you were missing in your writing. It is a bit like waking up after this amazing dream, knowing that you have to write it down, but forgetting it before you can get it on paper.


Why Did I Write That?

There is no question that the act of retrospective reading can lead to great self-chastisement. Did I write that #@&^? What was I thinking? Creative writing is not a number chain or a succession of scientific thoughts of precision. The mind works in ways that we can't quite comprehend. As I write, the logic of what I am typing up is apparent and clear to me. My intent is obvious and the nuances are all for a reason. However, when I read my writing back to myself, I sometimes cannot begin to fathom what I was thinking, and what I was trying to achieve.

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