Let's Leap Out of This Oh-So-Common Writing Trap!

There's a fiendishly easy trap to fall into with our writing, especially if it's been chaotic, busy, or complicated in your life lately. Let's do a quick check-up, and leap back into a solid writing practice. You with me, lionheart? Let's go. | lucyflint.com

It's turning very spring-like here: our magnolia tree just exploded with blossoms, the lawns are greening up, and tiny leaves decorate the branches of our lilacs.

You can almost feel the energy fizzing in the air: seeds falling from trees, buds bobbing on stems... 

And writers ripe with ideas, spilling them everywhere but at their writing desks.

OH, wait. Maybe that's just me. :)

As y'all know, it's been a complicated February & March for me so far. But now that the chaos has calmed down (I think!), it's time to refocus on my work-in-progress.

But my unintentional strategy for doing that has mainly been through chattering.

Seriously, I'm talking up a storm.

About writing plans, about the chapters I need to write, about a murderously tricky deadline I have coming up, about how rusty I feel after such a strange couple of months...

And I keep hearing myself say (very convincingly): "If I could just get going again, this draft would fall into place, no problem."

Ahem. Yeah: there's a massive disconnect in there. (Oof.)

To get back on track, this is the quote I need. It comes from Chapter after Chapter, by the amazing (and frequently mentioned* around here!) Heather Sellers:

     "Reverse your field. If you spend 90 percent of your creative energy dreaming of a book and dreaming of the writing life, and only 10 percent of your time actually writing, you need to flip it around. 
     Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." 

It's easy to get our ratios mixed up. To talk and plan and daydream 90 percent of the time, and only write for 10 percent. Let's flip it around. "Give 90 percent of your energy to the words on the page." -- Heather Sellers | lucyflint.com

Whew! There it is!! The butt-kicking I needed.

Can we be real and say: It is such an easy trap to fall into.

We're daydreamers; we're communicators.

It's so easy to get mired in just dreaming about the writing life—especially how smoothly everything will go, once we get into it.

It's so simple to just talk it up—hang out with fellow writers on social media, or chat to friends and family about the project.

And then to just ... stay there.

Dreaming, talking; talking, dreaming.

It's so safe! It feels deliciously writerly, with very low risk.

It is one of the nicest ways to not get work done.

Believe me, I've tried it often enough, but I have never successfully talked my way into doing a draft. 

The work only happens when I make a conscious decision to shush. Zip it. Stop talking

To put the pencil down and back away from the plans. To give myself a shake and quit dreaming about how nicely the draft will come together "once I get going." 

All that talking and dreaming distances me from the actual work.

It builds up a kind of resistance to the untidiness of the new draft. (After all, dreaming about drafting is so neat! The actual drafting is much muckier.)

It puts off the linguistic juggling act of getting everything set up in the first story. (Characters! Personalities! Conflict! Stakes!)

You know? Talking about writing, daydreaming about writing: it scratches the itch. And it's risk-free!

But I need to plant myself squarely in the midst of the writing itself.

How about you, lionheart?

Are you camping out on social media and lovely writerly conversations and reading fun writing books, and doing all other writerly things ... without the actual writing? 

It's such a tough thing to catch yourself doing, isn't it? Such a tempting, sticky trap.

But Heather Sellers gives us an incredibly effective equation for getting unstuck.

It calls for a bit of honesty. (Okay, okay. A lot of honesty. A radical amount of honesty. Deep breath.)

How much of our time and energy is spent in writing-like enterprises?

Talking, social media-ing, reading productivity newsletters, planning, chatting, listening to podcasts, networking, reading writing blogs and books, and daydreaming? 

And then ... how much time and how much energy is spent doing the actual work of, you know, putting words in a line? (Or revising, editing, whatever major writing work you're up to right now.)

What happens when we flip the amounts? 

When we dial back on the talking and Internet-ing and daydreaming and planning—when we bring that down to just a tenth of our energy...

And then we take the actual story, and crank our energy way way up. Ninety percent of our time, our energy, our focus.

What about just plunging in and going deep?

WHOA, right? 

Granted, I know we probably can't be super precise with this. (Unless you have an Writing-Energy-ometer lying around.) 

So while we could figure out some kind of scientific strategy (timers! charts! graphs! lengthy reports!), I think I'd rather just rely on my gut.

I don't need a timer to tell me that I've gone way overboard in talking up the work. And I've severely undernourished my draft.

So I'm going to flip things around by going immersion camp style. I'm going to dive in deep.

And I'll stay alert to every time I'm tempted to talk about my work, or to fall into a daydreaming/planning frenzy...

I'll try to catch myself. And march that energy right over to my computer, and pour it straight into the draft itself.

It comes down to this: 

If you know that there's some serious fluff in your writing life right now, start getting rid of it.

You might have to be a little bit ruthless with yourself. Cut yourself off social media for a while. Or put a limit on the time you spend there. (I'm going to have to do this, for sure!)

Or, you can do this gently. After every writing-that-isn't-actual-writing session, pay yourself back with twice as much time drafting. (And then start bumping up that amount!)

However you choose to go, discipline tastes better with chocolate and celebratory dancing. So loop those in as well.

Whatever it looks like, you know the formula: 90 percent of our energy goes to the words on the page.

So let's turn down the volume on the noise, the static, the general background music of daydreaming and talking and clutter.

And start cranking up the volume on the sweet symphony of the story itself. 

Sound good? Sound like a plan? 

Awesome. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some chocolate, and then dive head first into my draft.


* I've said it before, and I'll just keep saying it: The reason I mention Heather Sellers so dang often is because I would have stopped writing by now if I hadn't read her books Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter

She's been one of the biggest influences on how I think about my writing life, and I'm just so grateful for her books! 

Page after Page is required reading for anyone who wants to have a writing life, and Chapter after Chapter is required for all novelists! They are the most underlined books in my whole library, and every time I reread them, I'm the better for it.