Monday, September 20, 2010

Overcoming your greatest weakness as a writer

I'm still feeling a little depressed after reading Clare's post yesterday about the passing of a great bookseller, David Thompson. I didn't know David, but just hearing about the loss of someone special in this literary world is enough to let me wallow in a stew of malaise for an entire day.

I quickly journeyed from feeling sad about David to feeling sad about other things in life, including my own shortcomings. As a writer, my current liabilities seem to be a lack of discipline and a firm writing schedule.  I used to write in a heavily regimented way. Two hours every morning before work, come what may, you'd find me at the laptop. I wouldn't quit until I had a couple of new pages.

Now, I'm not working a full time job, so I should be able to get at least three times as much writing done, right? But does that happen? So far, not so much. Sure, I could blame the fact that I've been struggling with some gnarly health issues this summer (and evidently long before that, although undiagnosed). But that's no excuse.

"Apply glue to butt, sit on chair," is what my Dad always used to advise when I was facing a school deadline. So now, even though I'm sans deadline,  I think that advice still applies.

At times like this I start browsing around for inspiration, even looking online for  nuggets that will help inspire me. (If nothing else, it lets me burn up the time when I'm Not Writing). I did find a cute video featuring Ray Bradbury discussing the value of writing persistently. He could have been speaking directly to me, Ms NonPersistence. Here's the video, and then tell us if you will, what is your greatest weakness as a writer--really now, no fibbing! What do you do to combat it?


  1. So what is it do you think? I'm not a writer and I'm considerably older than you look to be, but I find I have the same difficulty. There are periods of time when I seem to be motivated to do "stuff," read hobbies/crafts, and other times when I wile away time just surfing, reading blogs, drinking coffee, dozing on the couch, etc.

    Sometimes I can make myself bake (baking I don't need to eat by the way), but mostly I seem to be unmotivated to do that which I think I really want to do.

    Deadlines help. If I have a deadline to get something done, such as Christmas presents, or an online trade, or entering a contest, I seem to be able to pull it together.

    I'm 67 years old, it may be too late to hope this is going to change (ya know, old dog, new tricks).

    Fall and winter are worst of course, SAD an all.

    No solutions for you, just a 4:30 in the morning comment.

  2. Thank you Susan! I'm like you--I seem to need a deadline to get me going. I'm now going to two writer's critique groups, simply to give myself an arbitrary deadline. I feel obligated to produce new material for each meeting, and that's just enough to keep me cranking out the pages. At least for now.

  3. Kathryn - sometimes I find it's good to have a break from the writing routine - a week of reading, watching movies, talking to people - really helps to recharge you and give you ideas you may not have before about your book.

    Sometimes finding inspiration elsewhere is better than worrying about what you're not doing.

  4. I wish I could become SuperWriter and write no matter what I was dealing with. The ability to power through a story even when the day job is giving me ulcers and sucking me dry.

    I can't tell you the # of times I've read the advice about "No matter what, sit down and write." Sound advice, but the reality is something else.

    At those times when the creativity is stomped out of you--no amount of parking butt in chair makes a difference.

    Like you it's not a matter of finding time. Some time each week I could definitely eek out. But I don't know how to fight being dried up.

  5. I don't know if this is much of a problem.


    Robert B. Parker wrote five or ten pages a day (I've heard different numbers). He did this consistently every day. When he finished one novel, he started on another.

    But Orson Scott Card writes only when a deadline is looming. Card has said that he wished he could be more of a consistent writer like Parker, but has realized over the years that he's not. He writes his novel in five to seven weeks, and then is done writing until the next deadline. But during that "down time," he's reads A LOT and begins the prep work for his next novel.

    So I think it really depends on how one works.

    Before you became a full-time writer, you HAD to work in a certain way. Now, you don't. So maybe you're moving toward your natural writing style.

    Just some thoughts.

  6. Thanks Anon, that insight makes me feel better. Now if I could only write an award-winning novel in 5-7 weeks, I'd be a happy clam! Jessie, I agree with you that sometimes it's best to get a real break from writing. Reading, going to movies, long walks, travel--it's all good for recharging the creative batteries. BK, here's to us all becoming replenished SuperWriters!

  7. Being a full-time writer (not having a day job) is no guarantee of producing more words. If anything, I find that there are way more distractions that when I had to find time to write. With a day job, my biggest distraction was the job. Now my biggest distraction is just about everything. Whether a writer has to squeeze in a few minutes a day to write or has the whole day to do so, it takes discipline, organization and a strong commitment. I've always found that the biggest motivator of all is a deadline.

  8. I used to write on a regular work schedule-8-5 five to six days a week, but about three years ago I decided I would enjoy life more and write when I felt like it. I try to write most mornings, or just revise what I've written. I write best on deadline, but I don't have a deadline at the moment. I have a work in progress and I'm working on it daily because I like the characters, but I'm having ups and downs getting the story right.

  9. KL -

    Greatest weaknesses as a writer (Mr. Bradbury's story articulated the opposite) :
    1) Lack of self confidence that I have the ability to write something worthwhile. Mr. Bradbury had a strong ego and continued to write despite the rejections and failures thinking they were "stupid")
    2) Difficulty with emotionally engaging readers ("the lake" caused Mr. Bradbury to cry but it also effectively touched readers. I've written things that I can barely read aloud due to personal emotional impact but most readers are not similarly engaged. I'm failing to communicate the story effectively.)

    How to maintain confidence and keep the butt in the chair?
    How to more effectively engage reader's emotionally?

  10. Joe and John, sounds like we all work better with a deadline. What about other writing weaknesses? Anyone have one?

  11. tjc, touching the reader is the hardest challenge of all, for all writers. I'm glad you mentioned that. It's partly craft, engaging the reader, a dollop of talent, and mostly a lot of practice I think. I've been thinking about Michael Chricton a lot lately. He was criticized as not writing believable or engaging characters, but his exciting ideas and plots kept the readers turning pages. He just found a way to make it work.

  12. Give yourself a deadline that is external to you, e.g. one that is out of your control. Perhaps a friend writer and you can promise chapters to each other on a regular basis. Whatever works, but the deadline (whatever it is) for me *must* not be under my control. I generally work best under mild-moderate stress so a sooner deadline is usually better for me.

  13. You know, Kathryn, before the Internet became so pervasive, I used to get a lot more writing done. I could write for hours at a time, every day, without fail.

    Nowadays, however, I find myself bogged down in Internet business: maintaining my website, keeping up with the continuous email flow, checking in on the blogs, Facebook, and all the rest of it.

    I still find time to write every day, but it's getting more difficult. Even when I was on my honeymoon back in May, I squeezed in a little writing here and there.

    To quote the final line uttered by Edmond O'Brien in that great movie, THE WILD BUNCH, "It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do."

  14. I think my chief weakness in writing is trying to over-engineer the process. As I get more experience under my belt, I'm coming to trust that my imagination will take me where I need to go if I just give it the chance.

    Back when I wrote full-time, I felt this bizarre obligation to sit at the computer all day every day, trying to force the story and the words to come, and then being so frustrated when they wouldn't. I eventually realized that for me, two or three hours is about all I can do--at least until the deadline looms, and then I have to dig in for longer sessions. Even then, though, I max out after six or seven hours.

    I can't think of a single gimmick that has worked for me. With all respect to those for whom they do work, the theory of the mad minute (or 30 minutes) where you tye stream of consciousness onto the page in hopes of priming the creative pump is a complete waste of time for me. When the story's ready, I'll know it and it will start to flow, albeit often in fits and starts.

    What I find remarkable--and I think we've discussed it here before--is how terapeutic to the imagination is the act of showering. If there's one geographical location where more story problems have solved themselves in flashes of inspiration, it's in the shower.

    John Gilstrap

  15. Life often gets in the way of itself. I have had a 90% completed draft of my next book sitting in that 90% state since early June. Between the requirements of Alaska's summer (outdoor work or anything requiring ventilation must be done pre-cold weather and the freezer has to be full of salmon & halibut by July 30) and work requirements at my day job, I have not been able to find time to do anything more than a few blog entries and comment posts all summer. Even putting my older works up on Kindle took, and is taking, maximum effort to get done without falling asleep at the wheel.

    Coffee doesn't help, either. Sigh. Life is just so....lifey.

    (by the way, the word verification for this post was "fablesse" which seems to indicate a negative degree of fabulousity ... see what I mean... it's just not my day.)

  16. Or, perhaps "fablesse" is a fab female, Basil. Or would that be fablette, lol? Thanks everyone for your comments. John, I feel much better now--I also "max out" after only 2-3 hours of productive work. Nice to know I'm not the only one.

  17. I suffer from all the same problems as everyone else - it's so hard to juggle everything and writing comes in spurts. I am definitely not a consistent, write 10 pages a day person but I do find balancing out research helps me...though now I have to admit I think my greatest weakness is probably researching too much. It's a great excuse for not writing!

  18. Re: John Gilstrap

    You're absolutely right about the shower. I haven't yet started the habit of keeping pen and paper at the ready nearby, but I've solved many a conundrum in the shower for sure.

    I've also found that mowing my lawn is good for generating new story ideas. At least for me.

    Odd that one thing will be better for problem-solving yet another for idea generation. I wonder if anyone else has noticed that kind of separation?

    And then there's folding clothes...

  19. Walking the dog also works for me, Daniel, as long as it's a long, relaxed walk. Maybe relaxation is the key here.

  20. Re: Kathryn

    You might have it there. Any relaxing activity where your brain doesn't have to be engaged can turn into an epiphany.

    Likewise, then, mowing the lawn which is work for my body maybe acts on my mind the same way to generate ideas.

    Thanks for sharing.