The Benefits of Not Writing Anything At All

I will never understand exactly what it is about writing that’s so hard to nail down. Why does it gush out of you on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday wind down some grand staircase into a hidden basement labyrinth where you can never find it? Why do some ideas seem to be the best things you’ve ever dreamed up, only to sour in your head overnight? Nothing vexes me so much or so consistently as being blocked.

However, I’d just like to take a brief moment to outline the advantages of being completely unable to work. Today was one of those days, and all in all, it wasn’t so bad.

I strive to hit 2,000 words at the end of every writing day. I’ve started tracking it on the calendar, and thus far it looks like I probably only manage to do that on a third of the days of any given month. The other two thirds are split between doing 500-1,000 words or absolutely nothing. Yesterday I managed about 800. Today I managed about 20. I could take the low road and blame this on distractions, other people, my landlady deciding she needed to have the entire neighborhood over for dinner, or her obnoxious little dog who barks at anyone that goes anywhere near the vicinity of the back door (our main egress and busiest area of the house); but the fact of the matter is that life happens, and while some of us deal with it just fine and carry on, the rest of us beat our hands against our temples and wish everyone would go microwave themselves a nice warm cup of STFU.

But sometimes the inability to write can be a good thing. Maybe you aren’t getting anything down because you don’t know where your story is going, and taking some time away to think will help you intuit the solution. Maybe you’re stuck because you aren’t sure how your idea might pan out in real life, or because you don’t know how your characters are going to deal with a particular real-world obstacle, or you’re unsure how long it’s going to take for someone’s injuries to heal. In many such cases, putting off your word count until you’ve done some research at the library might be the best thing.

For me, frustrations yesterday led to rediscovering a game that I’d been meaning to play since I first bought it, not long after the launch of the Playstation 3: Folklore. Despite the ever-present din of Anthropoid Co-Lodger Party and accompanying parasitic canine, I fell back into a world of textured color, ruggedly beautiful Irish countryside, and the small town of Doolin where the living can commune with the dead. While it may not have broken the chains that seem to have wound themselves around my current manuscript, it did refresh and inspire me, provoking both an immediate emotional response and a lasting string of striking internal imagery.

Today I tried to simply escape the house, but still found myself at a standstill. My characters had just finished doing interesting things and I could only see them doing boring things while they made their way to the next stop. I was losing my grip on their motivations, wondering how I was going to evolve their relationships to one another, how the great wheel at the center of my malign machine was going to come full circle again. I decided to work at the park, and I did get the aforementioned 20 words down before I gave up. After that, I walked up and down the length and breadth of the place, across the train tracks on the little bridge over the creek, through the graffiti-covered caves under the freeway, past the basketball courts and the duck pond. And it was a wonderful hour. I solved a few problems in my head, said a few prayers for those I love, and got some exercise.

So as frustrating as feeling stuck may be, there’s always something worth doing, whether that be working on another story that’s speaking to you, reading or playing or watching something, or just going out and living a little bit. It doesn’t mean you should get up every time you feel stuck, as the best method for accomplishing writing remains and always will remain ass in chair; but if you know you need a break, don’t be afraid to give yourself one. Sometimes the simplest solution really is the best.

[This post originally appeared at theflyingmonkeyapparatus.com.]

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