Everyone has something they like doing for fun. For me, it's putting together a good story that's well written and flows well. Our self-esteem needs to know that we are good at something, anything, no matter how trivial, so that we can hang on to it when other things in life don't go so well. Got laid off? Our loved one left us for someone else? There are aliens bent on the destruction of the human race? That's okay, because no matter what, we know we're good at that one thing.
Unfortunately, things that we do for fun always end up being put on the back burner because there are other more important, pressing responsibilities that demand our attention: going to work. Making dinner. Changing diapers. Hiding the body of our loved one that has left us for someone else. And, when those responsibilities are done, we put our brain on idle in front of the television or the X-Box. Who wants to think about anything?
I began to complain lately that I hadn't done any writing. It's true, I haven't. But the problem was not just a matter of having writer's block or that I couldn't figure what to write. After a long day, sitting in front of a computer and trying to write something was the last thing on my mind. And so no writing got done because it was far easier to just complain about it. It's kind of like complaining that you never win the lottery when you never actually go out and buy a ticket.
After looking at how my mind works in other situations, and what I learnt from that, I have put together a guide of what I do to help me get back into that writing mood. It's not perfect and may not work for everyone and every passion, but it may help you in making your first step towards making sure you're doing what you like and keeping that self-esteem as high up there where it should be.
Your brain hates to be forced into thinking about something unless it really wants to. It's like when you had to read that boring chapter on biochemical research during university and you found yourself several pages into the book but not remembering a single thing you had read. Meanwhile, your brain had managed to keep on reading, but was thinking instead of how awesome it would be to go watch some television, while munching on a grilled cheese sandwich, right about now.
The brain doesn't like to be told what to think about. It gets angry and starts fighting back. You're trying to get some ideas on what to write, and your brain keeps coming up with how hot Annika Hansen, from Star Trek: Voyager, would look, naked, in a pool of blue jell-o. Maybe it's poor training on my part that I never put a leash on my brain. Or maybe she's just hot; however, I eventually began to understand the creative process of my brain: just let it loose.
I begin the process by doing some menial tasks that need doing, anyway: like washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. These tasks don't require any concentration and therefore the brain can be left loose to think about what it wants to think about. It will, all by itself, come up with ideas of what you should write about. It's okay if you drift from your topic, because this random firing of neurons is what actually brings up links and ideas together, making you come up with connections you had never imagined were possible. And, at the very least, you'll end up with a stunningly clean bathroom, which is always good for other kinds of inspiration when we sit on the Johnson.
See the little subtitles that form this article? Before I wrote any of the meat in it, I put down the bones that would hold it together. Sometimes the most important part of writing something is to have a good idea as to where we start, what our argument is, and where we want to finish. In university they called this a thesis, but in this case, you're taking your thesis, breaking it up in parts and, later, expanding each bit.
Our brain comes up with ideas as concepts, not as words. By being able to verbalize these concepts in a short sentence and assigning an order to them, we're creating the portions that will make the article. This will refine our thinking about it and, later, what we want to say when we decide to expand it.
If you write for passion and not for money, make writing a part of your daily routine. It doesn't have to take away time from your responsibilities but your responsibilities should not take away from it either. After the dinner's dishes have been washed, the kids tucked to bed and the wife is watching her favourite show, fire up your laptop and start writing. Everyone needs to wind down and you can do it in the company of someone you love.
It's important to give yourself both a time and the time to do this. I usually choose between 45 minutes to an hour, because otherwise your brain will get bored of this and will do everything it can to make you stop and concentrate on something else that it finds more interesting. Instead, if you know that you'll start at seven and you'll be done at eight, your brain will sigh and although with occasional reluctance, it will carry you through.
In those situations where your muse will pay you a visit and insist you should write longer, do it. But the moment she takes off, pack up and call it a night. You've done lots.
Turn off your Twitter client, your news aggregator, your IM and even your e-mail. I know we all want to stay updated, but this is time just for yourself and nothing should get in the way of your creative spurs. Your brain is always looking for excuses to get distracted, so feed it nothing other than the work you have in mind.
I've heard from several people that the best thing to do, when you can't write, is to go to a coffee shop and do some writing, so as to experience a different atmosphere. You know how much work these people get done? Absolutely none. Don't believe me? Every time I go into a Starbucks and there are people on their laptops that look like they're writing their autobiography, they're looking at who is coming in and what they're ordering, not at what is on their computer screen. Either their lives were very boring and they don't know what to write or they're just falling trap to their mind looking for a way out of thinking.
When I went to university, I hated writing papers. I dreaded sitting down and having to think of some bullshit that would give me a passing mark. The strange thing was that, as soon as I forced myself to sit down and start writing, I'd get it done. I later discovered that the problem isn't just with writing, but with almost everything that requires some motivation: I dread going to the gym every time I go, and find I force myself to go. Once I'm there and I start working out, I end up doing more than I had planned, and I feel immensely proud on my way home.
So I tried this with writing and forced myself to get started. At first I wrote the point form outline of what I wanted to say. Next thing I knew, half this article was finished.
Who cares? Unless you're e. e. cummings, chances are that the first draft of what you wrote is going to suck. It's difficult sometimes to get that idea perfectly worded in a way that makes sense to the reader. At other times, there are syntax and grammar issues, where sentences become redundant or we fall into a trap of using our favourite word of the day way too much. That's okay, let it suck. Instead, bask on the fact that you actually wrote something, your ideas have been outlined in more than just subtitles and that all you're left with now is editing. When you'll get around looking at it again with a fresh set of eyes, you'll have to concentrate less on getting your point across and more on refining what you already have there.
Picasso didn't paint a masterpiece overnight. He would first sketch some ideas, drink heavily, smoke four packs of cigarettes, cut off one of his ears, have opiates with his groupies and, after weeks of work and sex with prostitutes, come up with a deranged looking masterpiece. As his painting reached completion, it was the minor details he would touch up that would take most of his time.
Seriously, an hour is enough. Unless your muse is forcing you to write until the wee hours of the night, don't force yourself. A passion should be fun, not an obligation. If some nights you can't put a sentence together, so be it. Don't force yourself to write, but keep that hour to yourself. Instead, you can take the time to re-read what you wrote or come up with more point forms for your battle plan.
By not pushing yourself to overdo it, you begin to long for it, because your passion is now fun and rewarding. Without realizing it, your brain will think about what you're writing during the day, feeding you with more ideas that you can put on paper. Overwhelm it, and suddenly the brain goes back to Ms. Hansen covered in jell-o.
One of the things I like doing after I've written a draft, is to print it. Then I grab a pen I enjoy writing with and I stick everything in one of the pockets of my jacket. When I'm out commuting, I can dig out my papers, and look at them from a completely different perspective than if I was sitting in front of a screen. Some of my most creative writing moments seem to come out of nowhere when I'm simply sitting on the subway. I also find that I see things differently on paper and spot errors or potential corrections far more easily that way. My commute isn't very long, but it gives me a good twenty minutes of time that I can spend either reading a book or reviewing what I wrote. Later, that night, I can implement all my corrections to the original.
I wrote this article in an under an hour by simply following all the things that I highlighted above. Once I sat down and put down the foundations of what I wanted to say, I just began to write. Maybe I was just inspired tonight. Or maybe it was just a matter of putting all that energy I was using for complaining towards something a little more productive. There is nothing wrong with complaining. It is, in fact, a healthy thing to do. But while there are things in life that we have absolutely no control over, we should at least put our best effort towards the things that we can control. And, ultimately, enjoy.