We all have bad writing days, but isn't something better than nothing?


You read about it all the time—the writer who wrote her entire novel in stolen bits of time. In the car while her kids were at gymnastics class. In the early morning, before anyone else was up, when the day was only hers. While waiting at the doctor’s office. In a coffee shop between meetings. You read it all the time—a page a day equals a novel a year. Seems easy enough, right? So why aren’t we all writing that novel a year?

Three things come to mind to me. For me. Perfectionism, pressure, and procrastination. We all have different reasons why we don’t write. These are three of mine. I am a wild perfectionist. If I can’t do something right, I’d prefer not to do it at all. Either the house is sparkling clean or there are, as my husband calls them, explosions everywhere. Either I read the book in three days or I don’t pick it up at all. It’s exhausting, really. I believe I MUST commit to four hours a day of writing. It’s unreasonable. Sometimes we don’t have hours. I build it up, you know, convince myself I am not a real writer unless I have a structured writing schedule and produce 1,000 words a day. And then there’s Pressure which is Perfectionism’s evil cousin. I must finish the story. I must finish the story and it must be the best story I’ve ever written. I must write something meaningful, beautiful, touching. I must finish this novel by May. If I don’t finish it by May, then I’ve failed. Pressure. The stress of it breaks you down and then you Procrastinate. You procrastinate because how can one possible be capable of all this? It’s just too much and the task is too daunting so you empty the dishwasher instead. You do other work, work that could have waited. You call people. Hello, hello, you say, you ask them what they’re doing, what they’re eating, if they’ll come save you from your misery.

We all have walls, you know? We all have our things. Whatever they are, we can’t let them get in the way of our goals. Procrastinating, for me, is draining. William James said: “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” It’s so true. The weight of it in your mind, the project you so badly want to complete, and know you can complete. There’s that blank screen staring at you, a reminder of the undone. And then suddenly you are a big fat failure. You didn’t write today, yesterday, or the day before. It’s too late. Forget it. You’ll never write again. And while all this is highly dramatic, there is one truth: That there are a million ways to lose a work day, but not a single way to get those days back.

I’ve realized these things about myself. I’ve realized those three Ps are going to try and stand in my way. And by realizing it, understanding it, I win half the battle I think. We have good days, bad days. My best friend said this to me over coffee and egg and cheeses the other morning: I am finally able to appreciate the ebbs and flows of life.   I, too, am trying to appreciate, embrace, the ebbs and flows of a writing life. Some days we write well. Other days we just write. And so my ongoing mantra has become this: Ten minutes of writing is something. Bad writing is something. Something is better than nothing.

And it gets easier. Thank goodness. You write for ten minutes and suddenly you’re into it, you’re rolling, going, inspired. You want to write more and realize how easy it is once you just get started.

I also plan to buy a new notebook, something I can carry around with me so I can catch some words on the page during those stolen bits of time.

Writers write. Butt in chair. It’s that simple.

What are your walls? Your things? What keeps you from writing?

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change- this is the rhythm of living. Out of our overconfidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.”

 –Bruce Barton

 photo credit: UniverityNinja

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0 thoughts on “We all have bad writing days, but isn't something better than nothing?

  1. Kate

    Kristan– That’s funny you mention Twilight. I completely know what you mean. I have a friend whose brother is a songwriter and he always says–"Even the worst songwriter is still a songwriter." I’m certainly not striving for mediocrity, but it is good to know I don’t have to be perfect. I can’t wait until I can finally say "bye bye" to those two Ps, too.

    And Louise—It would be so lovely to have a twin writing sister! Let’s just pretend we are. I’ll check out your blog. I agree a word count goal is the way to go. I’m just learning not to beat myself up if I don’t meet it every day. And I’m also learning to keep it reasonable. ps- It’s interesting where we find inspiration… Sarah Palin… too funny.

  2. Louise

    Are you my long-lost writing twin sister? Because I could be writing the exact same post. Perfectionism is my Achilles heel. I am even devoting an entire category to it on my blog, http://www.thoughtshappen.net/perfectionism. This year I am really trying to live by the credo of your post title, though, and setting myself a goal of a blog post a week and 300 words/day for six months on a big project (I am calling it my Practice Book) with a few built in slack days. I try not to worry about if the 300 words are crap, or if I don’t happen to make the full 300 every day. Just get butt in chair and write. Having a word count goal helps with the procrastination part. So far, so good!

    (P.S. Another friend had the same inspiration as Kristan did, but from Sarah Palin, not Twilight 🙂

  3. Kristan

    I think these 3 Ps used to be my demons too. Now I (mostly) only deal with one of them: Procrastination. The other two I’ve banished, for the most part. Strangely enough, Twilight freed me of them. (Well, okay, not singlehandedly. But Twilight was the straw that broke the camel’s back.) In reading Twilight, which was a compelling story with flawed writing, I realized that I don’t have to be perfect. And I probably can’t be anyway, so why kill myself trying to? Why not just be me, as best I can, and focus on the story? Bye bye perfectionism and pressure.

    That leaves procrastination. I’m still working on that one, but I find setting word quotas (not necessarily the same quota every day) helps me achieve momentum. So that’s what my 2010 is about: momentum. Snowballing it bigger and bigger, until… well, until nothing. Just bigger. 🙂


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