What Do You Think of This Idea? [please read and comment on this new section from my proposed Beginning Writers Workbook]

Motivation is a mysterious subject. You may have wondered why some days you can’t wait to dive into the writing while other days you simply don’t want to get your butt into the chair and do the work. What’s going on?

We’re raised with a lot of “shoulds” and “should nots.”  You should wash your hands before meals. You should play fair. You should change your oil every 3000 miles. You shouldn’t cheat on your spouse. You shouldn’t take things without paying. You shouldn’t kick dogs.

Now you’re facing the challenge of writing. A good many “shoulds” and “should nots” lurk in this endeavor as well. You should write every day even if you don’t feel like it. You should take writing classes. You should learn the rules of punctuation. You shouldn’t avoid the piece you’re working on. You shouldn’t stop writing after only half an hour. You shouldn’t pretend that the rules don’t apply to you.

But what if we turn those “shoulds” and “should nots” on their heads. Consider these options:

  • Write when you feel like it.
  • Take writing classes, but only if you want to.
  • Learn correct punctuation as you go, using reference books.
  • Skip the piece you’re working on and write something else.
  • Stop writing after half an hour and do something that pleases you.
  • Pretend the rules don’t apply to you.

Hmmm. Now I’ve really mixed you up. Haven’t I repeatedly talked about habits, routines, and good time management?  All along I’ve been encouraging you to “keep going!” 

But what if part of the secret of getting some meaningful writing done is for you to find a path to wanting to do the work?  Could it be that giving yourself the freedom to listen to your own urges and desires might be the most reliable guide to getting yourself into the chair and finding yourself eagerly struggling to get the words right?

My unprovable theory here is that forcing yourself to write may be exactly the wrong way to get the work done. Yesterday I didn’t write at all. I didn’t want to.  Instead I ran errands, took care of some emails, weeded my garden, and made pork chops. Today I’m sitting in my desk chair, typing on my keyboard, thinking of ideas to put in this workbook because I want to. I enjoy doing it. Sitting in the chair and wrestling with the words pleases me. And I love it.

We’re not typically raised to listen to and honor that voice inside ourselves that says, “Today I want to….”  And of course, each of us has numerous constraints on our choices and our time. We have jobs, children, parents, spouses, school, money issues, and health limitations. Each of these important considerations plays a part in how we operate.

But I urge you to add your wishes to your daily To Do list. What do you want to do?  Over time I believe you will find that there is a rhythm, an ebb and flow to your writing.  What doesn’t appeal one day can often lead to a heightened eagerness the next.

In this workbook you’ve learned to listen to your thoughts, to spend time in your head, searching for and capturing the words, characters, and scenes to put on the page that will mean something. All that effort looking inward is not wasted. Use those same skills to attend to your own thoughts, feelings, and wishes. Instead of doing only to what you should do, what you have to do, what you must do, consider what you want to do today.

The opposite of forcing yourself to do something may be to open you up to doing what you enjoy. I hope you can let writing be your joy.

12 responses to “What Do You Think of This Idea? [please read and comment on this new section from my proposed Beginning Writers Workbook]

  1. When I first began to write for myself, I bought a journal and promised myself that I would write in it every day, and for a time I did. It was a new challenge, and ‘everyone’ said to become a writer you had to write at least one page every day. Gradually, other challenges entered my life, three little boys, several moves (5 to be exact), a new career, aging parents and I found the number of days between entries grew until eventually the journal sat on my desk and gathered dust. More than a year later I read the entries written during that time and found the first paragraph or two was inevitably an apology to myself and a list of the many complications (excuses) that caused the lapse between entries. I came to a decision much like what you suggest, Ann. I would write whenever I felt the urge- in the journal, on a notepad or on a napkin. A word that piqued my interest, a descriptive sentence or a story that was bursting from my chest. The chore of writing became the joy of writing.

    • : )
      Heartfelt applause.
      I sympathise. My former neighbour’s old farmhouse was demolished this spring and will be replaced with two “infill” houses twice the length and height. I’m sure when I finally grasp the big picture of what’s happening, I’ll have a compelling non-fiction story to tell.
      Kudos fellow writer.

  2. Good description of events that suggest my theory is apt. Gotta love those initial apologies. I know I’ve done that many times. But your next step/decision was so much more positive. I, too, still find that getting the words right on the page is perhaps the most satisfying thing I do. Thanks for your sharing your experience!

  3. My first quick response to this draft is positive.
    Of course I’ve found a possible typo, “Instead of doing only to what you should do…” One too many to’s? I hope this won’t offend.
    More importantly I agree with your ideas. Writing is best done with love rather than discipline. Discipline is useful for achieving a goal such as ten thousand hours of writing. It’s good to develop style, voice or more expertise in the craft. But maybe one doesn’t need discipline if one has a love of making stories out of words.
    I play with words all day and night, and jot my jokes and puns in a handy pocket sized booklet. I like to have fun with words. Even sad ones sometimes like, “My joie de vivre got up and left.”
    Kudos Ann Linquist.

  4. Word fun:
    “Punk, you ate Shawn!” (punctuation)
    “You Get Out What You Put In”
    Get Out!
    You, Putin!”

  5. First, thanks for picking up the typo. I will always appreciate such assistance.
    I’m still wrestling with the idea of writing when I want to. On the one hand, it seems so glib. As if some magic is at work, and the lucky few get to discover that “Wow I Love to Write Stuff!” On the other hand, and for me, that’s exactly what has happened. Writing fits me like a glove. I loved it even when I didn’t know how to do it very well. I did it even when I didn’t have time to do it. And when I suddenly did have time, I did a whole lot of it.
    It sounds like you enjoy writing quite a bit yourself, Lawrence. How great.

  6. This quote from W. Somerset Maugham resonates with me:
    “There are these rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are”.

  7. Thanks for this.

  8. Hey, Oscar. Good to know you’re still out there.

  9. A soft opener might be to exchange daily haiku(s) with a friend. Some may turn out to be funny, some dramatic and others deeply introspective. It’s a good way to loosen up creativity without a huge time and/or writing commitment. You may reveal something within yourself that you can build upon later. Just saying…

  10. Feel free to share more good ideas anytime!

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