Essential writing skills: plugging on, even when it’s boring

One of the biggest challenges in writing is producing even when the well’s apparently run dry. As anybody who’s worked in a newsroom will attest, deadlines don’t wait for the muse.

Wright_Typewriter2That’s true of book writing too. Some authors perhaps enjoy the sounds of deadlines whistling past, but that’s not likely to please publishers.

Publishing is a business, you see – a serious one, with low profit margins. Production is dovetailed, and if a book misses its slot, that’s actually significant.

This is where contests like National November Novel Writing Month come in – apart from a challenge to write to length, they’re also a challenge to write to time. On average, 1667 words a day – though, in reality, some days would doubtless be more productive, others less. Remembering always that word count is a tool, not a target.

So how do you keep going when the muse has left you and gone to Mars? How about trying one or more of these?

  1. Sit down with your story plan – er, you DID plan it, didn’t you? – and look through what you’ve done, then what you have to do. Find another part of the story, yet to be written; write that and then back-fill.
  2. Re-read what you’ve written so far. Even revise it. Does this inspire enthusiasm? Some authors – and I think Roald Dahl was one of them – do this routinely as a way to get their mind back into the track of their work.
  3. Brute force also works. Sit down, start writing a sentence. Then another. Then another. Yes, it’ll likely be dull plod prose, but that’s what word processors are for.
  4. Do something even more boring, like cleaning up the kitchen or vacuuming. Don’t think about what you’re writing. Not for too long – maybe 15-20 minutes. Let’s say just long enough to earn domestic brownie points. Then get back to the writing.
  5. Run a contest with yourself – can I write the next sentence? How quickly?

The fact is that writing’s hard work. But even the dull patches can also be made fun, if you let it.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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11 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: plugging on, even when it’s boring

  1. I’ve done all of those tips, except for #5. #3 I learned from working in a newsroom. #4 works for me when I’m feeling mentally tired, but #2 is the one I use the most frequently. Revising my previous writing is almost like getting a running start to jump into new writing.

  2. #3/#5 There’s this website called Write or Die and many NaNoers swear by it. If you write on that, if you don’t write anything for a certain period of time it starts deleting what you’ve already written. Now there’s motivation to write if you ask me 😉

  3. #4, #3, #2 in that order work for me!

    I have done a fair amount of technical writing, which I think of as a unique form of fiction actually. And deadlines for proposals, investigations of all sorts, instructions and so forth, are immovable. Yes, forcing it out can be tough, tough work, but you get better at it – almost like training for a sport. I’ve never perfected it, it’s never easy, so the getting better at it part is more like grown accustomed to it!

    There is also, for me anyhow, an interesting turnaround I run into when in the mode of shall we say writing not so much from inspiration, but by perspiration; and that is while in this mode, un-fun as it is, I discover and uncover more details about my topic sometimes going so far as to trigger complete re-writes. Reference #2 above!

    Artificially imposed concentration can be a great teacher; by, let’s just call it what it is, forcing, I am exposed to facets of my topic I hadn’t considered – almost by definition. It is come to think of it, a kind of pioneering. Hard work though.

    1. Writing is always hard work, even when it is a passion. I agree – the act of forcing the words out often leads to surprising insights. Possibly a function of the focus that forcing demands.

  4. One, two, and four are my “go to” strategies. Currently, I am using #4 more but then I am putting together a plan for two projects. To me, that makes sense. When I have a plan, then either one or two–sometimes both–will fire up my writing. As you imply, any of these strategies help a writer see the work in another light or perspective. Often, that is all that is needed to get going again. Great post, Matthew!

    1. Thank you. Yes, it’s getting the different angle that often allows a writer to ‘unstick’. The hard part, sometimes, is finding it because the key to moving forward so often varies with the context. Yesterday’s answer will not be today’s – and tomorrow is something else. Rendering writing, in these senses, something of a reflection of everyday life.

      1. “Yesterday’s answer will not be today’s….” Brilliant, Matthew! Once again, thanks for these informative and practical posts on writing.

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