Why we delay writing

Last month, Chris Hamilton, the blogger for the Florida Writers’ Association, asked, “So what’s with us? If we enjoy writing, why is it so hard to get started?”

And then here at NAF, Keven shared a numinous description of the joy we sometimes feel in writing. But for some of us, those moments are few and far between. I’ve talked with many writers who have difficulty sitting down and doing the work.

Hands typing

Photo by Matthew Bowden | stock.xchng

Why do we procrastinate on the thing we ostensibly love most? I usually blame life, in the form of bookkeeping, housekeeping, and keeping a day job.

Bryan Garner, in his Usage Tip of the Day e-mail, shared a quotation from C.S. Forester that sums things up more honestly:

“I find the actual writing a toilsome bore. The only way to get it done is to set your course for a given number of words every day. If tomorrow is just as good as today, then three weeks go by before you know it. You just have to go ahead each morning and get the miserable thing done.” C.S. Forester (as quoted in Harvey Breit, The Writer Observed 240 (1956)).

Forester, author of the Horatio Hornblower series, shares his writing method in The Hornblower Companion. It resonated with me because it’s like mine. He said it’s like setting actors up on a stage, running them through their scene, changing some things, running through again and again, differently each time, until it’s right. And then writing it down.

It’s easier and more enjoyable to picture the thing in one’s mind than to actually write it down. If only some cybernetic transcription machine could take the visions from our minds and digitize them for us.

Alas, we must pursue the toilsome bore of putting keystrokes together. In The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell advises setting weekly goals, rather than daily. That way, “if something comes up on one day that prevents you from writing your quota, you just make it up later in the week.”

I still struggle with this matter of getting the thing done, as there are so many other things that come up to prevent it. There is a great gap between knowing the solution is diligence and actually being diligent.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

6 comments on “Why we delay writing

  1. I love this. I’ve read so many posts about how we’re supposed to write for the love of it, without worrying about who will ever read our writing. Many writers comment that if you’re in the writing business “for publication” you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I agree with that statement, too–in the sense that if the almighty dollar is your ONLY goal, you’ve made a grave mistake by choosing writing as a vocation.

    But I DO write “for” publication most often. Why? Because I ALREADY see everything completely vividly in my head. I know the characters like family. (Maybe better.) I’ve seen them live out my stories over and over–I have their every thought and movement memorized. So why even bother to write it down if no one else is ever going to read it?

    Now, that may be extreme, and I often do write just to get the words out of my head and see how things are going to play out. And I truly enjoy the process when the words are flowing. But I can totally understand the procrastination thing, since the story and words are “right there” in my head, ready to access when I *need* them, and it’s so easy at times to let them stay there :P.

    (PS–while I know it works for many authors, the so-many-words-a-day thing doesn’t work for me at all. I got days, weeks, without writing, then everything comes gushing forth at once.)

    • It would be selfish to keep these stories to ourselves, wouldn’t it?

      And I agree with you — X words a day just isn’t feasible for a lot of us. Weekly goals are somewhat more manageable, but even then, life intrudes.

  2. My favorite part of writing is reading it after I’m done. 😉
    It’s the getting it to match what I envision that keeps me away from the keyboard. That’s hard work!

    • The words never quite match the vision, do they?

      So good to know I’m not the only one who loves reading my own work. But then I suppose if we didn’t enjoy it, we wouldn’t share it!

  3. With you on this. Writing is like squeezing blood from a stone. At least it is when trying to get started, and for me, it gets worse the longer I’ve not written.

    Ehm…Reading this is actually just more procrastination! I better get moving…

  4. […] Overcoming inertia, pressing through resistance, breaking through writer’s block—whatever you call it, we all struggle with it. As much as we enjoy it, writing is hard work, and there are a million temptations to keep us from it. […]

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