I have a confession to make.
Writing is not an easy or pleasant experience for me.
Sure, once I get a few paragraphs in I find myself in “flow” and can bang out a few sentences that somehow come together and make sense. But everything in the lead up to that state of “flow” is excruciating. It is like fighting a battle with myself, and the writer in me rarely wins.
On one side of the war, is Practical Joy. The Joy who is well aware of the lists upon lists of things that I need to do (like feeding my children, driving one to school, sorting out the washing, and checking that my invoices have been paid) and things I should probably do (like reading the news, vacuuming the floor, ringing my mum, and returning the cake stand that I borrowed from a girlfriend 6 months ago). This Joy wins almost every battle because she always has a compelling reason to spend time on EVERYTHING ELSE EXCEPT WRITING.
On the other side of the war, is Writer Joy. The Joy who has a million ideas zipping around her head for stories that she should be pitching to publications she would like to contribute to. The Joy who has about 5 hours worth of interviews with her parents that she should probably transcrcibe because the memoir she has been working on for several years isn’t going to write itself.
Writer Joy is timid, self-sabotaging, and likes to find excuses to not do the thing she would really like to do.
Practical Joy is assertive, pragmatic, and likes the satisfaction of having ticked items off her many to-do lists. And she rail-roads Writer Joy into a corner every. single. day.
Right now, Writer Joy has experienced a semi-victory (i.e. I’m writing this post – yay for me) but that’s only because I have a deadline in 5 hours and I’m using this blog post to put off writing the thing I’m meant to be writing to meet that deadline. (To be fair, if this was a client’s or editor’s deadline, I would have finished it by now… the deadline I’m speaking of is a workshop where I’m supposed to bring something that I’ve written so people can help me make it better. I’m freaking out about it, which is why I’m not writing anything. Yet.)
As I write this I’m realising:
- I’m referring myself in the third person. Hmm… not a great thing. But will carry on.
- Practical Joy generally wins because there is always something else to do that seems “more important” than writing. Except this doesn’t make sense because I’m A WRITER, ergo what is more important than writing???
I know there is much I need to work on if Writer Joy is going to win. I think I’m getting better at it (well… at least I hope I am), but in case you’ve come across this post and are still reading because you find yourself in the same situation (or you are Future Joy, and are reading this post because you’re doing that thing where you read because you’re putting off writing), here are some reminders so the writer in you wins more often:
1. Stop underestimating the value of writing
I really need to unlearn what I think about writing. Growing up, writing was the thing I did in school to demonstrate that I understood what was being taught. It was the thing I did (loved to do!) in my spare time.
But now that I have neither the need to demonstrate comprehension or any spare time, it’s easy for writing to constantly get shuffled down to the bottom of my to-do list. The problem is that my to-do list is always growing, and so if I keep waiting for everything else to be done, I’ll never actually write. I just have to remember that for me, writing is just as important as the other things on my to-do list.
The books that I read when I grew up and taught me so much didn’t write themselves. The books that my children are reading today didn’t write themselves. The articles in newspapers and magazines don’t appear out of thin air. People are committing time to getting these stories down because they’re important. They capture our history, our discussions, our thoughts; they are a snapshot of who we are at this point in time. They are the stories the next generation will discover and unpack so they can learn from our victories and our mistakes.
Writing is just as important as any other artform. Stop waiting for the spare time. Write.
2. Everything else can wait
I seem to understand this sentiment in every other aspect of my life except writing. Even when there are other things I should or would rather be doing, I’ll say yes to the meeting; I’ll stay for the extra drink; I’ll sing the extra song so my 5 year old falls asleep; I’ll drive to that seminar. I find ways to shuffle everything else around so that I can do these things and the other things that I think are important.
Now I just need to remember… that just because the book is not a person that I will disappoint if it doesn’t get attention, it doesn’t mean I should keep putting off writing it. Something else can wait for now.
3. Show up, even when you’re not feeling inspired
Simple, but important (because nothing is going to happen if you — the writer — aren’t there).
Allison Tait, an Australian author, spoke about this recently in Episode 225 of So You Want to Be a Writer (which is an awesome podcast, by the way – if you haven’t heard it yet, do yourself a favour and start listening). In Al’s words:
“It’s so unsexy, but the unsexy stuff is what gets stuff done.”
4. Make yourself accountable
It’s easy to let yourself off when the only person who knows you’re striving for something is you. But when you share your goals with other people – especially other writers – you have people who are not just holding you to account but cheering you on. Sure, no one is going to care about your project as much as you, but it helps to have other people to lean on when you lack the energy or inspiration to keep going.
In the last month, I’ve applied for a local Creative Arts Grant, which (if successful) will allow me time to work on my parents’ memoirs. I’m also going to monthly writing workshops so I can improve the pieces that I’ve already written. The more I talk about writing about my parents’ journey from the Philippines to Australia, the more I see why their story needs to be told and the more encouraged I get that this passion project isn’t some stupid idea that will end up a big waste of time. There are thousands upon thousands of stories of immigrant Australians who form the culture and communities we live in now – they deserve the spotlight too.
I don’t even want to think about the number of times I’ve wasted minutes sitting in front of my laptop, staring at a blank screen, only to have Mr 1 wake from his nap or Mr 5 walk in with a request for attention the second I start writing.
I spend so much time with my chin cupped in my hands, waiting for the right sentence to form. But I know that this never happens when I’m still. It only ever happens when I physically put pen to paper, or when my fingers start to race across the keyboard. When I stay still, my brain is also still. But when I start writing my brain starts to move, and the words start to flow.
Usually what comes out in the first few minutes is crap. But a crappy paragraph that can be edited and improved is better than a blank page. So start. Even when you think you have nothing to write, write what’s in your head. Starting is the hardest thing, but it’s the best thing you can do while you’re there.
And on that note, I should probably go start on the piece I’ll be reading out at this afternoon’s workshop.