In a perfect world, all writers would always get exactly enough sleep. In the morning, we’d drift down to a nutritious, leisurely breakfast prepared by someone else, then amble into our beautiful study to write with joy and abandon on the current project(s).
In a perfect world, no writer would be awakened three times in the night by a child or a cat, never have an extra glass of wine or a fight with our mothers. We would not worry about getting money into the right account for bills or fuss about a furnace that needs replacing. Our children and spouses and relatives would all respect our work time as Utterly Sacred and—if this was a really perfect world—we’d never do any dishes, publishers would always pay on time, and —
Yeah, my world isn’t perfect either. I love my job, but right this moment, I’d rather not be writing. I slept funny and there’s a catch in the middle of my back that’s bugging me. I’ve been working hard for a fairly long stretch, and there are naps and hikes with my name on them that I probably won’t get to take. I have a small headache. The weather has been eternally rainy. In a word, I’m grumpy. I’d like to crawl into my cave and watch movies for about six weeks.
But I’m a commercial fiction writer, and work is always better than no work. Always. Even if I didn’t do the blog that I am slated to do, there are other projects that need addressing, and if I ever want to take a month off again to travel, I’ve got to work.
So how to get it done? How do you work when you really don’t feel like it, when you are tired or grumpy or slightly under the weather? It’s easy to say, “Sit down and write,” but it’s not psychologically satisfying. There’s no map to it, no plan.
This is my toolbox for days I’d rather get a root canal than do my work.
#1 Show up.
#2 Reward yourself and keep the rewards coming.
One thing I’ve learned writing columns over the years, is that a writer can usually come up with 500-1000 words on just about anything. Settling on a subject is the hard part. So, I was relieved to have a suggestion that worked. I stuck it in the back of my mind to brew and then:
#3 Pretend it’s a day job and other people will see you. Shower, shave or do your hair, put on presentable clothes.
One thing influencing my grouchy mood was the state of my crazy hair this morning. Does that sound shallow? Maybe it is, but I have a lot of hair it and it was kinky and kooky and irritating. I took a shower and washed my hair and blew it dry and put on make-up and presentable clothes. If I’m working well, I often leave my yoga pants on all day and only remember to brush my hair when I hear the garage door opening in the evening. If I’m having trouble getting myself on task, making myself presentable, looking like a person who has important things to do, can help get me into a disciplined state of mind.
#4 Change your scene
A change of location can be enormously helpful. It feels different to work somewhere besides my office; I feel less alone, less pathetic and idea-less when I’m in public. I can use a laptop or a notebook—often if I’m very, very pathetic, a notebook is a good trick to get myself moving.
Be careful, however. If the Internet is tempting and you must work on a laptop, go somewhere that it will be stupidly expensive, or there is no connection at all. I was planning to go to the coffeeshop, but it was too busy and I was hungry anyway, so I chose to come to Panera bread for the free wireless (you see I was still procrastinating in this little rebellion). Since I’m still dieting off the RWA conference, I was only allowed to have a salad, and Panera has very nice ones, along with good coffee. It’s lunchtime, so the place is packed, but I also know that there is only 30 minutes of wifi available, so I can’t screw up too much.
(You see how the rewards keep coming? A new location. A nice salad for lunch. Another little stretch of play on the Internet. Oh, and the little netbook itself, which was a previous reward for finishing my last book and the revisions on time. )
#5 Set a timer and start writing.
A good period of timed writing is about 20 minutes. I learned this trick from the Natalie Goldberg school of free writing, and it works very well for me, and it tends to work for anyone who might be stuck for any number of judgmental reasons. You’re judging your work too hard. Someone else has judged you and wounded your spirit. You’ve been badly rejected. Whatever. Judgment interferes with the free flow of words, so to get by it, you have to go back to mad writing.
20 minutes of fast writing with no judgment from you, just words piling up. It doesn’t have to be good writing. It just has to be on topic. If I’m going to write about how to write when you don’t feel like it, I start there. If I’m stuck in a novel, I will choose the scene that is causing me trouble, shift viewpoint or setting and spend 20 minutes on that. I might write 20 minutes of autobiography or skip ahead to a scene I know about later in a book.
Whatever. You have to start writing somewhere. It doesn’t have to be the best spot, just any spot. See if it works. You can always throw it out.
Reward yourself again. (I used to smoke, and smoking is great for this reward period. Unfortunately, it stinks and will eventually kill you, so I switched to other things. A little walk upstairs, or outside to look at the flowers. Take a picture. Pour a fresh coffee)
#6 Evaluate. Repeat. Reward.
If it isn’t working, start fresh with something else and try again. Remember not to freak out, just write. One sentence and then another. Don’t judge. Keep rewarding yourself.
What are your tricks? What are some good rewards you can think of?
(And now I’m finished and will go have a nap then play with itineraries. Cheers!)