Enjoy writing again, without bribing yourself

Put you before the writer-you

Last year, I used to trick myself into writing.

I'd light a candle on my desk and tell myself I only had to write until the first layer had melted. Or I'd set a timer on my phone without looking, and write until it dinged. Or I'd promise to write until receiving a new text message, after which I'd let myself enjoy the rest of the day, maybe with a cookie as a treat.

It's all a bit "step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back," but there you have it: I needed to be tricked and bribed into doing the act I proclaimed to be my vocation. What's more, I washed my hands of it, convinced I was leaving my writing time up to the universe.

It's all bullshit. If you don't take your work seriously and meet yourself at your desk every damn day, you can't fully enjoy it -- and you're missing out, because having the skill to create stories is an absolute riot. We writers get to skewer our enemies and place the perfect sentences in our mouths, all for the sake of art.

Sometimes, no matter what we try, we can't get to our desks to write. Or if we do get there, the writing doesn't come. I hope we can be in this thing together, helping ourselves back to a place where we can do and enjoy the work without fearing it or tempting it with bribes. I've stopped expecting writing to look a certain way because our writing lives change over time, and it's time to embrace that cycle.

I'm surprised that the way I came around to enjoying the writing I avoided for so long was the unsexiest thing: a schedule. Once I started scheduling writing time for myself, with no patience for trickery and bribes, I understood that writing is work and should be treated as such, needs to be treated as such.

I hear the protestations right away:

  • "My kids need me!"
  • "I'm exhausted from a long day at the office!"
  • "I have to exercise!"
  • "The house needs cleaning, lawn needs mowing, mother needs calling, dishes need washing, tomorrow's lunches need prepping, bills need paying, deadline needs tending to!"

Maybe you don't respond to tough love. Perhaps "You need tending to yourself before you can tend to others" doesn't resonate with you. So what do you do when you truly want to write but can't seem to get yourself there?

What's the holdup?

First, I suggest taking a look at why you can't get there. Is it really one of the excuses above? Like, really really? Or are you afraid of what happens once you sit down? I ask because I've been there, busying myself with every thing I can think of (my laundry's never been so clean as when I have a deadline) until I set at my desk and open the Word doc -- and panic.

Please listen and hear: It is terrifying to sit in front of a blank page. Every writer is terrified. What if the words don't come? What if you have the words in your head but they aren't flowing through your fingertips and onto the page in the way you'd hoped? What if you never have another good idea again?

That last one is the one that immobilizes me. Vulnerable moment here: For weeks, I've been paralyzed in my writing. It's coming out physically, and I want to write, but I'm not doing it. The Word doc has been minimized on my screen for a month, sitting there, waiting for me. The story is there for me, but I'm not there for it.

Change your expectation

I share this because I hope we can be in this together, get ourselves back to a place where we can do and enjoy the work without fearing it or tempting it with bribes. I've stopped expecting writing to look a certain way because our writing lives change over time. Examine what your process has looked like -- Did you use to write from 9-11 p.m.? Are you now exhausted by then and instead writing at noon? Do you find yourself reading a ton these days and not wanting to write at all? -- and plot it out. Go ahead, do it, on a piece of paper: Figure out what the cycle of your writing life is. The sooner you figure out you're in a certain stage, you might relax knowing the stages that are to come.

Domain.ME Content and Campaign Manager Sanja Gardašević had this to say to Design*Sponge:

Once you become a part of the machine, it’s really hard to change the way you have been working for years. You embraced the ‘busy’ as your normal way of being and there are no New Year resolutions that can change that — at least not all at once.
— Sanja Gardašević

To recap, I started scheduling my writing last year. It worked for awhile, but earlier this year, it stopped working. Or rather, I stopped working at it. Now, I'm learning it's a part of my process: First, I write furiously, around the clock. Then, I only write during scheduled times. Next, I don't write at all, but I read a ton. Finally -- and this is where I am today, hi -- I'm not writing or reading, just lamenting.

It feels awful. You know how it feels: when you want to write but can't, and there's nothing else -- being with loved ones, exercising, traveling, throwing yourself into your day job -- that replaces the inner tug to fill pages.

Caring for our core selves before writing

So I'm thinking this isn't our fault. I'm thinking we've been raised on bribes and trickery, our good school grades enticed by the promise of chocs and lollies.

What Gardašević went on to say really spoke to me:

What you can do is start incorporating some time for reflection and relaxation into your busy schedule — a ‘me’ time. Make some time for yourself and your thoughts. After all, an occasional heart-to-heart conversation with ourselves can help us be more selective and decide what is it that we truly want to devote our time to.
— Sanja Gardašević

In The One-Week Daily Writing Devotional, we start out by examining all of our layers. Though we may define ourselves as writers, there's a self at the core -- a self layered in all of our other definitions. When we find ourselves deficient in the area we're worrying over, maybe the solution isn't to pick at it and instead is to pick a different layer. For you, that may mean planning a romantic vacation. Or spending more time at the library. Or helping your kid with a school project. Or knitting a blanket, calling a friend, making lunch for a neighbor. It probably looks absolutely nothing like the you you're trying your darndest to be: the writer-you.

My feeling is that that's OK. If your mind and body are fighting against the writing, it doesn't mean you're giving in by not writing. Everything you do, all the riches to be experienced in life, are simply scraps for the compost from which you grow your stories. Pile it on. It isn't giving in; it's redefining.

And when you return to your writing, you'll feel fuller, more confident and ready.

You might also be interested in: