by Jay Wilburn
The joke is that the second best thing you can do for someone who wants to be a writer is to give them your favorite book on writing style while the best thing you can do is kill them while they are still happy. Similar jokes go for teaching and a number of other careers that have hidden pitfalls. I quit teaching to become a writer full time. There is a lot that grinds at you that makes it tough in writing. Being a success at it by any metric is tough as well. It is better than a lot of jobs in a lot of ways. There is only so much you can legitimately complain about before you have to admit that many other people have it worse than your whining ass.
Writing is an easy job to quit. Other jobs require degrees and commitment. You have a paycheck that you depend on that you give up, if you move in another direction. Writing is a job people quit because there is no money coming in. Other than the giving up on your dream part, quitting writing is almost always a good financial decision. Lots of authors that were active earlier in my career when I was writing while I had a day job are inactive now. Some of them have stopped producing writing for a wide variety reasons. It is not something you have to talk people out of because those that want to quit will do so on their own. The ones that can’t be talked out of quitting are just unnecessarily dragged down by someone telling them it isn’t worth it. Just tell them you believe in them and they can do it even if you don’t believe it. It’s what fake Facebook friends do for each other … That and threatening each other over differences in politics.
There are a lot of reasons not to write. You are tired. You can’t get the words out right. Sitting down and putting your fingers on the keys is way less fun than watching Netflix. There is so much stuff streaming. You can’t possibly watch it all if you are sitting around typing your dumb literary horror. All the cool kids are binge watching. It is only slightly less healthy than binge drinking. Trust me. I used to be a science teacher – true story.
It helps to write, if you have something to say. It could be that clowns are scary or politics are stupid. It is even better if you can find a clever or creative way to communicate those notions. Essays, articles, and journals are great to write as a way to express feelings or ideas even if you are not seeking out professional recognition for the work. They are more effective if you have something new to say or a new way to say it. A well edited and revised piece of writing is usually better than the first draft. Fiction provides an interesting way to express an idea because the audience is more willing to engage than your post about why Trump is a monster or Clinton is a crook. You do have to express yourself more subtly and your ideas have to be supported with worthwhile characters and story. Come to think of it, that is way too much work. I’m going back to my original point that writing is a dumb thing to do and not worth your time. There is more money and reward in selling drugs.
A key obstacle is to get yourself into a seated position and write or type the words out in order within sentences, paragraphs, or some other appropriate structure. Ideas don’t have to be greatly communicated on the first round, but the words have to get written before they can get fixed into something worth reading. Still, not as great as sitting down to rant on Facebook or to post the perfect meme in response to how stupid that stupid person is at being stupid. We can all admit you are doing Jesus’s work there and we need to make time for that every day. After all, this is the most important “whatever” of our lives. You don’t want to waste this moment of glory with writing words that might survive you and be read by generations long after you are dead. Did Shakespeare spend his time correcting people online to the proper use of your and you’re? No, he didn’t. And that is why we still have a problem with it today. Selfish. How many more plays of dead kings does one language group need?!
So how do we trick ourselves into engaging in this terrible task of writing when we do find ourselves in the debilitating psychological state of wanting to be a writer? The Mando Method used by Armand Rosamilia involves a 15 minute burst at the top of every hour. He sometimes writes a couple hundred in that time, sometimes 600, or sometimes more. The reason he does fifteen minutes is because he found that if he wrote for a solid hour, it was not a higher rate of production than the fifteen minute bursts separated out. He spends the other 45 minutes promoting, answering e-mail, or saving the world by posting pictures of his food. At the top of the next hour, he does another burst. In that way, he hits his word count goal quicker and earlier in the day. If he’s on a deadline, he’ll push more Mando Methods. If he is cruising along fine, he might give himself the evening to recharge.
Jonathan Maberry often did the reverse. He wrote for 45 minutes of the hour with fifteen minute breaks.
With freelance writing, sometimes it helps to set smaller project goals. It may be helpful to attach time markers too. I will have this done by 8 AM. I want to be here at 10. I want to be done with this much by 2 PM. That gives me time for lunch, so if I get ahead, I can finish my 4pm goal really early. I’ll be motivated to push to get even further. Or I can reward myself with a longer break and hit the next goal fresh.
There is also a method called “break the page.” The idea is to write until you pass the next page. If you are on page 7 of the doc, then you write until the words break over onto page 9. If you are double spacing depending on how much dialogue is on the page and such, it will come out to about 250 words. Single spaced you’ll get about 500 words from that page. Then, you take a break before tackling the next page. You write until you break over to page 10 or 11.
Another trick some writers use is that they only stop for the day when they are in an exciting bit that they know exactly what they want to write next. Usually, we tend to stop after that bit and then you are more likely to sit and stare the next day before you can start. Stopping when you have more to say makes the next start psychologically easier from some people. Outlining can have the same effect for some people. Knowing the bones of the story allows them to get started and to keep rolling. Along this same vein, is the idea of writing in the same place every day. It sets a mental dynamic that you are ready to write as soon as you sit down. Stephen King swears by this. The reverse may help, if you are stuck. Change your scenery for your writing spot to get out of a rut.
The trick to all of these is that you are tricking yourself into getting into the mode of writing. A Mando Method is likely to roll over past fifteen minutes, if you get on a roll. If you move to the point that you break a page, you are likely to keep going. If you see the bottom of the next page, you may decide to roll on past there before you take your next break. If you are close to finishing a draft, you may latch onto that drive to finish and then break for a longer period before you edit – maybe move on to something else before coming back to edit.
The point is that writing is dumb and you shouldn’t do it. There is a lot of stuff that is cooler and more exciting to do. If writing was awesome everyone would do it and would always use the correct form of your or you’re, but they don’t, so obviously writing is a big waste of time. If you have to write, I feel bad for you, son. Try some of the methods above to see if you can knock out that annoying task so you can get back to binging on life.
Jay Wilburn is the author of the Dead Song Legend Series and coauthor of the Enemy Held Near as well as many other books and stories. He is also the host of The Matters of Faith Podcast on Project Entertainment Network. You can follow his writing and other activities at JayWilburn.com or have access to exclusive material through his page on Patreon.