How to persevere when you hate writing and everything sucks

How to persevere when you hate writing and everything sucks

National Novel Writing Month is more than halfway over, and everything I write is steaming garbage.

Not only that, but I’m completely stuck and way behind on my word count.

This was inevitable. I expected it. Welcomed it, even, in my naive enthusiasm for the daunting task that is/was my life’s dream. Just kidding, it’s still totally my life’s dream. Which is why it hurts so bad to suck. Anyone else feel me?

There’s nothing fun about getting yourself deep into a project only to realize this writing thing is, like, way harder than it looks, but that’s typically how it goes. There are a few ways to handle this. You could:

Stomp, scream and scare away your family, roommates and/or pets.

Give up writing all together and become an accountant or professional survey-taker.

Cry.

Or, you could try one of these more productive coping mechanisms that will help you get over yourself and this small hurdle. (I’ll be doing them myself!) After all, writing through the roadblocks is what makes you a writer.

Take a macro approach

Chances are once you’ve hit a wall, you’ll start making minor tweaks here and there without making any meaningful changes, quickly leading to despair (and possibly an existential crisis). Get yourself out of the weeds of your project and revisit your outline. If you started writing without one, now might be a good time to create it. Organize your material so it’s not overwhelming. Whatever you do, don’t get into nitpicky edits until you’ve worked through your bigger problems.

Use writing prompts to get the juices flowing

Maybe you’re just plain out of ideas or unsure of where to go from where you left off. Start anywhere—you don’t have to write chronologically. If you’re writing fiction, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction writing prompts are a great source of inspiration. If you sign up for the WTH Weekly newsletter, you’ll get 30 writing prompts to spark ideas.

Work on another project

Have multiple projects going at a time so that when you hit a wall on one, you have another to turn to that will keep you writing. It can be such a relief when you realize your fingers do in fact work, and all your brain needed was something new to focus on. And remember, not everything you write has to be publishable. It might be a welcome break to work on something that’s personal without putting any pressure on it to be good.

Read a book

Key word: book. Not blogs or articles online that will merely distract you or tempt you to procrastinate, but physical books that get you away from the computer and your mind someplace else entirely. You may draw inspiration from it or at the very least read something that reminds you why you want to do this in the first place. Reading a good book can heal most writerly woes and is never a bad way to spend your time. (i.e. No guilt.)

Check in with yourself

Make sure that what you’re writing is actually something you want to write. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in an idea we think will be popular or sounds very literary and don’t even realize it rings false because it’s not something we’re truly in love with. The key is knowing the difference between something we’re lukewarm about and something that’s hard, particularly once we’re in the trenches of a project and reach that inevitable wall. If even after a period of anguish and self-pity you still want to write the thing, pick yourself up and write the thing.

Do literally anything else

For the love of God, change out of your sweatpants, go for a run, cook a meal and interact with other human beings. Stop torturing yourself and go be a person who does normal-people things, even though you’re definitely probably not entirely normal. (That’s why we’re writers, right?) Trust that the words will come next time you sit down to do the work.

Cool? You’ve got this.

Related: What happens when we let fear dictate our art

 

Should you really “write what you know”?

 

"Write what you know" is bad advice. Here's what to write instead.

“Write what you know” can be such frustrating advice.

While not totally useless for a writer simply searching for ideas, it’s also unnecessarily limiting. To a young writer especially, “write what you know” can make you think, “Well, I’m only [insert your age here] and haven’t even experienced [arbitrary measure of life’s progress]. How much do I really know?”

On the flip side, being told to “write what you know” often leads one to forget all the truly fascinating, unique-to-them things she or he does know and skip right to the mundane or useless knowledge they have. “But I’m only an expert on extreme procrastination, Instagram filters, the benefits of rescuing vs. adopting and making the perfect grilled cheese,” you might think. “Who wants to read about that?”

What makes this advice most counterintuitive of all is that if you suggested to a journalist that she only writes what she knows, she’d think you were crazy. Journalists write about all kinds of things they know nothing about. Researching completely foreign topics and writing about them with authority is part of the job. Why shouldn’t other writers do the same?

My counter-advice? Write what you don’t know.

You’ll learn a whole lot more, and your writing will be better for it.

In her essay “The Value of Not Understanding Everything,” Grace Paley explains why, as writers, we should go outside our comfort zones:

“As for an inventing writer, I would say something like this: Now, what are some of the things you don’t understand at all?

One of the reasons writers are so much more interested in life than others who just go on living all the time is that what the writer doesn’t understand the first thing about is just what he acts like such a specialist about – and that is life. And the reason he writes is to explain it all to himself, and the less he understands to begin with, the more he probably writes.”

Admittedly, by itself, the advice to write what you don’t know can be just as vague and unhelpful as its counterpart. But fear not! I’ve got a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing. Ask yourself these questions when you’re stuck in a writing rut:

What angers you? What confuses or scares you?

What have you always wished you knew how to do?

Who do you admire most? How do they spend their days?

What was daily life for your parents like growing up? Your grandparents?

Did you read or hear something recently that left you with more questions than answers? Seek out the answers to those questions.

What would your polar opposite be like? Write a story about them or interview somebody like them. Make them sympathetic.

These are merely jumping-off points, but I find them to be far more helpful and interesting than generic topics or ideas. It’s more exciting to think about all the things you don’t know but could and can if you simply dedicate the time to learning about them.

As Confucius said, “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.”

 

Have you signed up for the WTH Weekly newsletter? Get love letters, interweb finds, submission deadlines, inspiration & more delivered to your inbox every Saturday. Sign up now.

Leave bland behind: have a damn opinion

don't be a sheep

Do you ever feel like you’re playing things a little too safe?

Have you ever worried about offending people with your point of view (or your occasional tendency to use the word “shitastic”)?

I have. And you know what I think? Screw that nonsense.

Listen, I’m pretty even-tempered. Call it a Libra thing, but I try to see the validity in every argument that seems fair, sane and logical. And while this isn’t always the most productive behavior, I tend to avoid confrontation at all costs. So I’m not what you’d call the world’s most opinionated person.

That said, I’ve got an opinion to share. I’m a little bored with the blogging culture of trying to appeal to a wide audience by pleasing everyone and never coming near anything even remotely controversial. Maybe that’s just where I am as a writer and a reader, but I want a bit of challenging commentary thrown in the mix from time to time.

I believe there’s a simple explanation for why so many bloggers burn out. We’re trying to be happy and creative and professional all the time, and that can be difficult to maintain. For the sake of transparency, we might pen an honest and open essay about our experiences with burnout to feel better and get some encouraging comments in response, but then we go right back to doing the same old thing. Until the next bout of burnout hits.

Don’t get me wrong—I love reading inspirational and light-hearted posts. They brighten my mood and fill my need for passive entertainment. Clearly, I enjoy writing that stuff, too. But if I were new to the personal/lifestyle blogging scene and was toying with the idea of starting my own site now, I’d be under the impression that there’s only one path to success. And I’d probably be so overwhelmed by the notion that everything has been said (over and over) that I might as well not even bother.

But really, I don’t think that’s true at all. All that’s missing is a little flair.

“Be yourself” is such common advice not only from our moms but also from fellow bloggers writing how-to’s on the craft. Those words are so commonly thrown around that they’ve almost lost their meaning. So I propose this saying instead:

Be yourself. ALL of yourself.

Be smart, funny, thoughtful, sincere, inspirational and whatever else it is that truly makes you you. And if you have something to say? Have a damn opinion. Unapologetically.

Let’s stop over-thinking, second-guessing and censoring ourselves, and let’s begin embracing, celebrating and acknowledging our differences in opinions and ideas. I see so many great minds expressing themselves on Twitter calling out assholery and inequality. We should be extending those conversations on our blogs, encouraging discussions in the comments section and not worrying whether someone will disagree. (Because it’s okay if they do.) At the very least, I’d like to see a stronger commitment to the ideas we put out there, rather than wishy-washy language such as “I feel like” or “maybe it’s just me, but.”

You might be thinking, “Yeah, but I’m a design blogger. This doesn’t really apply to me.” I beg to differ.

If you’re a designer who wants to see the chevron trend die already, say so. If you’re a professional photographer who sees novices making the same cringe-worthy mistakes over and over, help them by pointing it out. If you’re a feminist who has a problem with sexist language in an ad or article, call the creators out on it. We’d be doing a service not only to ourselves by doing so, but to the blogging world as a whole. We have so much to say, and it does no one favors when we hold back for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.

I have too much respect for myself and my fellow bloggers to strive for blandness. I intend to take a stance on the things that matter most to me.

How about you? What do you think is worth speaking up about?

Psst. You can highlight any text in this blog post to tweet it. Try it out!

facebookad

Where to look for inspiration

When I’m at a loss for something to write about, there’s usually a very simple explanation.

It usually means I’ve been stuck in a routine for too long, hunched over a computer for too long, overworked, under-exercised and/or lacking in sleep. (Conversely, being bored can have that effect too, though since grad school took over my life, I haven’t had that problem once.)

Despite my best efforts to fill out some semblance of an editorial calendar every month, I sometimes come up short on blogging ideas—or, the ideas I jotted down before no longer interest me. Luckily, it doesn’t last too long, because I know where to look for inspiration.

where to look for inspiration

Whether you’re a blogger or not, if you sometimes suffer from a lack of inspiration, these ideas will spark your creativity:

Go through your old photos. I’m always browsing through my photos to find something to go along with a blog post, but sometimes I go through my library before writing to see if I get any new ideas. Plus, it’s always fun to reminisce on a special day or trip. (Does anyone print out photos anymore? That’s something I’d like to start doing again.)

Find quotes by your favorite authors/artists/musicians. When a quote really resonates with you, it inspires an inner dialogue, either reaffirming something you believe in a more eloquent way or challenging you to think about something differently. Write down your thoughts and don’t edit yourself.

Talk to people who are much younger or much older than you are. Nothing like a kid’s innocent honesty or a grandparent’s wise insight to completely change your perspective, right? Whether it’s an eight-year-old or an 80-year-old, there’s always something to learn from them. (That obviously goes for different races, religions and gender identities, as well.) Expand your social circle and expand your horizons.

Make a list. A bucket list. A reverse bucket list. Places you’d like to visit. Things you’re really good at. People you admire. Books you really should read. People you should really call.

Play tourist in your own city. Think you’ve seen everything there is to see? Challenge yourself to find something new. If you drive everywhere you go, commit to an afternoon of walking around—even if it’s just in one area of a spread-out town—and you’ll likely notice things you’ve never noticed before.

Get off the Internet. File this under “advice to self.”  You can only aimlessly click through the black hole that is The Web for so long before you absorb exactly nothing you’ve read, and let’s face it—you’re checking Facebook more often than is healthy or normal. Pry your claw-shaped hands off the keyboard, close the laptop and stretch your limbs in the big, open space known as “outside.”

 Have you found yourself in an inspiration rut lately? How do you pull yourself out of it?

wittycassiehere on Twitter

What kind of creative are you?

What kind of creative type are you?

Chances are, you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to see which of the fun acronyms best describes your personality.

Are you a quiet, serious ISTJ? An outspoken, fast-paced ENTP? Or maybe an ambitious, idealist INFP? (That’s me!) Your personality type has a lot to do with your creativity—how it’s inspired, fostered, carried out and even suppressed. Some people think they’re not creative because they’re terrible drawers or don’t like writing, but each of the 16 personalities has qualities that are linked to creativity.

That said, I’m a writer, and to harness my creativity to be more productive, efficient and, ultimately, satisfied, it’s important to understand just what kind of a creative I am—what motivates, inspires and helps me to get the creative juices flowing.

Why? As an INFP, I tend to get a little… distracted. I occasionally suffer from what’s known as Shiny Object Syndrome (“S.O.S.” for short, appropriately), often getting excited about multiple ideas with the best of intentions and never seeing them through.

Maybe you have the same problem, or another problem that’s holding your creativity back. In any case, here are some questions to ask yourself to help narrow down what makes you tick and what gets you off track (and if you haven’t already taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you can take it here):

  • What is the intention behind your creativity? Doing good in the world? Living an authentic and purposeful life? Expressing yourself in a way others will appreciate and relate to?
  • What motivates you? Money? Recognition and acknowledgement? Achievement (whether it involves money and recognition or not)?
  • What kind of environment inspires you? Do you prefer to be home surrounded by familiar and comfortable things? Or out exploring nature? Or surrounded by people in a social environment?

 

The answers to these questions might seem simple, but they’re key to setting the foundation for understanding your purpose and needs for being creative. Thinking about what energizes you and what you see in the big picture can help you get clear on how you best operate. (It often helps me to write these things down on paper—something I turn to when I’m losing creative steam on the computer.) And it’s not a crime if money is a motivating factor—creative types need to make money too, and working on a rewards system is one of many effective ways to get things done.

When you’ve answered these questions, look to your personality type for more clues about your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with time management, being decisive and avoiding burnout. Or maybe you have a hard time being flexible, taking criticism or are over-analytical. Rather than beating yourself up for your downfalls, get into problem-solving mode and cater to your strengths. An app I recently discovered called Commit is great for keeping you accountable for goals you set. And as I begin my second semester of grad school, I’ve begun mapping out a routine and schedule for work and play (this blog falls somewhere in between!) to keep me on track.

So I’d like to know: What kind of creative are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how do you embrace them?