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

 

11 ways to hone your writing craft

11 ways to hone your writing craft | Witty Title Here

No matter how long you’ve been writing, or how good you are at it, there’s always room for growth.

I find that comforting, as I do the idea that no matter how bursting with love your heart may be, there’s always room for more. (D’aww.) With that in mind, here are 11 ways to continue honing your craft as a writer, whether you’re just starting out or have been going at it for years.

1. Read widely

In his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Better keep a steadily rotating stack of books on your bedside table, then. While you’re at it, get a library card. Read a lot in your preferred genre, and read books by authors who don’t look like you. Read books with challenging prose. Read books with short, snappy chapters. You’ll be inspired in ways you can’t predict, and your writing will be better for it.

2. Reread

Wait, what? Yup. Turns out you unlock the secrets of great writing when you treat that page-turning drama like the textbook from which your teacher lifted all the test questions verbatim. Read once for enjoyment, then read a second time to study the tricks the author has used to switch perspective, go back in time or drop a major plot twist. A great writer will do these things without you even noticing what’s happening. Go back in search of those pivotal moments or scenes, read slowly and pinpoint the exact sentence or sections that did the work and dissect them word for word. Those discoveries will manifest themselves in your own work, especially when you make this a regular practice.

“Those discoveries will manifest themselves in your own work.”

3. Expand your vocabulary

If you read constantly, this will come easily. Don’t just fly over words you’re unfamiliar with. Study them. Context is helpful up to a point, but be sure to look up the words you don’t know or jot them down so you can do it later. (Then write down the definitions so you don’t forget.) You can also check out sites like Otherwordly for a daily dose of unusual words. Won’t it be wonderful to use serein in a sentence? When you learn a new word, you start to see it everywhere, and that’s when its meaning finally soaks in.

4. Seek feedback

When you’ve tweaked and blinked at a piece for too long, it can be near impossible to know if you’re hitting your mark. If you’ve hit that point, it’s best to hand your story or article over to someone who can look at it with fresh eyes. Find a trusted teacher, mentor or friend who will read your work closely and give helpful, honest feedback. Seek out people who read a lot and will say more than just “it’s good!” If you’re looking for feedback on one thing in particular, say so, but be open to suggestion elsewhere, too.

5. Know your weaknesses

What part of the writing process do you dread, or where do you most often get stuck? Instead of avoiding the problem (or getting exasperated every time you write), identify what gives you the most trouble in your writing. If it’s spelling or grammar, seek out a tutor, have a friend proofread your work or read up on Grammar Girl’s quick and dirty tips. If making sense of a rambling, disorganized first draft gives you problems every time you write, spend the extra time mind-mapping and outlining before you get to work. If you fall prey to procrastination or give up too easily, come up with a plan to help you combat those urges. Whether it’s a regimented routine or rewards system, don’t let yourself fall victim to the thoughts and temptations that crop up in moments of weakness.

6. Challenge yourself

Write outside your genre. Set intimidating goals. Tackle the classic novel you never read in high school. Enter a writing contest. Participate in NaNoWriMo. If we only wrote when the conditions and timing were perfect, we’d never write. No excuses.

“Write the truest thing you know in the least amount of words.”

7. Emulate your heroes

One of the best things about writing is that you’re allowed to experiment as much as you want, and that includes letting your work be influenced by the styles of writers you admire. If Joan Didion is your literary crush, spend a couple thousand words on a piercing review of your own psyche. If you love Charles Bukowski’s bare-bones truth bombs, write the truest thing you know in the least amount of words. And if you believe you were Jane Austen in a former life, ask yourself, “What would Jane do?” when writing the final scene in your romance novel. Let yourself be inspired by greatness and see what comes of it.

8. Develop your own voice

There are always a few books in your to-read pile, you’ve studied the greats and you’ve learned all the “rules.” Now forget everything you know and write something only you can, in your voice. That requires not only writing constantly, but cutting out the bullshit or anything that rings false. Your voice is influenced by your gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, beliefs, family, upbringing, where you’re from, who you grew up with, the stories you’ve been told and so on. It’s already in you. Voice is a tricky thing to master because it’s so deceptively simple, but you’ll know it when you’ve written something that feels utterly true. Your voice evolves right along with you, which means you’ll always be developing it in your writing.

9. Revise, revise, revise

Nothing comes out perfect the first time. Let me reiterate: Nothing comes out perfect the first time. This is no reason to be sad or frustrated. Look at it as an opportunity—the opportunity to get better with each draft.

10. Submit and pitch

Congratulations—you’ve written something. Now set it free. Submit your story to a publication or pitch a story to your dream magazine. Open yourself up to the possibility of rejection while keeping faith that you will be validated. Don’t keep it to yourself.

11. Write every day

Make the time.

 

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Seven writers on writing & perfectionism

7 Writers on Writing

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

do, however, believe perfectionism, fear, inferiority, frustration, distraction and/or existentialism can and often do contribute to a writer not writing. But none of these feelings—nor a resulting lack of productivity—are unique to writers. Why give power to the made-up concept of writer’s block?

As writers, when we’re faced with these feelings of inadequacy, we have two options: give up or power through. The latter always feels better.

These seven writers know all too well what it’s like to be plagued by self-doubt, but they also made it to the other side, and with great success. If you’re dealing with some of these feelings, take comfort in these words of geniuses—then get back to work.


 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

“It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writing

“One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood.’ In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

– Joyce Carol Oates, Paris Review interview

“I believe that the so-called ‘writer’s block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance… One should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

– William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

“The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

 

“You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions. It’s the head of a smart stranger who picks it off a bookshelf and begins to read. You need to get the head of that smart stranger somehow. You need to forget you ever wrote that book.”

– Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

“The difference between writers and critics is that in order to function in their trade, writers must live in the world, and critics, to survive in the world, must live in literature. That’s why writers in their own work need have nothing to do with criticism, no matter on what level.”

– Grace Paley, Just As I Thought

 

What are your favorite writing quotes? What gets you out of a slump?

 

@wittytitlehere on Twitter

Feminist to Follow: Shannon from Awash With Wonder

Few bloggers these days have me latched onto their every word the way Shannon Butler does.

And when I asked the blogger behind Awash With Wonder to tell me why blogging about feminism is important to her, I should’ve known she’d respond with a blog post-length essay worthy of publication on a site that actually reimburses its contributors.

How lucky I am to have her thoughts for free.

For that reason, I’m keeping my introduction to this month’s installment of Feminist to Follow short and will let Shannon’s words show why she’s a feminist and blogger you should know. Read on…

Feminist to Follow: Shannon from Awash With Wonder

Blogging about feminism is important to me because I care about women and our role in the world.

In a recent interview with Roxane Gay, Lena Dunham is quoted as saying, “I just think feminism is my work. Everything I do, I do because I was told that as a woman, my voice deserves to heard, my rights are to be respected, and my job was to make that possible for others.”

I see feminism as my work, too.

I did not grow up wanting to be a movie star or a doctor or an astronaut. I had no clear goals. The only thing I’ve always known and that has become truer as the years passed is this: I love to be a woman and I love other women.

Even with all the bullshit women face, I have never wished I wasn’t one. I see it as a privilege to be able to befriend smart, funny, interesting women and get to experience that divine miracle that is supportive female friendship.

But do I wish there wasn’t so much bullshit? Yeah, I do – especially because there is so much of it.

Recently, a lot of women have publically asserted that they do not like catcalling. The response has not been what a rational person might think it would be. Imagine a world where people say, “We do not like this thing you’re doing; it makes us feel threatened and harassed” and the response is, “Well you should like it, it’s a compliment, stop being so ungrateful”?

Affordable birth control is still being fought for in 2014 in America. Just let that sink in. This in a country where maternity leave is either nonexistent or an absolute joke.

The response to a woman saying she was raped – which only a tiny percentage of rape victims report – is often not, “Are you okay?” but, “How much were you drinking?” or “How short was your skirt?”

Think about how many people you know who have a female boss or how many stories you hear about men having to fight to get paid the same amount as women who have the same qualifications and do the same job as them. I’ll wait.

That’s just a small percentage of the problems women face in America. Let’s talk global.

Malala Yousafzai was shot for daring to be a girl and wanting an education.

The 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram have reportedly been “married off” to their kidnappers. Those girls are under thirteen and are facing a lifetime of imprisonment and sexual assault.

Reading about girl babies globally who get abandoned, aborted or denied medical care by their parents because girls aren’t valuable in their societies is numbing. The authors of Half The Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, report: “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.”

The number of people currently sold into sexual slavery and forced labor is hard to pinpoint – trust that it’s more than you think – but everyone fighting to save those people agree that woman and girls account for more than 90% of them. I can go on.

In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay wrote, “It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.”

There is so much to be concerned about. It’s hard not to believe that fighting for gender equality is too difficult, that it would be easier to just give up and accept that the world is dominated by patriarchal societies and we just have to deal with the misogyny and oppression that comes with it.

But part of being human is to hope for a better world and to believe that you may play a role in making it so. Fighting for gender equality is one of the most important things we can do to make the world a better place – not just for women but also for men.

Former chief economist of The World Bank, Lawrence Summers, believes “investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world’” and the United Nations Development Program found that “woman’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity…and increases the chances of education for the next generation.”

Giving women the chance to excel – a freedom they have been denied for centuries – will change the world. That’s why I write about issues that affect women and the way feminism has helped to give me hope.

I am not naïve enough to believe that just because I identify as female that I’m going to like every woman or support every decision she makes. But that’s not what feminism asks of me. Feminism simply asks that I fight for every woman to live a life where she is not oppressed or disadvantaged or allowed to die because of her gender. It is not too much to ask. It is the bare minimum, actually.

 

If you want to read more of Shannon’s thoughtful, eloquent writing on feminism, you’ll enjoy these:

Let’s talk about rape culture
Does your partner need to be a feminist?
Why representation matters

Thanks so much for sharing your words, Shannon. Be sure to check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Who are some of your favorite feminist bloggers?

Write for yourself today

Anne Lamott quote

When was the last time you just wrote?

Without aiming for perfection, without criticizing yourself throughout the process, without intending to share it on your blog or Facebook?

I’ll admit, it’s been a while for me. Now, I have a hard time tuning out the editor in me because of it. I have a lot of ideas, but before I can finish jotting down my thoughts, I find holes in the logic or realize someone else has already said the same thing, but better. (Because surely, there’s no way I might have anything to add to the subject, right?)

But then I turn to my favorite writers for guidance, find the most perfectly fitting quote for my writer’s dilemma and go on with my life. (I can always count on you, Anne Lamott.)

Today, I won’t be writing for an audience. Today, I’ll write for myself. I encourage you to do the same.

What are some of your favorite quotes from writers? And how do you deal with feelings of inadequacy?