In my last post, I talked about the struggle of getting back into my writing. Last year was predominantly The Year for Other People’s Writing, and it has been so long since I have created any writing of my own that I feel my mojo is well and truly gone. I hope – I think – this cannot be so, but I am having a hard time finding, or creating it. I have resorted to using writing mantras. I am not really a platitude kind of person – I am not optimistic enough for that – but I am finding, to my surprise, that they are helping me through the Hard Days.
I have three I am relying on, and when writing is awful, and hard, clunky and just painful, I remind myself of these mantras and find that I feel a little less cross with myself, and less likely to berate myself for no longer being able to write effectively. Most of the days right now are Hard Days so I am leaning quite heavily on my platitudes. I thought I would share these, in the hope that if you are having too many Hard Days, you too may find encouragement. At the very least, you are in good company!
- First drafts don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be written.
Put another, cruder way: ‘The first draft of anything is shit’ (Hemingway). I like to remind myself that this is true. No first draft ever made it into print without substantial changes, revisions and rethinking. NO ONE is that good, not even your academic or fiction-writing idols. If I look at all the papers and chapters I have published, the minimum number of drafts is about 6. Before submission. So, really, expecting this first draft of the chapter I am currently clunking around with to be anything other than a mess is unrealistic. And being unrealistic leads to being mean to myself, and being mean to myself leads to further writing paralysis and not enjoying the writing. This is a bad slope to ski down.
2. You can’t build a fairycastle without all the bricks (and windows, doors and turrets).
This one is my own creation, and I am quite chuffed with it. I keep trying to edit before I have written, second guessing my wording, sentence length and choice of sub-headings. It’s so counter-productive. I know this, but I do it too much anyway. This leads to more paralysis and more bad feelings. I am trying to remind myself that I need to put all the pieces in one place first before I can reorganise them, tinkering with the placement of the windows, for example, and so on. So, in other words, just write. Even if it sounds clunky and you can see that the sentences are too long and the words are not the right ones. You can refine, move things around, edit the structure and so on once you have all of the pieces you will need. This also reminds me, again, why planning ahead of starting to write is so important – it gives you a sense of which pieces you need to collect together.
3. A journey of 1000 miles begins (and continues) with single steps.
Another version of this is to say that writing anything of substance and around 6000 words is not a sprint. You cannot do it all super fast – it’s a marathon and the execution takes time. But it starts with a single step. One pomodoro. 200 words. A plan. And then another step and another, and the more you do, the easier it gets to keep going, because the end of the journey draws closer. Yes, you will flag and be tired, and have Hard Days inbetween the easier ones, as in any long-ish journey. But, you have to keep stepping forward, even if some days you literally do one thing, while on others you fly along the trail a bit. The slogging and plodding is all part of the process.
I guess I could close with one more mantra that underpins all of these: Trust the Process. I have done this before – created a piece of publishable writing from scratch. And I have survived all the Hard Days that went into that process. I know, if I do the work I will get to where I want to be. I know it will be awful at first and then get a bit easier. It is a process I have been able to trust and follow through before, so I can do it again now. Trust the process, collect the pieces, wade through the shite writing that has started me off, and start walking towards the destination, step by step.
What mantras sustain you through your Hard Days? Please share in the comments if you have some inspiration for the rest of us :-).
Thank you so much. I find your writing juicy and useful.
Hey Jane, that sounds soo familiar. Last week I just had to atten a gradskill seminar on “beating the writer’s block” to get myself motivated and back on track. Otherwise, truly there z no singme formular to wriritng a phd thesis. But we wil surely get there.