A High Writing Workload – Motivating or Paralysing?

This is my second entry as a member of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

InsecureWritersSupportGroupI started this blog, fourteen months ago, with the intent of using it as a tool to keep me writing on a regular basis.
However, the blog and the opportunity to write more widely for the internet have proven distracting themselves, as more and more of my effort has been poured into the blog, and other writing intended as motivation, rather than my fiction. I’ve recently seen another blogger voice the same concern, and I’d expect it’s not a rare problem.

I’ve fallen into the habit of writing sporadically at either an extreme pace or more or less nothing. I can write a few thousand words in a relatively small period of time, but when the ‘moment of crisis’ is passed, I fall back to my natural rate – somewhere near zero.
I’ve also approached some websites, in addition to the ones I’ve written for, and put forward ideas they’ve expressed an interest in. Despite having those outlined ideas accepted, I’ve not properly followed up on the interest and taken advantage of the opportunity.
The key to all the above is, of course, to learn to write at a consistent pace, rather than leaving everything until close to the literal last minute, as if I’m a schoolboy or American politician.

A politician surrounded by many childrens. Intellectual equals.
A politician surrounded by many childrens. He had to find his intellectual equals somewhere.

I once atteded a sort of writer’s workshop ran by Terry Deary, the writer of the brilliant Horrible Histories books. One insight that stuck wth me was that, before he broke through to superstardom with those books, he developed a strong reputation with his publishers as someone who could be relied on to meet deadlines.
It’s an idea that’s only remotely insightful because it’s so obvious, but editors will prefer working with writers who finish what they’re commissioned to write, and can be relied on to meet their deadlines.
Like me, if you’re a wannabe writer, you’re probably attracted to the idea of being the genius writer. The guy who editors and publishers should bend over and twist to accomodate, such is the brilliance of our writing. Douglas Adams was a famously poor deadline keeper, and often had to be harrassed by his editors to get things finished on time.
He once said that “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
But, in all likelihood, you’re probably not as great a talent as Douglas Adams, and, as much as I wish it were otherwise, neither am I.
Until I can prove that I’m one of the greatest talents of my generation, I have to hammer away, drag myself through my mental blocks to get things finished off. If I just wait for my muse to relax gently into my lap, making everything comfortable and easy, it’ll probably take a long time.

I’ve started keeping a list of the different projects I’m working on at any point in time, and it can be exhausting trying to get everything finished – especially when there’s no concrete reward like the pay for enduring a dull office job.
I’ve heard being a writer described as ‘having homework every night for the rest of your life’.
I think this feels more or less true, but it’s homework you more or less get to set for yourself. You can choose which areas of writing you want to specialise in, which freelance jobs you want you take and which to refuse.

Sadly, potential employers won't accept this classic as an excuse for shoddy work.
Sadly, potential employers won’t accept this classic as an excuse for shoddy work.

Additionally, in my very unremarkable experience as a writer, the emotional rewards are huge. My narrow experiences involve writing on a relatively limited number of subjects, mainly for this blog, a little known football website and a little known spoof news website. I’ve recently re-read a bit of spoof news I wrote, with the idea being that there is a secret ongoing project to have every arguably great actor in the world play Sherlock Holmes, and, as vain as it sounds, there were a few parts that genuinely amused me. It really is quite cool to look back at something you’ve written, and both enjoy it, and feel pleased that I’ve produced that.
But it can be a difficult uphill struggle to get things finished, to reach the point where there’s something to be egotistical about.
Probably my most widely read piece in the last year was again on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, this time for
It was definitely more because of the reputation of the website, but there were a large number of comments. On something I wrote! How cool is that?

The most important parts of being a writer are to work hard, and finish off something, anything. Something you can sell, or at least, put up to bring pleasure and insight to readers somewhere, to help keep you, as a writer, in the habit of putting things out into the world.
These are practical, unromantic truths, but I’m pretty sure they’re true.
The ability to write regularly and consistently, to produce a finished product, is probably THE most important skill in a writer who wants to turn professional.
If you’re happy to tinker away at a pet project while earning your living in another line of work, these probably aren’t necessary, but if you want to turn pro, I’m pretty sure they are.
It’s also probably pretty useful to use the spare time between deadlines to produce an extra article or short story rather than wait for deadlines to creep close to really get into the meat of the work.
Sometimes the most unremarkable, unromantic insights are the most important ones.

A quick note to members of the IWSG – I may be spending part of the morning finishing off something topical I’m writing, so that could prevent me from reading many blogs on the day. But I promise to get round as many as I can when I’m finished!

10 thoughts on “A High Writing Workload – Motivating or Paralysing?”

  1. Ah the irony of the writer’s life. Blogging is an expectation, yet it sucks time away from our fiction. The good news is, that it helps establish voice and brand, and is something to fall back on. I’ve never regretted the time and effort I’ve put into blogging these past two years.

    For me personally, I’ve had to treat writing like my job. I make time for it even if it means a box of chocolate and extra large coffee must sit right next to me. Yes, a few extra pounds have been established in addition to more stories, but that’s the price we pay to make it work sometimes.

    Happy New Year! Wishing you much success in 2013!


    1. I definitely don’t regret taking up blogging, but there’ve been times when I find myself rushing to finish something – here or on another site – that I’ve committed to in order to get into the habit of getting fiction finished, and as a result I don’t have the time to write fiction.
      A little ironic.

      I think you’re right – if I treat writing like a job and act accordingly, it should help my writing habits.

      Happy new year!


  2. I find the biggest problem I have is not having a deadline at all.

    Setting targets doesn’t really help as they don’t mean anything and can often hinder the writing process, or at least that’s the excuse I make when I miss them!


    1. True, that is a big problem as well.

      In the past year I’ve discussed writing for a couple of websites, had an idea approved, and been told that there’s no rush, as what I’d wanted to write wasn’t topical.
      Both times I ended up putting off what I intended to write for something more topical, until, before I knew it, a couple of months had passed!


  3. I think those are great, practical insights. I know I started to approach my writing time with more thoughtfulness when I made msyelf a goal of submitting a piece of writing each month. I didn’t keep that goal last year, but I’m getting back to it this year.
    I have that same full pace or zero problem, and I just try to write a few lines every day (even on the zero days), so that way my writing doesn’t feel strained for the first few sentences on my good days.
    Happy Writing in 2013! I’m off to check out one of those articles on Sherlock!


    1. Thanks – I was trying to form the realisations I’ve had into something approaching usefulness!

      I think Ray Bradbury had a principle similar to your ‘at least one a month’ idea, I’ve read a quote from him saying that an aspiring writer should write at least one story a week, to develop all the writing habits through repetition.

      Sometimes just forcing ourselves to complete something is the best approach to take. Doesn’t make it easy though…


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