Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beware of Easier Stuff

Why is that so many writers with good ideas for articles and stories don't sit down and write them? Sure, there must be multitudes of reasons, but I've noticed one particular principle in my life that I suspect is at work in others also. I'd like to share that simple truth:

Everything is easier than writing.

Yup, that's it. Let me draw upon electricity to explain. It's a well-known adage that electricity takes the path of least resistance. Electricity has no brain. It can't make decisions. But by nature it will automatically skip traveling down a wire a long distance if it comes into contact with a shorter wire, or another piece of metal, or even water (a "short circuit"). People, too, will often opt to do what's easier--even if it's not important--than to do what's harder and potentially more important.

For writers (or those who wish they were writers), that tendency translates into a lot of other "stuff" getting done that has nothing to do with writing. So writer X sits down at the computer and glances at the clock. She has one hour to begin chapter one of the story that's been rolling around the back of her mind. Suddenly, the short-circuit strikes: "I haven't checked e-mail today." So she opens her e-mail program and finds ten or fifteen unopened messages. She begins wading.

Twenty minutes later, the emails are out of the way, and she still has forty minutes left to start that chapter. Instantly, the short-circuit strikes again. "Good grief, I never cleaned those grimy fingerprints off the window?" Even though she realizes this is supposed to be writing time, she goes to fetch a bottle of Windex and a paper towel. The offending fingerprints are soon history, but as long as the Windex and paper towel are already in hand, she quickly checks the other windows, plus the front of the microwave, to banish smudges on those, too.

Ten minutes later, she still has a half hour of potential writing time left. But wait--there's the refrigerator. How can she create when her stomach wants a snack? It won't take but a jiffy to make a quick sandwich...

Back at the computer with the sandwich, she wiggles the mouse to bring the monitor to life. Twenty-three minutes left to get some sentences down. The cursor is still blinking in the blank Word document and waiting for her to begin the story. Just then, her mind flits to another time sponge: Facebook. Have her friends posted new pics of their kids or pets? Are there witty comments that she can add to someone's discussion? And, good grief, she's had that same profile photo forever. Isn't it time to crop and upload a fresher-looking one? So off to Facebook she goes. After twenty minutes on that site, she glances at the clock again. Only three minutes left before she has to leave for work? She can't possibly write anything worthwhile in three minutes. She shuts down the computer and walks away after an hour of doing "stuff," but frustrated that that her story still isn't even begun.

If you've never lived out such a scenario, then blessed are you among writers! Even after two published novels and hundreds of published short stories and articles, I still sometimes have days when I stumble into the wasteful time short-circuits. Then I must sternly remind myself that writing time is solely for writing. The other stuff will simply have to wait. When I take that strict position, sure enough, the other stuff does wait while I advance my story.

Writing is hard. Other stuff is easy, sometimes even brainless. Left unguarded, writing time easily gets frittered away.

If some of you reading this have established specific habits or routines to help safeguard your writing time, please share them for others to consider. (For instance, I heard of one woman who lights a candle when it's time to be creative. As long as the candle is burning, she won't let herself do anything but write.) Let's help each other to see the danger of "other stuff" and to commit to the keyboard!


  1. Love that candle tip! I've heard of using timers as well, or rewarding yourself with X once Y amount of writing has been completed.

    Your blog rocks, btw :)

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Diana. Thanks, too, for the kind words. If anything about my blog rocks, then God gets the credit. I'll claim responsibility for all the rest of it. ;)