Because No One Asked: More Writing Advice

Because No One Asked: More Writing Advice

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Good morning, Readers!

I don’t have a preamble to this, so I’m just going to jump straight to the writing advice.


That’s it.

That’s the advice.

Thanks for coming to my TedTalk.

Alright, alright. I am, of course, being facetious (sort of) when I offer “stop” as writing advice. There’s more context than that, for certain. This writing advice is solely for those who find themselves struggling more than usual with writing. For those who’ve hit a wall, who are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. For those who may be struggling with writers block, or just plain struggling.

Stop writing.

Image by Robert C from Pixabay

Every so often I see the same old, frankly tired, thing float around the internet. It is aways some variation of:

If you want to be a writer, you must write everyday.

– some ableist twit.

That is, to my mind – and my process, if I’m being honest – absolute hogwash. It’s codswallop of the worst variety, not just because it’s patently untrue (there is so much that goes into writing that isn’t actually sitting down with your quill or keyboard and putting things to paper), but it’s ableist as hell. I thought this even when I had the time, energy and resources to devote to writing a couple of hours every day.

Oh lordy, I miss that.

Anyway, it’s rubbish. People are twisting themselves into all kinds of shapes, and agonizing over not being real writers (whatever that means) because of nonsense like this piece of “wisdom.” Let’s shed some of that pressure. We don’t need it – now or ever.

Let’s put aside the myriad of reasons people can’t sit down for at least an hour every day to write; because there are many and varied, and all of them valid, and let’s just pretend that everyone can for some magical reason. Even then, in this hypothetical writer’s paradise, there’s plenty of reason why “write every day” is not good advice, and plenty of times where “stop writing” is.

Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

The Wall

Some might also call this particular beauty “writer’s block.” There’s something either in your life or in the story that has you staring at the blinking cursor, unable to progress in any meaningful way. Perhaps you’ve written a couple of paragraphs, only to have them go absolutely nowhere, and then deleted them all again. Perhaps you’ve diligently sat in your chair at your desk, quill in hand, for hours and nothing has come while a particularly chatty raven mocks you incessantly.

You’ve hit the wall.

This could mean any number of things. Perhaps there is an earlier section of story that is causing the problems. Perhaps, as is most common with me when this sort of thing happens, your characters have other ideas and your current impasse is you trying to force them to do things they do not want to do. Perhaps it’s simply that your creative well has run dry, for a variety of reasons – work (or lack thereof) stress, family stress, pandemic stress, lack of sleep, or no time to relax with friends, or too little hydration – and there’s nothing left inside for you to bleed onto the page.

In all of these possibilities, the best thing you can do is stop writing. Stop writing and go back in your story. Read it through. Sit with it in silence. Let your mind work in the background while your eyes rest and you count breaths. The problem will make itself known.

Stop writing and close your eyes. Let your characters dance for themselves in the back of your mind while you go about your day, taking care of other things that probably need taking care of – like you, for instance. Did you drink enough water today? Often, you’ll come back to discover they’ve figured it out for themselves and you can now proceed.

Stop writing. Get up and away from that desk. Take a long stroll – in nature (if that’s available to you). Do some exercise. Eat a good meal. Hydrate. For the love of all things good and green, hydrate! Get some sleep. Take in the arts; an art exhibit, a film, play a video game, read. Fill up your well with the creativity of others so that you might have something to pour out once more.

Image by Pawel Grzegorz from Pixabay

There are, however, other reasons why it might not be a good idea to be writing just this moment that have nothing to do with being unable to proceed.

Stories Are Stew

Stew takes time…

Despite what some fantasy depictions would tell you. That roadside meal is not stew. It’s soup or compote. Stew takes hours, and no one has that kind of time for a meal on the road.

Um… where was I? Oh, right!

A story is stew and stew takes time. You could also say a stories a smooth whiskey. If you try and eat before the stew is ready, you get bland soup. If you try to drink the whiskey before it’s fermented, you get weird baked barely water.

Writing is much the same. If you sit down to write before you’re good and ready, before the story is properly baked, then perhaps it’s better that you don’t. Perhaps you should stop writing, and go do other things while that stew simmers.

Of course, how you prepare your stew depends entirely on you. Wait, I’m losing myself in this analogy. Let’s try this again.

What you do to ensure the story is ready to be written depends entirely on you and your process, and to a greater extent than I’d like for myself, the story. Some writers need a detailed outline of the plot, the plot points and all the beats already there, mapped out before them on a paper they can refer to often. Some writers just need a general idea of the story before they’re off to the races.

I’m not anywhere near as organized as some of my writer friends (read here: my writing process involves surprising me, the writer, with random story elements, many tears, and editing sessions filled with such purple language as to make a sailor blush). In general, what I need is only the way the tale ends, and the protagonist. So long as I have the ending, and an extremely good grasp of the character(s) that centre the story, then I’m good to write. I don’t recommend this method, by the by. The editing headaches… Still, so far it’s what’s worked for getting me to complete a story.

Every writer is different.

As a general rule, however, what this does mean is that you must make allowances for days where writing doesn’t happen. Those days, spent dreaming, observing, researching, dreaming and dreaming are incredibly important. They’re days you’re not writing, and sometimes they look like you’re just being completely lazy, laying there, on your bed, staring up at nothing. But those days, and those things are every bit as important as the actual writing of the thing.

So, stop writing.

At least for a little bit.

Let the story stew. Take good care of yourself. Don’t let this “write everyday” nonsense become one more stressor in an already stressful life.

And please, please hydrate.

When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her most recent titles include ‘Daughters of Britain’ and ‘Skylark.’

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Carl E. Reed

I can’t believe no one responded to this! True, it is a very provocative post, but there is grim good humor and sober, hard-won wisdom here.

You’re preaching on one of my favorite themes: In order to write well, write less. (This doesn’t apply to prolific writers, of course. I am speaking of the rest of us. . . .)

Let me unpack that seeming counter-intuitive maxim and explain my reasoning, which aligns with yours. First off, there are how many great works of literature clamoring for attention? To which another writer has added–their own. Therefore, it seems to me that writer owes the reader their BEST, hyper-polished effort, not “geez-if-I-had-more-time-this-would-be-better” dreck. Secondly, stress–as in almost anything in life–oftentimes comes down to simple time management. If a writer does not allow enough time for creative projects to fully gestate, get written and then revised, how can they expect to produce their best work? Which brings me to point number three: Would a writer rather proffer the public their very best, sharply honed and incisive work–or a mass of muddled, “meh” writing that might get published only to be immediately forgotten?

I wish more published writers had responded to your blog post; I’m truly curious to know what many of them think and feel as regards your topic! (And no, I’m not stalking you–just disappointed that no one else has yet posted on this topic.)

S.M. Carrière

As long as you’re only stalking my articles, I don’t mind at all, Carl. And thanks! I’m glad this struck a chord with you.

Carl E. Reed

LOL! I would have hoped this might have touched off an interesting discussion–even if other writers spoke up only to vehemently disagree. It oftentimes seems Gentleman John O’Neil has erected this magnificent online edifice to facilitate communication amongst the cognoscenti only to have many artfully written articles by contributing writers responded to with the sound of . . . :::crickets–crickets::: I wonder how many writers’ hand hovered over their keyboards . . . only to be drawn back as they bethought themselves, “No, no–better not respond publicly.”

Carl E. Reed

Typo corrections (cannot edit posts): should be “seemingly” in first reply; “hands” in second reply. Can’t have people thinking I’m a functional illiterate! (Checking . . . did I just misspell “illiterate” . . . ?)

Thomas Parker

I was going to comment but balked at stating the obvious – but what the hell. Here’s my observation: all blanket prescriptions are useless. Certainly it is impossible – logistically or otherwise – for all writers to write every day. On the other hand, Anthony Trollope got up at 5:30 every morning and wrote for three hours, requiring of himself 250 words every fifteen minutes. Then he went to his actual job, putting in a full day at the post office. Such a routine would kill me in two weeks and produce nothing worth reading, but it worked for Trollope, as 47 novels attest. He said this about the benefits of a strict routine, and they do seem to me to have some value:

“Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.”

Carl E. Reed

@ Mr. Parker: Brilliantly and pithily stated! So glad you triple-thought and contributed to the discussion.

Aonghus Fallon

As with exercise, I think it’s more a matter of regular habits than for how long – even fifteen minutes daily (productive or otherwise) is time well spent. And if you flatline on one particular project, maybe switch over to something else? But taking a break once a while is good too.

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