Stop-and-G0 Writing

So many writers I’ve worked with write as if they are driving in stop-and-go traffic.  They sit down to write, gather some momentum, then something inevitably presents itself to make them slow way way down, or more likely stop.  This something can be anything from helping a dear friend or relative out; taking an extra assignment at work, because after all, they could use the money; deciding they absolutely have to take advantage of the reduced airfares and visit relatives across the country, or take that trip to Italy they’ve been thinking about absolutely forever. I’ve had clients decide to trim their nanny’s hours down just when they’ve begun to write again, while others feel impelled to volunteer at the local school.  Still other writers suddenly realize that their basement is an absolute disaster and a thorough cleaning cannot be put off one day longer, or if they don’t redesign their perennial bed, it will be an eyesore for the entire summer.

Of course, I’m exaggerating here.  But not all that much.  And if I have given myself the license to exaggerate, it’s because for many years, I didn’t allow myself to point out this pattern to the writers I work with.  Didn’t allow myself to say, “Look, you’ve just begun writing again, don’t you think that is more important?” Or, “You’ve only recently started making headway with the novel.  Please don’t jeopardize your momentum with this new project.”  Or, “If you ask me, nothing is as important as safeguarding your writing time.”

“Oh, you’re being ridiculous here,” you might say to me.  “Maybe these projects or assignments are really important to the person and once they get them out of the way, their writing will flourish.”

That’s what they all tell me, “Just this one extra assignment, this one volunteer project, this one trip to England, and I’ll be in even better shape to do my writing.”

And I used to believe my clients.  Until I had the same experience again and again.  It was never just this one assignment or this one trip, it was this one assignment or this one trip over and over again.

I began to understand that this one assignment and this one trip were unconscious strategies for wiggling free of their writing without feeling guilty.  And unless I called them on it, albeit gently, they were never going to finish their novel or memoir, never going to be able to sit down and write the short story they had been trying to get on paper for the past few years, or those thank you notes from their wedding that took place ten months earlier.

Finding a way to the page involves pushing aside some of our already busy life to make room for our writing.  Not heaping more on.  But if we are really frightened about actually doing the writing, finishing the novel or memoir or story, we convince ourself–and our writing coach–that what we have allowed to get in the way of our writing is essential to our well-being.