“Novels begin, not on the page, but in meditation and day-dreaming—in thinking, not in writing.”
~ Joyce Carol Oates
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how we are all writers, even when we think we’re not. Even when we don’t have the desire to write, we are constantly writing our destiny and our lives with every text we send, every plan we make, and every mark we leave on the world.
This is our unconscious writing.
Writing without an Idea
For those who are pantsers, or who mingle in the pantsing world, we hope that our unconscious mind will begin to flow when we sit down to write. We hope to bring our unconscious writing into the conscious mind so we can construct vast worlds, beautiful language, and important truths.
I once played that game with NaNoWriMo one year—It was the worst NaNo start I had ever had. My boyfriend at the time and I broke up, and I found out my grandmother was dying, and I drove 4 hours with dodgy SatNav to be there (at this point, I had only just moved back to the UK, where my mom’s half of the family lives), and then I found myself stranded in Warwick for a few days. Oh yeah, and then the U.S. presidential election results came in. It was a rough week, to say the least, and I struggled to get the words out. I closed my eyes and began typing, hoping it made sense.
Being in Warwick was surreal. I had never been in a place that still had buildings from the 15th century before. And its oddness kept my mind off everything, and my mind revolved around the story I was working on, set in a futuristic city modeled after Warwick. I took notes, I went back to my hotel and stared at the ceiling, I explored the history—anything to forget the hurt.
While I had no idea where my story was going, I meditated on it. I thought about it. I constructed my characters. I developed motivations. I was writing without even writing. I thought about writing, even though the words weren’t necessarily flowing onto the page.
Before we even put our fingertips to the keyboard, we have to have an idea of what we were going to say. The idea formulates before we even formulate the first sentence.
Writing with Air
When I talk about writing through the elements in a blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the element of air. The element of air is the conception of an idea. We take this idea, we find intrigue with it, and we mull it over in our minds. We watched leaves in the trees below, we watch people walking down the streets, we watch a spider weave its web, while we contemplate, stretch and mold our idea.
And when we feel like we have a good grasp of this idea then we find our way to communicate it, whether that’s telling someone else about our idea, making notes about the idea, or even beginning our story. This is all pure air energy.
When we carve out the space to think about our idea, we are practicing a form of meditation. This is a form of mindfulness, in which we focus on one thing, and that one thing is our idea.
As writers, we are always writing. We are always working on our craft, whether we’re aware of it or not. To make writing a conscious part of our lives, we need to bring that subconscious writing into the forefront and actively consider our writing.
We need to write all the time. We need to invoke air.
How do you use air energy?
Your homework is to keep a notepad with you and try to write down when you catch yourself thinking about writing. Notice how often you do it, and just record it for a week.
After the week, reflect on what you recorded. Do you feel like you should be thinking about writing more? Less? Do you feel that you’re doing alright?
Share your result!
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As writers, we face regular obstacles: coming up with a plot, coming up with characters, remembering how to do the words, and life. Life is a big one, too. It always seems to get in the way of our writing time. That doesn’t mean that life is a drag. Not one bit. Life can be amazing, but it is still preventing you from starting your story.
However, where there is a problem, there is a solution, and here’s how you get down to finding them.
What is Stopping You?
I’m going to tell you right now that what’s stopping you are excuses. They might be legitimate excuses, but they are, when boiled down, excuses. And for every excuse, there is a retort.
Excuse Exercise Part 1:
The first thing I want you to do is make a list of every single thing that is stopping you from writing. Go crazy. Even if it’s little, like the dust on the corner of your desk is distracting, or you just can’t get that awesome Pink Floyd song out of your head and all you want to do is type out the lyrics and the imagery for it that’s playing out in your mind.
Whatever the excuse, write it down. All of it. Let the flood gates open and release the excuses onto the paper.
Excuse Exercise Part 2:
The next thing you’re going to do is look at your list. Read it, savor it. This is the last time you get to feel comforted by this list of writing-stoppers.
After you’ve read your list, go through each item, reading each one out loud, and while saying “This is an excuse,” write the words next to the item.
For some of these items, you’ll find this easy. For others, it will be a bit more difficult. For example, if your reason is that you have a family to look after, it’s difficult to label them an excuse. After all, they are your loved ones. However, they are not the problem in this situation. You are the one who is using them as a reason not to write. Because of that, you are telling yourself that you are using them as an excuse.
Excuse Exercise Part 3:
This is going to be the hardest part of this exercise. You can get out another piece of paper for this, or another document, or another page in your notebook—however you’re doing this. Write your list out again, though go one by one, and preface each item as “The excuse of…” and follow the item with “can be resolved by…” and then brainstorm a solution.
For example, it might say, “The excuse of not having enough hours in the day can be resolved by eliminating two hours of my social media time.”
Again, some of these will be easy. Others will be trickier.
Excuse Exercise Part 4
For the items on your list that were difficult, or that you may not have even found a resolution for at all, set them aside. Spend some time thinking about them, really thinking about them. Give yourself a couple of days if you need.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What about this makes this item unbudgable?
How important is it in my life on a scale from 1-10?
Why is it ranked as it is?
What would happen if you eliminated this reason altogether?
Are external circumstances holding this reason in place, or are they internal circumstances (such as fear, guilt, etc.)
If they’re external, can you delegate some of the responsibility?
If they’re internal, are they worth the fear, guilt, etc. that they inspire in you?
Journal out your answers. Give yourself plenty of time to explore these questions and your thoughts on them. As you do so, you may find that the answer comes to you. You may find that they’re not as important as you think they are. You may find that there was a solution there all along that you just hadn’t seen in the first place.
You Are Stopping You
I know, it sounds harsh. We all have different circumstances and situations, different needs and responsibilities. Some of us have to carry the weight of not only our own households but the responsibilities of the extended family such as making sure that grandma’s affairs are looked after while Uncle Joe gets all of his meds refilled on time. Some of you are single parents and working two or three jobs to make ends meet while trying to make sure the kids are clothed, fed, and doing their homework.
These are all very valid and important things that you are doing. Know that.
If you want to be a writer, if you want to make the time to create the masterpiece brewing in your heart and brain space, then you need to get creative off the paper. We all have five minutes here and there. So, use this time to work on you, to work on your own writing practice.
Ways to Use Dead Time
Dead time is the time when you’re not really doing anything but it’s not enough time to sit down at the computer or with a notebook and write. This is social media time, waiting around, etc. So, here are some suggested alternatives.
Instead of endlessly scrolling through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., get yourself a writing app. There are plenty of them out there. Or you can use a dictation app to talk out your story, which will dictate your spoken words into text on your phone, and then you can email it to yourself. Likewise, if you have a smartphone that has a notes app, then use that. Either way, instead of spending time getting the low-down on other people’s drama, spend some time releasing your story, even if it is only five minutes at a time.
Those writing apps are great because they can be used anywhere. When you’re stood in the check-out line, while you’re walking your dog (I had a client who did this using a dictation app, and I’ve been known to do this myself), while you’re on your lunchbreak at work, while you’re at the doctor’s office—whenever. Even if you only get out a couple sentences at a time, it’s progress.
Driving/commuting can take up a lot of time. When I was in uni, I commuted 45 minutes each way every day. I used that time to listen to writing-related podcasts or to talk to myself. That’s right, I talked to myself, and recorded it, too. I used that time to work out problems with my stories, to express ideas and what I could do with them, or even just to try and verbally write (which I later transcribed). Again, your phones are an amazing writing tool.
Alright, so what about you folks who are sensible and don’t have a smart phone? All these suggestions revolve around electronics. Well, for one, you can always invest in a voice recorder. You can get them at electronic stores or online starting at $20. Of course, there is always the traditional way of carrying around a notebook and pen with you wherever you go as well.
Common Issues and Some Solutions
There Just Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day
This is a very common excuse. Again, I get it. There are lots of things filling up your time, and all of them are truly important. But there are a few ways you can get around this.
First of all, read above about using Dead Time.
Secondly, consider your sleep routine. There are many of us who work in the service industry, which means we don’t necessarily have a set finish time in the evenings, which means we can’t have a set bedtime. But trying to regulate our sleep schedule as much as possible can mean that we find it easier to get up in the morning.
Regardless of how late your shifts sometimes run, set your alarm in the morning for an hour earlier, and try to stick to it. After a month of doing this, your body will want to rise naturally at that time. When your body does this, it means that your mind registers that it’s time to get up, and feels more willing to do so, which means you’re not as tired as you would be if you had an irregular sleep schedule.
The bonus: by getting up an hour earlier, you have given yourself an extra hour to write.
I Don’t Feel Inspired
Here’s the tough truth: being a writer is writing without inspiration. It’s knowing that there are words to get down on paper and doing it despite not feeling it.
The best way to do this is to write every single day. Develop a writing habit, however and whenever you can, and write daily.
We are creatures of patterns. If we create a pattern, our brains will solidify it into habit, and program you accordingly. A great way of doing this is to create a little ritual before writing. This could be sitting down at your desk and tapping it three times with each knuckle before you start writing. Or it can be lighting a candle, or getting up, walking the dog, getting a pint of water and sitting down to get words out. Whatever jives well for you, go for it. Give yourself plenty of time to develop the habit, but when you do, you’ll feel off when you don’t participate in it.
I Don’t Know What to Write About
This is similar to not feeling inspired, but a little different. The uninspired might know what they want to write about but not feel like it. Not knowing what to write about is a different beast. But the advice is still the same:
On my other website, I give writing prompts as well as methods on how to develop your own writing prompts using tarot or oracle cards. Before you turn away from this idea, know that you don’t have to believe in tarot, nor do you have to know what the cards mean. You use the pictures on them to develop your own prompts. You can read more about it on my Tarot For Writers or #30DayTarotWritingChallenge pages.
Again, developing the habit of writing is the most powerful thing you can do to get through not knowing what you write. You’ll find that your brain comes up with stuff all the time once you turn the tap on.
One thing I like to do when I don’t know what to write about is open an empty document and just start typing. If I’m on my desktop, I’ll turn off the monitor, and if I’m on my laptop I’ll cover the screen with a notebook. This means that I can’t distract myself with typos and editing. I’ll set a ten-minute timer and write, non-stop until that timer goes off. If I get to a point where I don’t know what to write, then I’ll write “I don’t know what to write” on repeat until something comes up.
It can look a little something like this.
“I’m using this as an example of what to write. I don’t’ really know what to write here, but I think that this will be useful for people to see how this is done. I really should probably be creating tiops for them, or at least maybe focusing on another project, but right now I’m working on getting words onto the page. The page the page the page okay, so I think that what I’m going to do next is get the next blog post sorted. I know what…..”
Note: Unedited for an authentic example
No joke, that’s how some of my documents look. However, from there I come up with what to blog about, or any creative writing thoughts I have. I do this when I’m working on an existing project as well. In fact, there are timer apps that you can install on your computer that encourage writing sprints. You set how long you want to write for, and then a break time. I like to do 25 minutes on, five minutes off, and then I go to it again. During my break time, I do something that’s not writing—go on Instagram, make myself some coffee, drink water, take vitamins, go on my treadmill, just something else. This helps me from getting distracted when I’m back on the writing sprint.
The Big Take Away
For every problem, there is a solution. If you really want to write, then you will find a way to make it happen. It’s that simple.
Of course, finding how to make it happen isn’t as simple, but that adage “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is very true.
The biggest question you can ask yourself is “How much do I really want it?” You’ll find the solutions you need from there.
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