I think one of the worst things you can do as a writer is sit idle.
I don’t mean physically, though that probably comes into it. The remote control, the take-out menu, the bottle of booze – they’re all comforts we reach for in general. Writers in particular can feel affected, even exhausted, by what they do. You finish a project, a novel, a round of pitches, and you feel absolutely spent. You just want to take a moment to get away from the pen, the word processor, the outline and the query.
So you pour yourself some sweet succor and kick back. But what then?
Intellectually, we know writers have to write. It’s nothing short of a moral imperative. It’s in our blood, and once it’s taken hold it’s not going to let go. We can do our level best to ignore it, of course, but the longer we do that, the more it’ll gnaw at us.
We might keep a journal, maintain a blog, post on forums. But these are little more than stopgap measures. They hold off the beast in our brains for another day or so. Then the ideas start popping up in our heads again. Square-jawed heroes with jet packs and ray guns. Werewolf fiends with viscera dripping from their jaws. Good-looking girls who also happen to be tough as coffin nails. Fairies that giggle as they turn innocent travellers into twitsed abominations. Flying cats.
Channeling this creative energy in a productive direction can be a daunting task. It means stepping away from those comforts. We have to put away the snacks, turn off the television, stay off the tweets and bulletin boards. When you get right down to it, writing is work, and after work is done for the day the prospect of more work just isn’t all that appealing.
But writers gotta write. We set goals for ourselves. An outline in an hour. A thousand words a day. A story every fortnight. We try to structure our time in such a way that we can better focus the energies that tease the edges of our imagination when our minds come to something resembling a halt and we might consider distracting ourselves in some way, shape or form.
Art is creative chaos, and writing is an art. Imposing order on chaos is something that sounds good in practice but tends to suffer in execution. The trick is not to overdo it. You can say that you’ll spend the hours between X and Y writing Z words, but the truth is the chaos will rebel against it in the form of the way we seek excuses to stop writing. The dog will need to be walked. We’ll remember the trash needs gathering. We’ll catch a glimpse of the pile of dishes in the sink (and did that one just move?) and resolve to scrub a few. I could go on.
In those situations, remember how far you’ve come towards your goal and how much is left. It’ll be easy to forget in the process of tending to those outside influences, and say “Well, I wrote something at least. Time for more fun! Fire up the tweets! Ale and whores for all!” Stop. Think. You have a goal to meet and you haven’t met it yet. Chances are it’s closer than you think, and if you can get on a roll you might even exceed it. But the only way you’ll find out is if you keep your focus on the words and continue to let them flow. They want to come out, arrange on the page, thrive within the story. We just have to let them hitch a ride down our neurons from our brainpans to our fingertips. That takes time, focus and energy, and we may be disinclined to expend those things on a task that is less fun than the many distractions that tempt and tease us.
Just remember. You’re a writer. And writers gotta write.