In order to make progress as an artist, I need to be able to continue working in all sorts of situations. I must, on an embarrassingly regular basis, keep writing even though the house is a mess. I have to be able to work whether I feel like it or not, whether it comes easy or as a huge mission. Most days it makes me feel good, but not always. I come to the page feeling like a success, or a failure, or really very blah and feeling next to nothing at all. I must write when I’m tired, when I’m buzzing and bubbly, when I’m busy, and when I’m bored.
But some days, it just ain’t happening.
If I’m honest, I usually know its one of those days pretty early on. The morning goes badly and I’m going to need a nap in the afternoon, or we’re having visitors and the house needs at least a bit of a clean and tidy, or whatever. I don’t need to tell you what all the possible excuses are. Chances are you have dozens of your own.
What I offer instead are a few things that I might do on those days when writing ain’t happening. These are things that make it more likely that writing will happen tomorrow, or the day after that.
- Collect ideas. A lot of what I do is a bit mindless. My toddler puts a lot of thought and energy into pegging the laundry. I can do it with my eyes shut (though it takes me longer and really what’s the point?)
So while I do laundry, or any number of other mindless jobs, I can think about what I want to write. I can note down ideas. I can collect images of settings, characters, etc. by taking photos, by saving pictures I see online, in magazines, wherever. Even just thinking about your writing can be a great motivator to write. If you’ve already collected loads of ideas then when you do come to write, be it in days, weeks or months, you’ll have something to start with. You’ll be ready to go!
- Get other distractions out of the way. If you can’t write with a messy desk, then perhaps today you can tidy the desk. If you have other things you are obligated to do before you feel free to work on your art, then try ticking some of those off on one of the days when the art itself just won’t happen.
- Get rid of the guilt. Feeling guilty about not working can be so paralyzing. Yes, discipline is necessary if you want to make consistent progress, but forget consistent. If you want to make any progress at all you need to forgive yourself, be patient, and rest. The desire to create will return and fuel your work instead. This can take time and I have no magic cure for guilt. It’s one of those nasty voices in your head, and they’re hard to shut up. Replacing this voice with other voices can help. A group of supportive friends, especially if they’re also artists, can be a huge help. Reading writing advice, be it in books or blogs, can be motivating, but can also be a great way to procrastinate. Reading or watching films about artists falls in the same category.
Accepting that some days are not productive can be freeing. It’s a problem if it’s every day. Yesterday was one of those days. I have a funky to-do list app on my phone. It reminds me of all my good intentions (and necessary errands) with cute and/or butt-kicking notifications, like, “Stop putting off Write Blog. You’ll feel so much better once you’ve ticked this off!” or, “Go on, Return Library Books and then you can go play outside.” Yesterday I hit ‘snooze’ on Novelling at least half a dozen times.
At nine in the evening when I gave up on Elena having her evening nap in her bed, I foolishly though I might get a few words done while she slept on Luuk’s chest. He had been working at home all evening and was wrapping up. I knew we’d put on an episode of ‘Modern Family’ and eat some dessert. All of that happened, but the novelling did not. Duh.
But today it did. I didn’t hit the 1000 word gold-star mark, but I’m having a pastry for afternoon tea anyway. Edible rewards are the best! (Getting to the bakery and back before the sky opened up comes a close second. Very nearly got caught in the storm.) I finished an awkward scene and I know what’s happening in the next: a good place to stop. It won’t be hard to start writing again.
It’s also nice and easy to start writing at the moment because I have a lovely new work environment. Yesterday our shutters got fixed. One of our living room windows has been blacked out the entire time we’ve lived here, but no more! There is light in the dark little corner I call an office.
It’s completely transformed. All ready for a busy summer’s writing. Go on, hold me to it.