After several days of sailing along and writing (it seemed) like a genius, churning out 500-1000 words a day, I’ve been slogging these last two days. It feels as though I am writing just to be writing, writing snippets and scenes that I’m not even sure I’ll keep. It’s frustrating.
There are different schools of thought about bouts such as this. I believe it’s Robert Olen Butler who says one should just sit on a bench and practice not writing, at least on occasion. My friend Thom Lee, a potter, makes his students swear not to clutter the world with bad pots.
I have a different theory. “To write well, write a lot,” an early mentor advised me. And I’m not convinced that–at least not every day–I’m the best judge of the quality of what I write. Sometimes, too, toward the end of my five pages I gin out a jewel that makes it all worthwhile, a jewel that often sparks the next writing session.
Sometimes, when I’m well and truly stymied, I write notes to myself. The notes help. It’s as if they are a secret way for one part of my brain to communicate with another. (Though other people would say for it’s a way of communicating with God, or one’s soul, or the spirit of creativity–and they may be right.) I write civilized little notes, or prayers (Dear God, this is your servant Bethany, the writer…), or I write curse words in big capital letters. You could try drawing, or writing with your off hand. Whatever happens, this process usually results in an idea. Think of free-writing exercises when your teacher instructed you to keep writing, no matter what, even if you had to write, “I don’t know what else to write! This teacher is an idiot! I hate this!” It’s as if your brain gets quickly bored by that and says, Fine, here’s a scene you can write. Anyway, it’s one of the strategies that, for me, results in more writing.
My goal for this project is 500 words per day. When I hesitate at the beginning of a writing session and don’t know what to write, I tell myself, “It doesn’t have to be good.”
As of today, I’ve typed 12,630 words on my new manuscript. Some of them are good.