When the Writing Gets Tough...

Sometimes, when I sit down to write, I feel like I’m putting the most elaborate puzzle together, block by block. The sentences form like puzzle pieces, sliding easily into the right places, and I swear I can hear an orchestra going into a crescendo as I type my last sentence.

Other times, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m usually too impatient for puzzles, no piece quite fits, the corners have been chewed up by my figurative dog, and I’m hearing the sound of “Chopsticks” being played in the background. Over and over.

Why is it so hard to write sometimes?

I’m sure there are a million reasons, but for today, I’m going to narrow them down to confidence, clarity and stamina (Oh, if only stamina started with a c – the ever elusive alliteration).

Confidence

The challenge:

When sitting down and actually putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, it can seem like almost instantly the little minions/monsters/mean girls/whatever you call them in your head come out to play.

You know those voices. They jeer, “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not a writer! You suck!!” Today I’m picturing the two old men from The Muppet Show – you know, Statler and Waldorf, who were always yelling about how much The Muppet Show was subpar.  

Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know. It's like a kind of torture, to have to watch this show!

Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know. It's like a kind of torture, to have to watch this show!

Those voices can sabotage any writing expedition in a hurry. If it’s a cover letter, they can fill up the room with reasons why you’re not qualified for the job. If it’s a story, they’ll tell you the characters are boring. If it’s a personal statement, they’ll take on the form of admissions officers barring the door. If it’s a lesson plan, the voices will morph into all of your nightmare students, telling you how much they hate your class. It almost makes me long sometimes for that little paperclip that used to hang out in Microsoft Word and keep me company, although when I’m in an un-confident place, I’m sure even the paperclip guy would mock my plight.

What can help:

So, how do you keep the confidence busters at bay? There’s no easy fix for this one, and it can be an ongoing struggle, but here are a few things I’ve found to make it easier:

  • Call or text a friend. I’ve found that when my confidence is really low, it’s nice to see myself through a trusted friend’s eyes.
  • Write your fears out. Usually, once they are written on paper and even read aloud, it’s easier to see how unfounded they really are.
  • Take comfort in knowing that the reason your inner voices are bashing you is usually because you’re on the verge of something great. Those inner demons come out to play in full force when something’s about to change, so that’s a good clue that you’re onto something!

Clarity

The challenge:

It can often feel like your ideas are all over the place and you’re scrambling to wrangle them into something that sounds kind of cohesive. That’s not always a bad place to begin. Sometimes if I’m feeling really scattered, I’ll just do a brain dump and write everything I’m thinking about that subject down, in no particular order. It can help to not stare at a blank page. Yet scribbled ideas do not a polished piece of writing make.

 What can help:

When it comes to gaining clarity about what you’re writing, it can help to think about the following:

  • If your reader could come away with one nugget of information, what would you want that to be?
  • Use a virtual or actual highlighter (depending on your medium of drafting) to highlight what you think are the three main points.
  • Read what you have aloud or talk it out with a friend to see where your sticking points lie.

Stamina

The challenge:

Of course, even once you’ve gotten the confidence and clarity to write, it can get, well, tiring. What once was so fun can easily feel like a marathon you didn’t sign up for. As an added bonus, there are more ways than ever to lose your focus. You might end up Facebook stalking someone’s wedding pictures for a straight half hour before you even realize you aren’t actually typing anymore. Believe me, we’ve all been there.

What can help:

  • Close all of your browsers. Just do it! I know there are several handy apps and programs to use to avoid the Internet, but I’ve become distracted by those too.
  • Work in small increments. If I say to myself that I’m going to really focus and write for the next 5 hours, I’m bound to spend half of that time doing something else (replying to emails isn’t as productive as one might think). But if I say that I’ll focus really hard for the next 30 minutes, I’m much more likely to feel like there’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
  • Try to move a bit. Whether it’s stretching in your chair, having a solo dance party (this can be a bit difficult at work, but I’ve done it), or simply taking a walk across the room, just moving a bit can clear your mind and help you go the distance.

Writing is always a complex dance (which is one of the reasons why I love it), but approaching it with confidence, clarity and stamina can be a huge step up, when the writing gets tough.

Now, I would love to hear from you in the comments below! What do you struggle with when writing? What tips do you have for when the writing gets tough?