I’m not going to post my March count right now, because it’s too embarrassing. Maybe this weekend.
I should be working on my fantasy novel, but I’m struggling. A chapter header is staring at me, and I’m finding it difficult to push forward. I’m not going to call it “writer’s block” because I have too many friends that say that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Instead, I’ll deal with my not-writing by composing this blog post.
If a wizard requires a single resource called “mana” in order to power his spells, a writer (specifically me) draws on three resources: time, energy, and courage.
Notice I didn’t mention anything about imagination or story ideas. I think that if you’re writing, you already have those in abundance. And if you’re not writing, well, you probably still have those in abundance. I think anyone can write if they have enough time, energy, and courage.
Lauren Sapala describes time and energy in the same breath, but I want to keep them separate for now. I want to talk about each resource, and the ways in which I’m struggling with each.
I have a full time job, a family, and other commitments, such as the community band I perform with and the Computer Club I run at my kids’ school. These all require time. Mondays in particular are filled to the rafters, but the rest of the days are busy, too. When I try to budget my time on a calendar, I become very uncomfortable. There aren’t a lot of places to carve out blocks of writing time.
It’s a solvable problem, though. I have dedicated Wednesday evenings to writing, and that’s been fantastic. I’ve stolen lunches at work to write a few hundred words several times. Occasionally, I get out of the house on a weekend and find some place with fewer distractions, and steal time for my passion. We all have time, as long as we are willing to trim some of the fat, as Lauren described in the article I linked above.
For me, energy is my capacity to make decisions. I expend a great deal of energy at work, creating software. I expend a fair amount teaching Computer Club. I spend energy in the form of focus, when I play with the band. Energy is mind fuel, and sometimes my tank runs dry.
That’s what I’m struggling with the most right now. We just changed offices at work, and I’m wasting so much energy fretting over the longer commute that I don’t have much left in the tank to do my job, or write my story.
As to the question of how to get more energy, I don’t have perfect answers. I think it helps to do things you enjoy, but not everything I enjoy is free. For example, I enjoy writing, but it costs me something to do it. Some games I play also have a mental cost involved. Getting a good night’s sleep helps with the energy levels. Different people recharge differently. For me, it’s about finding some place quiet and participating in some activity in which I don’t have to make a lot of decisions.
In regards to writing, courage is the capacity to overcome fear. As a writer, I have a ton of fears to contend with. I’m afraid of starting a chapter. I’m afraid my writing will be terrible. I’m afraid that my work will be rejected. I’m afraid I won’t finish what I’ve started. I’m afraid that I’m just a parrot of the people I admire, and that someday, someone is going to see through my writing and see…
We all have fears. Some of us have the same fears, and some of us have some that are unique to our personal experience.
I don’t think writing is about eradicating your fears. I think it’s about finding the courage to overcome them. Some fears may go away, but I think others will always be there. We each have to find it within ourselves to step up to the ledge and take the leap, and know that we’ll be able to fly.
That’s one of the things I’m struggling with tonight. I have a blank, empty chapter in front of me, and I’m having a difficult time gathering up the courage to take the next leap.
Fortunately, I know some ways to build up courage. One way is to tackle smaller problems, building up a reserve of confidence, which translates directly into courage. Having trouble writing a novel? Write a short story. Having trouble with the short story? Write a paragraph. Or write a sentence. Set goals that you can achieve, and then do it again, and again. In my case, I’m struggling with writing a story, so I’m writing a blog post.
Another way to find courage is distraction. This doesn’t always work for me, but it does work sometimes. The idea is to get so wrapped up in something else that you forget to be afraid for a few minutes. Before you know it, you’re into the work, and fear is no longer an option. Since writing for me is a mental exercise, the only distractions that have worked for me have been emotional ones.
Finally, courage can be faked through what I like to think of as constructive apathy. This resembles desperation, and it works the same way. I convince myself that I don’t care about the consequences, and then push forward.
Constructive apathy is dangerous, and I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy. I started to list some examples I’ve used, and I when I realized how terrible they sounded, I deleted them. If you’re desperate enough, it is an answer. It just isn’t a good one.