Every writer knows that there is a love-hate relationship between the author and the act of writing. When everything is well with the world, the words flow freely: the author not only wants to write, but also has the time, energy, and ability to make it happen. In case you aren’t aware, though, let me let you in on a little secret: things are rarely well with the world, especially the world of the writer.
All too often, different aspects of life converge in such a way as to conspire against the writer who is trying to write. After all, for most of us anyway, writing does not pay the bills. That may be what we are working towards, but it is usually not the case. And when writing doesn’t pay the bills, it can be difficult to justify spending your time working on a new story or poem or essay when you could actually be paying the bills. And when you finally are done paying the bills, family and friends demand their fair share of your time and energy. At the end of the day, do you really want to get started on that new project, or do you want to go to bed?
More often than not, I want to go to bed.
The simple truth is that writing is work — it is a job like any other job (whether a first, second, third, or fourth job it doesn’t matter). If you ever want to get anything done, you need to get things done. But how do you actually force yourself to get things done? My methods have varied over the years, but I recently found some strategies that Gina Barreca, author of the best-selling They used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted (and preface writer to my book Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer), uses to force herself into the groove: emotional blackmail and guilt.
“Some writing is its own reward: I have permission to write this post only because I finished the three letters of recommendations which have been staring up at me with their big, sad eyes every morning as I approach my desk. The letters and their neatly addressed envelopes been eying me like stray kittens: ‘Please! We’re orphans! Help!’ I sent them all to good homes and that means I can now play with my own work.
‘How does the guilt and emotional blackmail part work?’ asked one aspiring writer during the book-signing part of Saturday’s events. She liked the bribes idea, but was worried that I might have sent myself to bed without dinner. Or a beverage. Assuring her that deprivation of food was never permitted in my household, I explained that the emotional blackmail I wielded was a dangerous weapon. It was something best done by professionals in a closed setting and probably should be used by amateurs only in a controlled situation.
Emotional blackmail as a tool for writing should be saved for those moments when nothing else works.
If guilt is an emotional response and blackmail is an exchange, I suppose I’m proposing a combination of both. ‘If you don’t finish this article/essay/book,’ I tell myself, ‘You know you’re going to be miserable.’
And then I make sure it happens: Either I finish it, or I’m miserable.” — From Barreca’s blog, Snow White Doesn’t Live Here Anymore on Psychology Today
I know these strategies work because I’ve used them before — as someone raised in a Roman Catholic household, guilt is especially useful in getting me to do things. And emotional blackmail? My mother had that bit down pat by the time I was four. I was raised by these methods, molded by them…if anything can get me to sit down and write, its this. It may be just what the doctor ordered to get your writing back on track!
You can view Barreca’s full post here.
How do you deal with writer’s block? How do you force yourself to write when it’s really the last thing you want to do?