Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Pied Writer

It’s 4am. Your house is as quiet as a tomb and, you’re up before God and everyone with one goal in mind:

“I’m gonna write my ass off today.”

Still sporting the bed head look, your hair sticking up every which way, robe over your favorite ultra-comfy, gray lounge pants and your pink shirt you wouldn’t be caught dead in outside your house, which reads: “Writers do it better,” you’re set. Good to go!

You’re in your office, on your couch, at your kitchen table, in the bathroom, or where ever it is you do your writing. You’ve got your dictionary, thesaurus, pad of paper for those ideas that inevitably pop into your head when you’re busy doing something else and you’ve got your favorite mug filled with coffee or a nice hot tea—depending on what you drink. You’re feeling good about this and totally stoked. After weeks of saying you’d do this, you’ve finally done it. It’s A.I.C. (ass in chair) time. Time to get groovy!

Two hours later…
You’re staring at a blank Microsoft Word screen. On the pad of paper you brought to write stray ideas down you’ve written a list of things to do that would make Martha Stewart take a step back and say, “Whoa! That’s a lot of shit!”

It’s as deserted as a ghost town in your head. All your characters seem to have lost the will to live or at least decided to go on vacation.

“You’ve been struck by…a smooth criminal…”

Shit! Where’d that come from? You haven’t heard a Michael Jackson song in years, yet there it is, on your mind like a tick on a dog. Worse still, it’s repeating that one line over and over because you don’t know the rest of the words.

Stop the camel! You think to yourself. This is insanity!

What happened to that genius plan you had to get up at the buttcrack of dawn and write twenty chapters of the New York Times next bestselling novel by noon? Where’d all those ideas that wouldn’t let you sleep for the last few nights run off too?

“…You’ve been hit by…you’ve been struck by…a smooth criminal…”

And why can’t you get that damn song out of your head?!

Suddenly, you can’t take deep breaths. Each inhalation grows more and more shallow, taxing. This is no bueno. You’re hyperventilating. You’ve lost all you passion, your fire and desire for the craft, you think. Hyperventilation has now kicked into a full blown panic attack. This can’t be happening.
How could you have peaked? You’ve only been writing for two years. That’s not a career that’s a hobby, and writing was supposed to be your raison d’être.

To all your concerns I say…, “Chill, puffy cheeks. I come baring answers for thee.”

You are suffering a term I coined called: Overambitious Writer’s Dilemma (OAWD), also know as, Overambitious Author’s Dilemma (OAAD), for the published folk who want to flaunt it. J

This is where you break from your normal routine to not only do something totally out of character, but you also psych your creative mind out. This sends your characters and ideas running for the hills. “Five hours to be all we can be…? NO!”

Having goals is a good thing; we all need them in order to function properly. Even the goal to get dressed every day and remember to where underwear keeps us going, thriving, striving for…something. When we don’t have goals we usually feel like failures and become depressed, start to question our purpose. If we have too many goals or our goals add pressure to our already pressure filled lives, we get overwhelmed and basically our minds go on hiatus, leave us standing at the alter.

This is what we inadvertently do when we set these ambitious goals for ourselves. Yes, as writers we have deadlines and most have day jobs so we don’t have time to cater to our overwhelmed minds demands. We need to write when we can even if we don’t feel like it.

The thing is, no matter if your goal is to write twenty pages or one, 5k or 15k, your brain won’t let you. You’ve psyched it out, restricted it before it could blossom for the day, before it could wander through the garden of ideas. It’ll have you thinking about anything other than what you want it to because, like a rebellious teenager, you’ve told it, “No, you must be creative between these hours. No playing around, I mean business.” Its response to that: “Business, my ass! It’s party time or I refuse to speak to you. And, I’m holding your characters hostage. Ha. Ha.”

So, how do you fix this? How do you get yourself to write without running headlong into OAWD or OAAD? Give yourself permission to get nothing done. Essentially, trick your mind into believing you don’t really have a set limit. Then to further trick it, write down everything that comes to mind. From the annoying lyrics in your head to your ponderings on why the guy in that yogurt commercial doesn’t realize his wife’s talking about yogurt not food she actually ate. I mean, really, if there was that kind of food in their house wouldn’t it smell like it? It definitely wouldn’t have been as clean in that kitchen as it was. Why would he go looking through the refrigerator? It looked to be noon or later. Hadn’t he opened the refrigerator at all that day?

See what I mean? Write it all down, the good, the bad, and the weird.

This is a tactic I’ve used several times. Before you know it, your mind relaxes and starts to believe it really can have its freedom. From then on the rest is child’s plays and your characters will be released. Think of it as a warm-up for the mind.

Okay, I’ve officially written the shit out of this first edition of The Pied Writer. It’s weekly writing advice and tips from writers just like you. If you’re not a writer, than it’ll give you a greater appreciation for what your favorite authors go through and it’ll make you laugh. You can also ask questions and speak with the author. Hopefully, I’ll have some guest authors and writers from time to time so you won’t get bored with me. See you for next Wednesday’s edition of…The Pied Writer.



  1. See, giving myself permission to get nothing done doesn't work for me. Because that's promoting a negative. What I do now is tell myself (every night, in fact, before I fall asleep) that the words are there, and they flow for me. I know they're not all golden but they're better than a blank page any day - especially when I know with a little polish and a lot of editing, the story will shine.

    And I can't muddy my manuscript with song lyrics, either. I'm really glad this works for you - but it seems a bit counter-intuitive to me. If you believe you don't have the words, you won't. It's kind of that simple. Which is how writers can get trapped into a writer's block - their fear that the words are gone confirms that they are gone because that's where they're putting their attention. If they put their attention on the abundance of words, then they will flow again.

    I only say this because I came out of an almost 2 month slump just last week by telling myself the words were there for me. I put my focus on the abundance and not the lack, and now I'm writing again, more words than ever (as you can tell by this post, lol!).

    Well, it worked for me anyway - and I guess as long as we all have a system...right?


  2. Hi Piper. Nice post. Like this hasn't happened to all of us at one point in time. In order to get myself back on track I stop forcing myself to sit and try to write and instead tackle some of the things that are distracting me- clean, organize, etc. Once I scratch a couple things off the "To do" list, I'm good to go again. Jordan