April 12, 2023

You can't wait to write until you're in the mood...

I ran across this quote the other day. It's from the late Southern author Harry Crews.

"You can’t wait to write until you’re in the mood. My God, if you waited until you were in the mood, it would take forever. You have to sit down. The name of the game is to put it in the chair."

It's not the first time I've heard some version of it. In fact, it's probably the most common advice you'll ever receive if you want to be a writer. When people ask me how to get started writing, it's usually the first piece of advice I give them. Because I know it's true, and it's the only way I've ever gotten anywhere in my own writing career.

But the truth is that I don't necessarily always practice what I preach, and that's why many of my personal projects never see the light of the day. I'm the world's worst at saying, "I'm too sad to work on this story I'm writing today" or "I'm so tired and just not in the mood to come up with something funny to write for this," so I'll make a few notes on my phone or "do some research" and promise myself I'll do the actual writing tomorrow. Then days and weeks pass before I touch it again, I lose interest and inspiration, and the whole thing becomes another sad, abandoned file on my computer.

Throw in the fact that I write for a living — for other people — and it can be hard to switch mindsets from creating content for someone else's website to working on that new novel I've been dreaming up for the last few weeks. It's also easy to lose your voice a little bit while doing that.

I was actually just talking about this topic with my friend and colleague, Chris Queen, and he agreed with me, but he also said, "It's easy to make excuses to procrastinate, especially when you write other things for a living."

And he's right. Most of it is just that: excuses. Yes, having a writing career that is not your ideal and writing what you want to write are two different situations that can make the other a bit more difficult, but they don't have to cancel each other out.

When I was in Costa Rica, I started thinking about what I truly want out of life. What are my real goals? Which parts of my life are distractions from those? In the eight days I was there, it felt like all the gunk that had been building up in my mind over the last seven or eight years was slowly disappearing. I finally felt some clarity. I came up with three specific goals that I need to focus on to get myself to that place I want to be. One of them was that I need to start making my personal writing projects a priority again.

I didn't take my laptop on this trip. I didn't even take a notebook or anything to write in, which I regretted immediately, but I promised myself that when I got home, I would start writing. Daily. It didn't matter how much work I had, how much schoolwork I had, which animal needed what, or how tired I was or what mood I was in — I would work on something just for me every day. Even if I just sat down at my computer and typed out a paragraph of nonsense, I would follow my own advice and the advice that many others have given over the years.

It didn't quite work out that way. As we all know by now, I came down with COVID the week after I got back. I got behind on everything. I'm still behind on some things. And my goal kind of slipped through my fingers for a little while. But one night last week, I was kind of in a weird mood, and I had these ideas running through my head. It was late, but I was inspired, so I sat down and started to write. What came out was pretty good, I thought, and I actually had some big ideas about where it could go.

The next day, I had a ton of stuff to do. Between school and work, I was on my computer for about 11 to 12 hours that day, and that night, when I was at a stopping point, I shut my laptop down and got in bed. It was midnight. I was exhausted. I wasn't in the mood to look at the computer screen anymore. But then I remembered my goal, so I got up, grabbed the laptop and brought it to bed with me. I figured I'd just aim for that paragraph of nonsense, but two hours later, I'd written several pages and came up with several new ideas for this new project.

Will it ever see the light of day? I have no idea. But I feel like I'm in the groove now. And even if it doesn't, I know it will lead to other projects that might actually become something. As it turns out, just making a daily effort really is the best thing you can do. Which I knew. I'm just really good at coming up with excuses. I hate to compare it to a sport, but that's kind of what it is. You have to condition yourself and practice. There may be some rare weirdos who can wait for the mood to strike, but for most of the rest of us, putting yourself in that chair and forcing words out of your head is the only place to start.

So, if this is a hobby or career you want to investigate, don't go asking people for advice. At least, not at first. Sit down every day and write something. Anything. A chapter. A paragraph, A blog post. Keep doing it every day. That's where you can see if you have what it takes.

And if you're waiting for the mood to strike, you're doing it wrong. I once wrote an entire book while I was in the process of moving back in with my parents because the house I was renting had suddenly become unavailable. On the other hand, I once spent a week at the beach (see the picture above) by myself with plans to do nothing but write, and I came home emptyhanded. There is no right mood, and there is no perfect time or place to get started.

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