When Shouldn’t I Write?

There are so many writers out there telling us what we should/must do in order to be successful. I am grateful to everyone who is willing to share in order to help others find their way. But I am somewhat less grateful to those who couch their advice in terms of “should” and “must.”

I believe that all of us find our own best path when it comes to how we get things done. For some people, their best path is one that takes more time – seemingly wasting time to others who appear more efficient. For instance, some writers write multiple versions of scenes before they decide which direction they want to go. Other writers decide first and write one draft. Who has the best path? Sometimes the easiest way to understand this concept of finding your own path is to use something you don’t do well as an example.

I don’t cook very well. I have a few dishes that I can make pretty tasty every time – I just made John and Doug bacon-wrapped meatloaf for dinner – but mostly I despise cooking only a little more than I hate cleaning up. I would LOVE to be wealthy enough to have someone cook and clean for me every day for the rest of my life!

So when I do cook, if someone or something convinces me to try something new, I have found that I should double the prep time. One time, it took me 2 1/2 hours to prepare lasagna wraps out of the “easy” Betty Crocker cookbook. The prep time in the cookbook was 45 minutes.  John was pretty starving hungry by the time we ate that night.

Looking at something I don’t do well and rarely enjoy, it’s easier to see how to adjust other people’s “should’s” to work for me, easier than trying to apply it to something I do pretty well and enjoy, like writing. Following me so far?

Stephanie and I were on a writing retreat once where she did all the cooking and I did all the grocery shopping. I ate like a Queen that week! Steph laughed at me so many times when I gushed about how good her food was, and she kept insisting it was so easy. She eventually learned that cooking is not easy for me.

Now compare all the writing advice you’ve heard. I’d guess that over 90% of the advice you hear works for the person who said it. (I suspect that some people tell you what they believe to be the best way to do something even though they haven’t been able to be completely successful doing it that way.) But just because it works for someone, or lots of someones, doesn’t mean it will work for me or for you.

Take writing every day for example. I do believe that working consistently is the best way to build structure and habits and routines that will get you through the hard times when you don’t know what to write, or when life keeps you from writing as much as you used to. But I don’t believe every writer needs to write 5 or 6 or 7 days a week, rain or shine or Christmas or funeral, in order to be successful.

I’ve found that a menu system works better for me. I work every day, 4-7 days a week, but I don’t write every day. Some days I’ll write for 8 or 10 hours, other days I’ll do other “business of writing” work for the whole day. My brain works smoother and more fully when I do only one or two major tasks a day. I’ll spend an entire day doing a week’s worth or a month’s worth of accounting rather than take a few minutes every day. That’s the menu item I chose on that day. On another day, I’ll choose to write all my blogs for the next week or two. On a different day, I’ll spend most of the day researching, reading, and journaling to get my thoughts stirred up or organized.

So how do I know when I “should” write if I don’t have a specific schedule? Well, first let me say I’m curing myself of the “should’s.” But how do I know if I’m choosing what Stephanie calls creative procrastination or if I’m really procrastinating or being lazy? That’s a tough question. I don’t have the answer for me, let alone you. But I will say that asking yourself the question in the first place will often give you a gut feeling as to which one you’re in now.

Most of you know I’ve had a pretty tough year. Several funerals, several periods of unemployment, financial hardship, two moves, it’s been all I can do to keep from wallowing in self-pity let alone try to keep to a writing schedule. On the one hand, I have the feeling that I haven’t gotten much done this year. On the other hand, I wrote stories for two anthologies that will be out later this year, brainstormed a new series of books, worked on getting Little Miss Lovesick into print, and attended two writing retreats and a national conference. I’ve also been learning how to run a publishing company since I’m self-publishing my books.

Under the circumstances, I feel pretty good about what has been accomplished! I’m working on getting more of a schedule going, creating a printed menu of work for each month, and in general getting more done starting this week. But I’m still not going to force myself to write every day because that’s not how I work best.

What should you do this week? Begin by tossing the word “should” out the window. (I’m not saying you definitely “should” but I think you’ll find it helpful.) Then look back over your writing life and your regular life and look for patterns when you felt like you achieved the most and were happiest. That’s where you’re going to find the answers for you.

I need to find some time each week for silly fun, some time for TV and movies, some time for reading fiction and nonfiction, some time alone, and some time with other people. Some varying amount of each of these help me to get the most work done during the week.

Looking over your life, what do you think will work best for you?

8 thoughts on “When Shouldn’t I Write?”

  1. I’m so glad you’re finding more peace and creativity, Jamie! And writing better, for *me*, makes me feel much better, too, than just getting lots of words down. I’m glad you’re finding things working better for you! 🙂

  2. Yes! Exactly how I’ve been feeling but said better than I ever could have. I’m letting go of a lot of the “should”s in my life, not just with writing, and I find that I’m more relaxed and therefore, more creative. In the busy world we live in, we’re all trying to do too much, be too perfect. I have been writing better now that I’m writing slower and I would take that over more productivity any day.

  3. It’s good!! Buy the thick-sliced bacon (I like the maple flavored) and line the pan, then put strips on top of the meatloaf. Bake a few minutes longer to be sure everything is cooked all the way through. Before serving pour off the grease! LOL!

  4. Bacon-wrapped meatloaf? Hmm. I’d like to try that. I’ve got a good Italian sausage meatloaf recipe. We can swap.

  5. Wonderful thoughts, Kitty. I’ve been struggling with the same type of issues. Throwing out “should” is great advice and something I remind myself to do almost daily. Great suggestion to mentally revisit happier, better, more productive or fulfilling times for clues for finding personal direction and answers. That’s sure to help as I chart this new course for my life.

  6. Caro, it sounds like you’ve been able to figure out your best path – yay! You reminded me of something I hadn’t really been thinking of when I wrote the post – I do need to write in my journal nearly every day, especially if I didn’t write professionally that day. It keeps me sane – LOL!

    Enjoy “Singin’ in the Rain” Wednesday! That sounds like such a lovely night out!

  7. For me, writing something every day works best — though I’ll be the first to admit it’s not always stuff for publication. Putting words down of some kind always makes me feel better, as if I’ve accomplished something for myself.

    But there also needs to be time to read, time to knit and time to just relax and watch a movie or TV series. Work is somewhat punishing at the moment, and if I don’t do that, the well starts to run dry. Wednesday, I know I won’t get much writing done because the husband and I are going to see a screening of “Singin’ in the Rain.” An evening out just relaxing and spending two hours of watching a classic film that is pure cotton candy fluff is a great way to relax and refill the well for me.

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