Ideas, Retrofits and Video Games

Writing When You Just Can’t
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

Oh Monday, Monday…. the toughest day of the week.  The 24-hour cycle that signals a new week, with new deadlines (or the ghosts of deadlines missed), new goals, and new challenges to overcome.  Monday may be all about beginnings, but that doesn’t make it any easier to start (or restart) a writing project.
For me, Monday writing is some of the hardest writing of all.

Now I’ve talked – at length – about all the ways you can cajole yourself onto the page.  You’ve got your morning pages and your Written Kitten and your action plans.  You can try writing for a set time, or set word count.  You can write an email or a tweet or a Facebook update.  You can consult a web-based topic generator, or fool around with a scrabble board.  Hell, you can even head out to a coffee shop with a Moleskin and a Sinatra playlist.

But in the end, there are still going to be those days when the last thing you want to do, the last thing you can contemplate, is writing a paragraph, a sentence…even one word.

This morning, afternoon and early evening, I’ve been doing everything BUT writing.  Looking back over the last 8 or so hours, I can see how I expended more energy avoiding the task than just getting it done.  We really are our own worst enemy much of the time, cringing in the corner or stoically breathing through the pain when what really need to do is just act.  Just get “it” done.  It might not be pretty.  It might not stand the test of time.  It may not even advance you very much farther from your point A to point B.

But it will give you a mighty checkmark you can deploy on your daily to do list. (“Writing? Check!”).  It will give you momentum and change you from a body at rest to a body in motion.  It will lend strength to the optimistic angels of your better nature, and it will prove – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that writing begets writing; you just have to get past that first sentence.

And when all else fails, when you find that you’re stuck castigating yourself for not accomplishing your goal or getting to the page, then perhaps some of these little tidbits will help.

Consult an “idea list.” Write a couple paragraphs based on whatever gives you a bit of a buzz.  Don’t have an idea list? Well, then, now’s a good a time as any to start one.  Yes, it counts as writing.  No, there is no right or wrong way to do it.  Just sit down and think up five or ten or twenty things you’d like to write about at some point in the future.  Don’t get too elaborate, focus on small, digestible notions – more, “what it felt like to give a toast at my best friend’s wedding,” and less “I want to craft a historical romance novel set during the last days of the Spanish Armada.”  Guess which project you’re more likely to feel like tackling on a moody Monday?

Reconstitute (aka, “eat left-overs”).  Got something you’ve been ignoring – a short story or poem or business letter that you know needs to get fixed at some point?  Maybe something that’s totally uninspiring or aggravating?  Good.  Harness that negative energy and turn it into something positive by unleashing your inner editor and going go town.  Destroy your first draft by editing the shit out of it and turning it into something completely new.  Turn the poem into a personal essay.  Turn that complaint letter into a song.  Re-envision and re-imagine.  You might be surprised at how good the final, altered, version turns out.

Shoot-em Up.  Treat your writing like a video game (or strategy-based board game).  Think of your pen or keyboard as your joystick, the words as prizes or energy pills (or your “Pass Go” bonus payout) and recast all the reasons you don’t, won’t or can’t write as maze-lurking monsters, enemy battleships or ninjas.  Try to tap into your inner 8-year old playing Ms Pac-Man (or Super Mario Brothers) for the first time – remember how awful that first game turned out?  You died in the first few seconds and failed to clear the first screen.  The “top-score” made your final tally look puny and ridiculous.  You felt cheated and indignant because there were so many “inside-tricks” you had yet to discover.  You failed to eat the cherry, save the princess or shoot down one fighter.  But you put in another quarter or pushed “replay” and you tried it all over again – you got a little bit better each time.  Eventually that top score didn’t look so impossible, you learned to love Yoshi, and you finally discovered how Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man’s relationship turned out.

Rant.  Write an angry letter to someone.  Maybe you still have unresolved issues involving your geometry teacher (I know I can’t be the only one).  Maybe you’re neighbors are driving you crazy (those close to me familiar with the “tree saga” will know exactly where this is coming from.  But seriously, who cuts down trees?  But I digress….).  Maybe someone cut you off in traffic, or made you late by strictly adhering to the speed limit.  Maybe you were just reminded of that awful fight you had with your ex or your mother or your grammar school pal and suddenly you’re reliving the whole argument in your head.  Write it all down.  All of it.  Don’t worry if you sound crazy, or unintelligible.  No one’s going to read it (hopefully…please head my warning…think very carefully before EVER sending a rant to the intended target.  Nothing good can come of…nothing.  I learned the hard way so you don’t have to!), but the getting it all out might loosen you up and shatter your writer’s block, or it might even propel you into a new short story or novel or screenplay.

If you’re having a rough start of the week, or middle of the month or end of the year, know that I’m right there with you.  Writing regularly is challenging for most people, even those of us who identify as “writers” and who aspire to a writerly life.   I promise that if you fulfill your commitment and make it to the page on a regular basis, you will feel relieved and optimistic and inspired.  Get out a couple of paragraphs; it’ll make you feel better.

Believe me – it works.

All original content is the sole property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer. If you are reading this blog on another website, it has been reposted without the author’s permission in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

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