So you stopped working on the novel/screenplay/short story/collection of pre-Viking runic haikus a couple of months ago and you can’t get back on the horse.
It doesn’t matter why you stopped. Someone in the family got sick and you had to care for them. Your day job. You took your son’s Scout troop to summer camp. Breaking Bad was filling up valuable space in your Netflix queue and you had to clear some room so you watched the entire series to the exclusion of all else, even bathing.
It just matters that you stopped.
Now you can’t get started again. Your project sits on a corner of a table, or on a shelf, or peers out at you from a backpack/briefcase/open footlocker, calling out to you, crying out in wonder as to why you have given up, why you are ignoring it.
You know you should be working on it, and you tell yourself that you will but there is always something else more important, that you will do it right after the next episode, or as soon as they fish Timmy out of the well, or once you’re done with cleaning the garage, or whatever.
But we both know that’s a load of crap. Deep down inside, we know it to be true. We want to be writers, but the thought of writing, of picking up a pen and pressing it on the page so the ink flows out in letters and words is exhausting. It draws the soul right out of you.
‘I’ll take a nap first.’ ‘Right after the game.’ ‘How long have those cobwebs been up there?’
I’ve used all of those excuses (and then some) to put off writing. Occasionally I’ve used all of them in a single day. It’s easy, isn’t it? ‘Nothing’s easier than not writing’, Dostoevsky said.
A month ago, I took the troop to summer camp. I was busy during the day and planned to write at night. A spot well lit enough to write by was hard to find. I wrote the second night we there. For one reason or another, I didn’t write again until we got home. 5 days without writing. That’s almost halfway to developing a habit.
A couple of days in a row at home, no writing. Now we’re over halfway, and it’s getting easier to say ‘no’ to sitting down and doing it. The reasons got more and more tenuous, more lame.
At three quarters, it got even easier. I hardly needed to use an actual excuse.
And harder and harder to get back on the horse, to climb back up on the wagon, and start writing again. I have to rebuild the habit. I’ve been able to string a day or two together here and there, but not with the (fairly) solid regularity I had before. And it’s hard.
Hard enough to wish that I hadn’t stopped. That I hadn’t broken that routine. That I had found a few minutes at some point each day during that week to write a few pages. A page. Just some words. Something. Enough to keep the habit fed. Enough that keeping going would still be a habit.
I wish I hadn’t stopped. The break was nice. Sort of a little vacation. But it’s cost me ten or fifteen thousand words, at least. And I so want to get this draft done. I’m so tired of working on it. But that is a story for another time.
From personal experience – which is all I have, and the perspective I try to write this blog from, so that the people coming after me can learn from my mistakes – I can tell you that it is much less difficult to keep at it, taking a bite from the elephant, even a little one, on a daily basis, than it is to miss a couple of pieces and finding yourself in a hole and then having to catch up.
I keep saying this, and it means more to me now than it did before, but if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Not want to write, not talk about writing, not taking classes or reading books about writing.
Nothing more and nothing less. Just writing. Both the easiest and hardest thing there is to do.
And I can now say, with first hand, observed proof, that it is easier to keep doing it than it is to stop and start and stop and start.
So go write. That’s what I’m going to go do.