How to Get Some Writing Done: Discipline vs. Enthusiasm

Sooner or later, most writers discover that the most difficult part of writing isn’t dreaming up characters or perfecting our sentences or learning story structure. No, the hardest part of getting some writing done is just… doing it. Procrastination is a hot topic (and a self-deprecating joke) among writers for the very reason that almost all of us struggle to maintain the sheer force of will often required in simply putting our fingers to the keyboard and making them move.

One of the best bits of advice I ever received, years ago when I began taking my writing seriously, was to “treat it like a job.” I memorized Peter de Vries great quote and then posted it above my desk for good measure:

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

Enthusiasm may have prompted an interest in this approach, but really what we’re talking about is discipline, pure and simple. And yet as important as discipline may be in keeping us at the desk, it isn’t enough. When life gets real, discipline may (or may not) bring us to the desk, but it can’t always make the words flow. A couple weeks ago, @Amira568 tweeted me the following:

During this COVID-19 quarantine, many people are trying to take the opportunity to learn new skills, further creative desires, and write. New Wordplayer Matthew Zweig wrote me from China:

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your awesome work, site, free content (ebooks yay!) and advice! Your site has been a source of guidance, inspiration, and knowledge! Thank you!

I’m an ex-pat, living in China, on … day 69(?) of “lockdown” since the COVID19 broke out here in January—and while a lot of folks are struggling with, what I am calling, Stuckhome Syndrome (Stuckhome… Stockholm… get it? Very punny haha) I have been using the time to get stuck into writing and doing a ton of writing prompts and exercises.

I never truly appreciated how intimidating writing can be! I’ve always wanted to be a writer, a novelist—it was only when I sat down to write that it hit home. Writing is scary! Putting your inner thoughts and experiences and stories down on paper and making them “real”… truly scary stuff! But your site has given me structure, calmed me down, pointed me in the right direction. So THANK YOU!

I do hope that you and yours keep safe during this interesting time!

Matthew nailed it. Writing is scary, even at the best of times! While discipline can help us construct structures and systems to help us work through fear and resistance, the discipline will eventually run dry if we’re not also cultivating sheer unadulterated enthusiasm for our work (which I think you can feel radiating from Matthew’s email!).

How to start (and keep) writing even when it’s really hard is an evergreen subject among writers. But it’s particularly pertinent right now, in part because more people than ever are exploring those stories they’ve always wanted to tell. This is a great time to explore our enthusiasm for writing, both because enthusiasm can be harder to access in times of stress and also because enthusiasm is a powerfully positive emotion that, in itself, can bring much good into your life.

Today, let’s look at the subjects of discipline and enthusiasm—and how a proper balance between them will help you get some writing done during the quarantine and after.

Top 5 Tips for Cultivating the Discipline of a Daily Writing Practice

I used to say discipline in writing came down to “willpower, old boy, willpower.” And it does—to an extent. But willpower is a limited resource. If you don’t support it with good habits, it will eventually run out. If you’re consistent in disciplining yourself to show up at the desk for at least a month, your habitual brain will take over and you’ll find you need to employ less and less willpower.

There will still be days (and whole periods) when those habits are challenged by outside circumstances, but showing up at your desk for the 30th day in a row (or, even better, the 6,000th—which is approximately where I’m at after 18+ years of regular writing) is a whole lot easier than showing up sporadically for 30 days spread out over a longer period of time.

Discipline is directly linked to motivation. If your motivation for sitting down to write is strong, then the discipline will follow. By the same token, if you’re struggling with discipline, check your motivation. How bad do you really want to write this story? To be a writer? To have a daily writing practice?

There are no wrong answers. But honesty will either prepare you to better meet your goals—or save you a lot of trouble if it turns out you have different desires.

Assuming you do want to cultivate the habit of discipline in your writing life, here are my top five tips.

1. Build a Writing Session Into Your Daily Schedule

I’ve talked about this in several different posts, but recently in this one: “8 Challenges (and Solutions) When Writing From Home.” If writing is truly going to happen for you on a regular basis, then you must build it into a larger schedule. This schedule must not only make time for your writing, but also support you physically, mentally, and energetically so you have the necessary resources when you do show up at the desk. A good daily writing session, done regularly, is what will build those muscles of habit.

2. Create a Warm-Up Routine

Writing requires deep levels of concentration from both our logical brains and our imaginative brains. It’s difficult to cold-start either. Although you can absolutely train yourself (habits again!) to sit down, switch gears, and start writing like a mad person at the drop of the hat, you’ll probably encounter less inner resistance if you ease into full-blown writing with a few warm-ups. This is a build-your-own-burrito exercise, but tricks I’ve used in the past include:

  • Journaling about your goals for the writing session.
  • Brewing coffee and preparing a light snack.
  • Re-reading what you wrote the day before.
  • Reviewing research or outline notes.
  • Watching a thematically appropriate music video.

Wordplayer Eric Troyer commented a few weeks ago that:

I also do 10 minutes of meditation right before starting my morning fiction writing. I found that helps me focus.

3. Be Realistic About Necessary Preparation

One of the biggest reasons writers freeze when they sit down to write is that they’re not actually ready to write. If you find yourself revved up and willing but still unable to get started, you may need any of the following to provide the necessary resources for a full-blown writing session:

People often ask if “writing every day” literally means writing. I say, no. For my money, any necessary writing task, including all those mentioned above, counts. When I’m in research phase, I don’t write at all but spend my entire writing session reading and/or transcribing notes.

4. Set the Timer

When you are ready to write, you may find yourself with your fingers hovering over the keyboard: hovering, hovering, hovering. Before you know it, thirty minutes have passed. I’ve found that setting a short time limit, such as fifteen minutes, and then just diving in and writing like crazy will get me going and keep me going. Writing for fifteen minutes doesn’t seem as intimidating as writing for an hour or two. When the fifteen minutes is up, I start another round.

5. If You’re Struggling, Ask Why

Sometimes, no matter how much willpower you’re churning out, the words just won’t come. At this point, you have to ask yourself why. The reason you’re struggling to write almost certainly is not because you’re a lazy bum who lacks discipline. Something’s wrong. Something’s difficult. So be kind to yourself. But also be smart and look deeper. What’s the real hang up here? Maybe you need some time off to care for your physical and emotional health. Or maybe… you’re running low on enthusiasm…

Top 5 Tips for Renewing Your Enthusiasm for Writing

Another recent email, from Colleen Janik, addressed the essential nature of enthusiasm in any act of creativity:

The problem is, really, that people SAY that if you sit in that chair in front of your computer long enough and WRITE, that the Muse will obediently appear….

The truth is, as far as I have experienced, writing is partially a matter of willing the muse to come and pull up a chair next to you, sip tea and chat while you wildly type all the brilliant ideas about all the great characters and conflicts.

The trick, I believe is, to set up a place that is quite comfortable for the Muse and to invite him/her very cordially and wait very patiently for that presence and then don’t EVER EVER EVER rush him/her out the door before the visit is over.

We CANNOT artificially create the magic of writing without the Muse.

The inimitable Julia Cameron went even farther in her classic The Artist’s Way (which is, in my opinion, the one book every writer should read during this quarantine—as you’ve probably guessed, since I think I’ve talked about it in every single post I’ve written this past month):

Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us.

Enthusiasm (from the Greek, “filled with God”) is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

True, our artist may rise at dawn to greet the typewriter or easel in the morning stillness. But this event has more to do with a child’s love of secret adventure than with ironclad discipline. What other people may view as discipline is actually a play date that we make with our artist child: “I’ll meet you at 6:00 A.M. and we’ll goof around with that script, painting, sculpture…”

When your enthusiasm is on tap, no one needs to tell you how to find it. It’s just there, an effervescent well of life bubbling up from deep inside. But when it goes missing, it can be difficult to relocate it, and in my experience, the steps usually aren’t directly related to writing. In fact, if you’re really struggling with enthusiasm, whether in general or for writing in particular, you may want to relent on your discipline and give yourself the permission for a break.

If you’re striving to access your enthusiasm, here are a few exercises you can play with to cultivate it (and don’t be mistaken: healing tapped-out enthusiasm requires a discipline all its own).

 1. Reconnect With Your Inner Child

I love Cameron’s emphasis that creativity is inherently linked to one’s inner child. There are many things we can do to rediscover this most playful part of ourselves, including some of the following:

  • Reflect on childhood memories, using photos, home movies, and old journals as aids. Try to remember what it felt like to be enthusiastic and creative when you were young.
  • Interview your inner child. Just as if he or she were a character in a story, start asking questions and seeing what answers you find. Particularly, ask about things your inner child might be afraid of or areas in which your inner child may not trust you. Visualize what he or she may look like (mine came to me as a wary, feral “wolf girl,” a la Princess Mononoke).

  • Go have fun. Do things that are just for the wonder of it. Try to think of things that will get you off the couch and into your body. Build things. Make crafts. Play games. Roll down a hill.

2. Work Through Painful and Repressed Emotions

Enthusiasm is a flow of joy. But if other, less pleasant emotions are dammed up, eventually joy won’t flow either. If you feel disconnected from your enthusiasm, consider whether you’re disconnected from other emotions as well. If you carry a lot of tension in your body, this is often a sign of bottled-up emotions.

Particularly in an emotional and anxious time, there is tremendous value in working through backed-up emotions. Once the tears finish flowing, joy will flow again too. There are many resources available for this (including Cameron’s morning pages), but one of the most helpful to me has been yoga. Getting “into my body” and feeling my emotions physically was and is key.

3. Reconnect to Nature

All of my most vivid childhood memories take place outside—running around my childhood neighborhood, building mud forts, digging tunnels, riding horses, climbing trees. Not only is nature a powerful source of healing and inspiration, for many of us it is also a direct line to our freewheeling childhood enthusiasm. Insofar as you’re able, immerse yourself in nature. Even just filling your house with plants and streaming nature videos on your TV can be powerful.

4. Seek Gratitude Every Day

Enthusiasm and joy fade away when we’re full of tension and fear. One of the most powerful responses to fear is gratitude. Every time you think of something you hate or fear, try to also think of something you love and are grateful for. I thought this meditation from Simple Habit was especially good for balancing painful realities with accessible joys:

(If you’d like to give guided meditations a try, Simple Habit is offering free premium access to their app for one month in response to the anxiety and mental health needs caused by the pandemic.)

Even on days when my writing isn’t going well, I can be grateful for the stories I’ve already written, for the time I’m able to devote even to just sitting at the desk and staring at the blinking cursor, for the stories of others which make me happy even when my own are MIA.

5. Return to Stories That Stir You—Yours and Other People’s

Writers are notorious for suffering from Imposter Syndrome. At this point I’ve been writing for two decades, I’ve written countless stories, and I’ve published five novels among other things—and I still regularly forget that I’ve done this before, I can do this again. 

Sometimes going back to read my own stories is enough to re-spark my enthusiasm. Other times, I need to revisit the stories, written by other authors, that inspired me in the first place. Stories beget stories, just as enthusiasm begets enthusiasm and joy begets joy. If you can find even just a small seed, sometimes that’s all it takes to get the garden blooming all over again.

***

Writers will always require both discipline and enthusiasm to keep the words flowing. Discipline is the how; enthusiasm is the why. If you find yourself struggling to get the words down at any point, take a moment to consider which of these might be tripping you up—and how you can move yourself back into alignment with your creativity in a healthy way.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Which do you find it harder to maintain—discipline or enthusiasm? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Just yesterday, I found a video on youtube about “dopamine detox” – how to regain your ability to find joy in things after having been numbed by activities that abuse this reward mechanism in your brain. Turns out you can desentisise yourself to the point where nothing seems worthwhile anymore. The video suggests one day per week to go on a “dopamine fast,” where you abstain from anything that would trigger the release of dopamine, such as junk food, social media, or drugs (even soft drugs like caffeine).

    IIRC, Julia Cameron has a WHOLE WEEK of this in her program where you aren’t even allowed to read books – and it serves the same purpose: to “re-sentisise” yourself for the wonders of the world around you, to regain your enthusiasm for things that seemed boring during that numbed state.

    Unplugging from the internet seems to be a good idea, especially now – and if it helps to renew one’s enthusiasm for writing, too, all the better. I’ll try it out, in any case.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have to admit I couldn’t convince myself to do Cameron’s book detox. 😕 :p

      • Me neither 😀 and I guess today it’d be even more difficult than it was back when I first bought her book. Today, we can’t even go one day without internet. To go without it for a whole week, AND without reading, too? Unthinkable! LOL

    • Thank you, Athaia, for that snippet about a dopamine detox. As someone with chronic, decades-long depression, much of this advice on discipline and motivation felt pretty hollow. (Sorry, Ms. Weiland!) I will give some thought to a dopamine detox!

      On a separate note, I would love to see a book filled with advice ONLY from depressed writers, telling what techniques they use to combat utter lack of motivation, brain too tired to develop ideas, Don’t Feel Like It Syndrome, etc. I think that would be a bestseller in a week!

      • I admit I have yet to try it – Saturday sounds like a good day, because I schedule all my chores for that day anyway. Right now, I’m applying good old discipline (sigh) and a low daily wordcount goal.

  2. The Preparation has been the sticking point for me. I’m coming to this post having just worked out my “Eureka!” moment, the last bit of nitty gritty for my worldbuilding. I needed for a particular aspect of the world to make sense to me, and because it didn’t, I knew it wouldn’t make sense to a reader. It was going to fuel a big chunk of story, so I needed to nail it down, really nail it down.

    I just did, five minutes ago. It took me a while to get there, which had me gnashing my teeth, because I couldn’t finish the story without clarity in my own mind. It took weeks of rumination, which I helped by doing more research. The first part of the breakthrough came just by “writing out the problem,” the way I would back in my tech support days. “Rubber duck debugging” is a practice in software coding, and it helps with story debugging, too.

    Enthusiasm was another issue, though smaller. I felt that with several scenes I was “burying the lede.” That means I was taking too long to get to the meat; the thing the reader wants — and that I would want as a reader. I’m trying to cut that out, and one part of doing that is keeping in mind what stories moved me, what inspired me to begin with.

    Going through your series on scene structure helped me realize I was getting heavy on the “Incidents and Happenings.” The outsized I&H’s were dragging down my enthusiasm, which isn’t surprising given their lack of tension or conflict or suspense. Duh!

    Back to basics. And I’ve got to move up “The Artist’s Way” in my To Buy queue now that I can devote time to reading it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s great to see you mentioning the overuse of Incidents and Happenings. I often refer people to that article because they’re wanting to create these types of “non-scenes” (which is fine), but it’s very important not to overuse them, as you mention.

    • Susan Rand says

      One thing that really helped me with my writing is, I read a book on acting. It’s amazing how closely the two subjects are related. I wish I had that book here now. Keep up the good work, girl, you are helping a lot of people!

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Do you remember the name of the book?

        • Usvaldo de Leon says

          One of the classics is The Technique of Acting by Stella Adler.

          Acting is literally about showing and not telling. The Method, which Adler famously was, is probably the predominant technique in America.

          Technique enables the actor to get in touch with what the character is feeling and, most importantly for writing, how they express it physically.

          Thinking how a character is feeling and how a person who was acting that out would express the feeling/subtext is a fantastic writing tip. I wish I’d thought of it myself!

  3. Excellent points, as usual. Katie at her best. Keep going, your help is invaluable. BTW, just bought The Artist’s Way. Can’t wait to read it. Connecting to your inner child is vital. The key requirement for success is indeed playing. All animals know this and never stop playing, even as adults.Look at a cat that’s just caught a bird.

  4. Eric Troyer says

    Great post, Katie. I’ve got an idea for getting the proper writing attitude. When you start your writing session, just program your computer or smart speaker to play “Hail to the Chief.” That oughta make you feel like you’re doing something important!

  5. So helpful! Thanks for these reminders and tips!

  6. “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Ha!

    This was a great post, Katie. It hit home. You said, “Particularly, ask about things your inner child might be afraid of…”

    A memory from my young teen years returned, full-blown, and socked me in the mouth. Mom and Dad out running errands, leaving the four of us home alone. We were all teens and were perfectly capable of surviving on our own for a couple of hours. But I’d find myself checking the driveway every few minutes. I realized this morning that I was always afraid they wouldn’t come back. Every time.

    And now I’m working on the MS that I’ve identified as the story that must be told. If a wicked genie told me I had only one more story to write, this is the one. Working title “No Tomorrows”. I’ll pull the curtain there.

    I think this story was dragged right out of the bottom of the well…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      How fascinating! Memories like that can be so revealing–things we’ve never thought twice about consciously in our adult lives and yet which have been formative.

  7. What about when the enthusiasm is high and the muse herself has no discipline? Is this due to a lack of discipline in myself? Will she behave and constrain herself to a set time if I commit to being there at the desk at an appointed time every day or will she still whisper distracting bits of genius in my ear at 2am or while I’m driving or in the shower or at some other inopportune moment when I haven’t got time to play? She’s very devious. I think she wants me to crash my car trying to write things down with the center of my steering wheel as a writing desk!

    • Although I will say, following your blog and learning how to outline stories has helped a TON with the discipline I have previously lacked in sticking with ONE story. When the muse tries to distract with juicy new plot bunnies, I just take a day or two, or a week or whatever to write up an outline and get it out of my head and then go back to my main WIP. It’s been very liberating in a way to be able to have at least that kind of discipline.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d say a surplus of the muse is always a blessing. 🙂

  8. Right now it’s enthusiasm. My lack of enthusiasm is cause by my not knowing what to do with the plot that would would be logical. When I over come this barrier I will then over my laziness. I found in the past once I get started It’s hard for me to stop.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hear you. This is currently what I’m stalled on as well. Everything’s a go except for certain crucial aspects of the fantasy system that just won’t make sense no matter how I juggle them.

  9. Susan Rand says

    I find voice recognition helpful. I can’t type like I used to, make many mistakes and must go back and correct.Tricks help, like pretending to tell a story to a bedridden friend or relative who depends on the daily dispatch. I suffer from depression and can barely summon enough enthusiasm to get up in the morning. Discipline is also lacking, but I find I can trick myself into doing things I don’t want to do. Thank you for your good advice.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve not quite mastered on-the-spot dictation, but I use Dragon Naturally Speaking when transcribing outline notes. Saves my wrists.

  10. This was perfect timing. I’ve worked 5+ years on a YA novel with an NA Elder. Two months ago, lost all enthusiasm and ability to write…the Virus and concern for family, friends and hourly wage-earnings …and frontline workers. My two adult children are frontline. Have been dinging around about getting going again on the novel. Spoke with my co-author. His fiancee is awesome about putting edits into words. He, himself, is a storyteller for the flavor, insights of the novel I wrote.
    So, setting my timer. Printed out your info and scheduling. Made coffee. Isolated into a chair in a corner upstairs while our spring snowstorm rages.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hear you. There’s a lot more distraction right now than ever before. But I love writing during snowstorms. I find them so grounding and comforting. They’re isolating–in a good way. I hope you find your words during your storm!

  11. Well, I started writing a reply and it ended up so long, I made it a blog post! Thank you! *blush*
    If you want to see what you generated, here’s the link: https://eugeniaparrish.blog/2020/04/13/discipline-schmiscipline/

  12. So very true!! I haven’t written anything since November. I keep making excuses, but it’s about avoidance. LOL Although, as an artist, I have been painting a lot, so at least I’m doing something creative. BUT I need to get into my WIP and start revising. Ugh!! You provided some excellent strategies. I think I will schedule some time to just start small. That way I won’t feel so overwhelmed.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d say any creative outlet counts! But, yes, I know that for myself if I start small and get consistent with that, it helps me feel less overwhelmed.

  13. Denise Long says

    Perfect post for a perfect time in my writing journey. I often blame not writing on lack of discipline– and that’s certainly a large part of it, so your tips will definitely come in handy. But I also think it’s a lack of motivation. I often interchange the two as if they’re the same thing, but they’re not. Discipline can get me to the chair, but it’s another thing for me to engage my mind to type something meaningful. Motivation is what tells me that my effort and time is worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s easy to say, “Oh– I can approach this again tomorrow. What’s the rush?” I do have a deadline in my head– have a manuscript draft completed so I have something to pitch at a conference in September. But the deadline is far enough away it doesn’t drive me. So still, consistent motivation escapes me.

    Of course, it’ doesn’t help that I have two bored teenagers up my rear end 24/7! Ha!

  14. Great post here. I foolishly assumed the writing was going to come easy during our lockdown period… but I’ve been distracted and it shows. Really it’s old habits that need to come back. Thank you Katie!

  15. I’m not a terrifically disciplined / ambitious person by nature. But my enthusiasm for writing comes partly from having grown up the “middle child” and partly from the conviction that writing is a gift from God. My fountain of enthusiasm, like an artisan well, has two feeder streams. If I don’t discipline myself and channel the stream, then it’s that much water under the bridge that is lost into the sump in the back of my head. How much more satisfying to put a mill in it, to dam it up, and harness its power?

    When a “middle child” finds her voice – look out, world! Growing up, we were overshadowed by the family showboats. I don’t mean that in a hateful way, or even as an across the board generalization, but it’s simply one of those things. And I’m proud of what the showboats in my family have accomplished. But tell me, what other middle children feel more like observers than participants?

    I’ve had three different teachers (two in high school and one at college) praise my writing. Talents are from the Creator, so since I’ve received it, then it’s my job to make myself the most intelligible mouthpiece that I can. I’ve a long way to go, but it’s an adventure worth taking.

    Time to set sail! Thank you KMW for sharing your writing journey with us. Stay healthy!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      What you say about middle children is interesting. I can see that emergence with my middle siblings as well.

  16. One thing that I think helps me is giving myself permission to have a bad day and write anyway. A session of bad writing can be fixed, and sometimes that bad session surprises me. A session of no writing just makes me feel guilty. I’m actually very good about writing every day. For me, I don’t need a set time or anything like that – I get “twitchy” as the day goes on and I haven’t written. What I have found is that I can get distracted by editing, world building, outlining, critting other writers, … and not get in the time drafting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Absolutely. Sometimes it’s better just to show up, rather than to insist on perfection and not show up at all.

  17. “What other people view as discipline is actually a play date that we make with our artist child.”

    I love that. I read The Artist’s Way years ago, then gave it to my mom, who now lives on the other side of the country, so thank you for including Cameron’s quotes!

    I love the idea of the warm-up routines and preparation. I’ve got into the habit of brewing a pot of tea and going over what I want to do today. And I have favorite childhood photos on my desk to keep me from taking things too seriously.

    Discipline and enthusiasm have always come in bursts for me. This month I’ve been working on daily discipline. I signed up for Camp Nanowrimo, which has helped a lot, primarily because of the playful attitude of being at camp, even being in a writers cabin to share challenges and triumphs with my fellow cabin-mates. I’m enthusiastic to check in every day.

    This was a wonderful and well-timed post for me. I’ve realised that discipline and enthusiasm work best together. Or play best together. In my current girl scout camp-mindedness, I would extend the scout motto to, Be Prepared (in order) to Have Fun!

    Thank you for all the great tips, Katie!

  18. Two lists in one post – bonus! I like the link between enthusiasm and discipline focused on here. It fits with much or our endeavors!

  19. Michael Saltar says

    Great post, as always!

    Regarding the enthusiasm, I picked up an insight in 2018 while coaching another screenwriter: I kept force-feeding her the necessity of outlining rather than diving into writing “unsanctioned” scenes. She was so excited about screenwriting that she would sometimes ignore my advice to map out which scenes really belong in the outline. Instead, she’d polish to a bright luster whatever scenes gave her goosebumps only to discover during our next outlining session that we would have to cut these scenes out completely! That was, of course, disheartening for her and an “I told you so” moment for me. I would say, “See? You’ve wasted all that time polishing something that would ultimately end up in the trash. Let’s avoid that with proper outlining.”

    Later on, however, something unexpected emerged for me: I reached a writing slump in my own outline for my work in progress. The work had gotten dry. And slow. She, on the other hand, had written several new scenes on her piece and was excited to show me.

    That moment brought the revelation: those unsanctioned scenes she was writing weren’t a waste. They brought her joy and kept her energized on her project. Sure, some of the writing went in the trash, but she remained fresh and engaged.

    I’ve now been employing a similar technique for myself. When the outline gets dull, it’s because I’m usually looking at it like a theoretical analyst. The emotion dissipates. Sometimes I do need to dive in and flesh out a scene, hear the dialogue, see the characters interacting, and then I fall in love with them all over again.

    Then it’s back to the outline.

    And I suppose you could file this under the joy of pantsing. 🙂

    (I’m NOT a pantser, but I’ll make an exception to restore the joy!)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. I tend to err on the side of logic as well. For me, going back into a dreamzone space, a fire night or some such, is usually the key to reignite enthusiasm.

  20. Matthew Zweig says

    Thank you for your awesome content. I’m legit beaming that I’ve actually been quoted in a blog! This has made my day – and I’m sharing this with every human I’ve ever met … or will meet. Haha.

  21. KM ~
    .
    A few quick comments…
    .
    My biggest obstacle (even in March/April 2020) is work. My employer is essential and the issues surrounding work take me away from “my desk” (what’s that?) more than I wish, but I wish to affirm a couple of your points.
    .
    I remember my Professor speaking to me about my thesis saying something like what you mention. Paraphrasing, reading & research are writing your thesis. So, a little tongue in cheek, I say, reading your posts are research.
    .
    A second point, as it relates to my WIP, being unable to immediately continue the actual narrative work (play?) can be replaced by short times or efforts for background details. These have included creating a full descriptive of a dragon or actually drawing out (mapping) certain scenes. This more, shall I say, visual writing preps me for the time when I can tackle narrative.
    .
    That’s all ~
    .
    ~ P

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree: even one short burst of creative work can change the whole tenor of the day.

  22. Discipline for sure is hard for me. I never thought about enthusiasm before, but I’ve noticed that ever since I passed into adulthood, became married, and had my first child, that child-like enthusiasm has become illusive. I’m interested to see how my daughter will help rekindle that enthusiasm as she grows.

    My biggest enemy, however, is fear and I go for long stretches of time without writing. Impostor syndrome is real, so reading my past writing helps a great deal. I’ve often felt stupid for not understanding how plot works, so this website has been a life-saver for me! To share a bit of a horror story: When I was in grad school for writing, I had a writing mentor who actually told me point-blank that I don’t have what it takes to be a writer. I know this deep within me to be untrue, and I’ve written things since then, but her words still haunt me, especially on those bad days when fear wins out. At times, though, it can also be a great motivator, a desire to prove her wrong.

    One thing that helps me in my dry spells is watching movies about writers. Nim’s Island and Stranger Than Fiction are fun with eccentric writers who are easy for me to relate to. The 1994 version of Little Women is also a good one to help get the motivation moving–at the end when Jo gets the idea to write about her family, I can practically feel the creative wheels turning, and it makes my fingers just itch to write (not to mention the soundtrack is wonderful to write along to).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Just from the style of your comment, I see *nothing* that would make me think you can’t develop (or don’t already have) the ability for an effective writing style. So much of writing is a learned skill that as long as you’re willing to do the learning, there’s absolutely no reason to believe a point-blank declaration that you don’t “have what it takes,” all the more so if it was made when you were still a young writer. Good for you for keeping at it.

  23. Wow, this is such a great post! I’ve only been a Wordplayer for a few months but I think this is my favorite post you’ve ever written. Great job!

  24. Since finding myself in creative burnout after finishing a brutal series in December, I’ve struggled more with the enthusiasm aspect. I’ve got nothing. (In fact I wrote a poem about this yesterday). The creative well is abysmally dry, still, and this pandemic and the furor surrounding it are inhibiting my ability to “store up” pennies in that soul space dedicated to imagination and creativity.
    This post has given me some realistic measures to try. Thanks for that. You’ve been a help to many many times during my author journey.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Finishing even one book, let alone a series, can be brutal. I’d say you deserve a good long break if that’s what you’re feeling like!

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