Friday, May 31, 2013

Hamlet days

"Oh God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,
Seems to me all the uses of this world!"

     Hamlet, I.ii.134-36

Today I am having a day where writing is hard. I know exactly the scene I need to be writing, and writing it is like pulling teeth.

I just looked at that sentence and hated it, by the way. Cliché, and an uninteresting one. Boring verbs. It is indeed that sort of day.

I've written. I'm pretty much doing a full-out cheerleading routine for myself after each sentence, but there are more words on the page now than there were this morning, and there will be more before I go to bed tonight, and probably most of them won't be crossed out, and when I type the draft into the computer, I probably won't even remember how hard it was to get those words down.

Bad days happen. Days where it feels like you can't write, or that everything you write sucks, or that it's boring, and been done before. Someone on twitter asked what do I do when that happens, hence my posting this blog.

So. What do I do on the days writing is hard?

First, I try to work through it. Here's the thing. I am fortunate enough to have the problem of deadlines. Not everything I write is commissioned, but much is. So in many cases, someone is waiting for the thing I am writing. I believe in meeting my deadlines (some of which are also contractual obligations) because I believe that is the professional thing to do, and also because that is how I get paid. Sometimes working through the suck means turning to another project temporarily, and letting my mind clear that way. Sometimes it means reminding myself that what I am writing is a draft, and thus, it is okay to suck - expected even! - and that I will fix things in revisions. I'd say 80% of the time this works. It doesn't mean that the writing suddenly becomes fun - the day is usually still a slog, but I get done what I needed to do.

If I can't work through it, I look around for something I can do that's necessary work, but isn't writing - cleaning the house, going to the grocery store. Baking. (Okay, maybe that one's not necessary.) Going for a run. Sometimes just the mental break from the project is enough to let me come back to it with fresh eyes, plus there's the bonus that I did something I needed to do. I'd say this gets me through about another 10% of the crap.

The remaining 10%, the days where I can't shake the demons and doubts, where I feel that I'm untalented and that every sale and decent review has been a fluke, and will never be repeated, I give myself permission to take the day off and wallow. To put on my sweats, and eat the brownies I just baked, and read comfort books or marathon my favorite episodes of Doctor Who. I embrace the terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad day. Oddly enough, it helps.

The other thing that helps is realizing that everyone has bad days, days when the writing is hard, when we have cases of the doubts and donwannas. Everyone. Even your very favorite writer. Even when they were writing their very best book. So know that it's okay to have a hard day, to have doubts, to be certain all your words are wrong. Maybe you will cross them out. You will write the better ones later.


  1. I was curious how commissions work - do you pitch an initial idea that then gets commissioned? How much input or feedback is there from the commissioner?

    1. What I mean by commissioned is that an editor has asked for a story. In some cases, this is a specific topic, as for a theme anthology, in other cases it's just for a story of approximately a certain length. It then goes through the regular editorial process.