“I have no idea where I’m going with this,” I said.
I’d been working on an article—one of the many sitting in my “to-write” pile—and it wasn’t coming together. I had my thesis down (I think), but the rest of it wasn’t coming together. Emily, with her usual wisdom, simply responded, “Well, maybe you should stop working on it then.”
So I did.
I currently have somewhere around 25 different writing projects in various stages of development. Most of these are articles (though a couple are book proposals that I’m particularly excited about). Some will even turn into something. But a lot are just not coming together.
As you can imagine, this is incredibly frustrating. But it’s also part of the work of writing. And make no mistake, writing is work. There’s this notion out there of the inspired writer—the one who sits down to write and every word is breathtaking, a joy to read. And then when you actually start writing, you realize, this kind of stinks sometimes. Why? Because sometimes what you’re writing just doesn’t work.
I learned about this the hard way. When I was early in my writing career (not that I’m terribly far into it now, mind you), I would crank something out and be done with it. This was partly out of necessity, and partly because I didn’t really have people to bounce my work off of. And so when I look back on blog posts I wrote five or six years ago, ones I remember fondly, I cringe a little. Some actually do hold up, surprisingly, but most are pretty awful. Silly, sloppy, blech. They feel like novice writing because it is novice writing. There were posts that were really more or less about nothing at all, or had the start of a good idea that got lost along the way.
Bloggers fall into this trap pretty easily, of course. When we set our schedule, we expect ourselves to meet it (even if no one is reading). We do the daily blogging thing because it’s what someone we read does, but then run out of things to say, and so our blog dies. And while I’m a fan of daily blogging (otherwise I wouldn’t do it), it’s not for everyone. The schedule makes a terrible master and not everyone thrives under pressure.
And even if you do find pressure helpful, you’ve still got to deal with the fact that sometimes what you’re writing just isn’t going to come together the way you’d hoped. It’s not going to work. You’re going to have enough material to fill ten books, and none of it’s going to be useable.
If you’re an aspiring writer, you need to learn to be okay with this. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a screenplay, a kid’s book, a novel, a blog post, or a theology book, you’re going to hit a point where you don’t know where to go with it. And sometimes the best thing to do is stop. Maybe not forever, but just go on to something else.
Put down the pen.
Step away from the keyboard.
Write something else.
Clear your head.
And then get back to it. The draft will still be waiting for you. Cool?