How do you stay motivated when writing isn't fun anymore? My first drafts (of anything) are usually hideous. But last week, those first drafts were sub-ugly. Dreary. Steeped in stress.
Wait. Let's go back to that last paragraph: When writing isn't fun anymore.
I should clear that up: Writing first drafts is never "fun" for me.
The fun comes in small moments within the writing act itself. Does this happen to you...? You'll be thinking that this thing you're struggling to write is complete isht.
And then surprisingly there's a small sputter, a spark: You get a word exactly right, the perfect analogy comes to you. The cold engine you thought was forever dead suddenly turns over and leaps to life.
That moment—that sputter, then that spark—is the thing that keeps me going. It holds enormous promise for not just writing and the writer... but for life itself: I never feel more optimistic about the world than I do right that second.
Anyway, last week: I was getting none of those flickers. No sputtering engine. No spark. Not a single optimistic firefly signaling in the dark.
What do you do during those flicker-free times? Here's what I did.
I stopped writing on this whisper-quiet laptop I'm on right now. (The tool that gives us endless opportunities to cut, paste, revise, backspace, rewrite the same godforsaken sentence 30 times. It's exasperating how limitless the opportunities are for better writing when you're The. Worst. Writer. Ever.)
Then I veered into a different lane. I switched to a manual typewriter. Paper. Ink. Old-school. And I wrote on that.
It was G... L... O... R... I... O... U... S!!!
At first I loved it because writing on a manual typewriter is an act of aggression—if you're of that mind: You've got to whale on the keys hard enough to make the type that appears on the paper sharp and clear. It's a halfway decent cardio workout. (My Fitbit told me that.)
Then there's the racket it makes! The clatter of the keys! The DING! of the bell when you get to the end of a line. It never stops yelling.
After a while, I calmed down. Then I heard the clack of the keys less as shouts of aggression and more as my own personal cheering section.
Like the home team had stolen the ball and turned the game around and now the rowdy crowd was cheering every key strike as a win... YAY-E! YAY-C! YAY-S! GO TEAM GO! When I got to the end of the line that DING! celebrated with me. YES! YOU ARE DOING A GOOD JOB!
All that cheering is a welcome break from the murmur of judgment coming from the laptop keyboard. The one that corrects my spelling. Questions whether that sentence fragment is really a sentence...?
And that over time worms its way into my brain with the open-ended ease of endlessly reconfiguring paragraphs and changing things about until my head starts to second-guess what my hands are typing and I'm called in to referee during the argument between the two of them....
It's maddening, that horseshit.
* * *
So, my advice to you: When you're feeling flicker-free. Sputtered out. Go analog. A pen is fine. Better is a typewriter: A glorious dumb and mute hunk of steel, ink, plastic in complete service to you, the writer. A tool that exists in total deference.
A typewriter that can't possibly think anything needs help, or second-guessing. Because it can't think at all.
Sure, there's a backspace key. But you can't correct anything. Not really. You can only accept your mistakes; and keep going.
At first that feels limiting. It feels terrible.
But there's a freedom in it, when you think of it: You have no place to go but forward.
* * *
Here are 5 things worth knowing this week.
1. Type Bomb
Speaking of typewriters... the American Writers Museum in Chicago has a permanent exhibit of working typewriters for visitors to use. Weekly the museum publishes a selection of stories
visitors write on those typewriters. Like this poem: