Saturday, February 14, 2009

Getting started

I have days when I find it impossible to get started on my work. The very act of opening the file on the computer in which my story or novel is contained is more than I can manage.

It may be that I am tired from my other work, or worried about whether I will be able to write as well as I want to on that day. But try as I might, I keep getting distracted by news stories, opinion pieces, Internet forums and Facebook discussions. When I've had my fill of perusing those and answered all my emails, I may decide it’s time to update my website, or do the grocery shopping, or clean the oven.

All day long I hope that at any moment I am going to open the file on my desktop and get to work, but also all day long I also fear that I will not. As suppertime approaches and then passes, I begin to accept that this day has been shot and that, for reasons I do not clearly understand, I am the one who shot it.

I have recently discovered that when such a situation arises, there is something I can do to make the day change direction in my favour. Actually, I have two options, at least. (You may have others -- please feel free to add them in the Comments section.)
  • I can unplug the laptop and take it to a public place such as a coffee shop where the Internet is more difficult to obtain than it is at home. I open my fiction file while the barista is still making my Double Shot CafĂ© Americano, and I get to work. After an hour or so of this, and always leaving at the start a new thought, I am able to take my laptop back home and continue with the story.
  • Another course of action that works effectively for me is even less disruptive. I print out the last few pages of whatever fiction project I am working on and take it with pen and a pad of lined paper to a corner of the house (such as the dining room table) where I can comfortably write by hand. I usually start by writing revisions on the printout, and before I know it I have covered most of the print-out page with handwritten notes and moved on to the lined paper. Within half an hour, I am usually ready to return to work on the computer but I stay where I am for at least another fifteen minutes. By then the writing has become more interesting to me than any of the distractions that earlier so thoroughly intrigued me.


  1. Mary:

    I've found if I just start writing about anything at all -- preferably my own critique of the last few pages -- it gets the juices flowing a bit.

    I know for some people, overcoming the internal critic is tough. I just write any old way and figure I can go back and fix it later!

  2. This is indeed the hardest part as far as I'm concerned. It's that old attraction/repulsion thing. I like that tip about the public place--that's a good one though I get distracted by pastry. For the thing I'm writing now--a long and complicated family saga--I have a bulletin board with an index card for each chapter and with pictures: everything from a picture of Roosevelt to a photo of Amy Winehouse to a picture of a 1954 Hudson. And I put in right smack in the middle of my living room where I see it every day. So it's always present in my mind. Somehow the pictures act as sirens.


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