1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Should you force yourself to write?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Firekeeper, Dec 1, 2013.

  1. Firekeeper

    Firekeeper Troubadour

    114
    10
    18
    This has always been a huge issue for me, because I know where I want my story to go and I know how I want it to get there, but I can go weeks without writing. So....my question:

    Should you force yourself to sit down and write, or wait until the mood strikes? Will the material be bland and uninspiring if you make yourself work?

    I ask because I feel compelled to write. It's not really something enjoy to do, per se, it's more that the stories and characters in my head bug the hell out of me until I put them on paper. So the weeks I don't write are kind of torture, the stories have even kept me awake at night before demanding that I work on them, yet I still can't seem to get in the mood to write. When I do, I'm pretty productive. It just happens rarely.

    So....anyone experienced this? Do you "push" yourself to write when you didn't really want to, and if so how is the quality of work? That's my biggest concern here, is that I don't want to kill my stories by forcing myself to work on them and end up with bland and uninspired material.
     
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    3,018
    1,741
    163
    Firekeeper likes this.
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    6,008
    1,663
    213
    Everyone is different. I'll go ahead and say that.

    However, I find that writing every day and keeping a habit is the same as exercising, learning a language, or any other repetitive motion. You have to do it every day to get results. I often tell my students who are studying English that they need to do some form of studying or English immersion every single day to get results. You can't just study one hour a week and expect to get better.

    That's my same philosophy on writing. I used to write when the mood struck me and my writing wasn't any better than if I forced myself to do it. I don't believe there's any "magical time" for me when I do my best writing. Every time I sit down, the quality is mostly the same. Especially with a first draft, which I assume is what you're writing.

    Jot down some notes before you write or pre-write. That may help get you warmed-up so to speak and then you'll know what you're going to write about. I find that when I sit down and say "OK, what am I going to write" then it doesn't work. If I write some notes then I have something to go by.

    I also find that stopping in the middle of a scene works very well. Someone gave this advice a while back and I thought it sounded weird. But it really worked for me. Simply because I could just jump back in the writing pretty easily and not have to think of a whole new scene to write on the spot. Normally, as I'm writing, the idea for a new scene will come to me anyway.

    Another thing that's worked for me is making a list of things that excite me about writing. For example:

    1. Cool action scenes
    2. Good descriptive passages
    3. Interesting, engaging dialogue

    If I keep this list nearby, I know what things that make me excited and therefore fuel my writing. Bigger picture aspects like character, plot, setting etc. come from these sort of things (a descriptive passage is good for setting, dialogue offers characterization, etc.)

    So keeping a list of things you like may help also. If you find yourself unmotivated or bored, pull out something that you like and maybe it will get things flowing. For me this is usually dialogue. Nothing like people talking that gets my writing blood flowing.

    For example I may think of something like this:

    "You're out of bullets, aren't you Johnny?"

    "Yes, but I'm not out of knives."

    That took me two seconds to come up with and already has me thinking of what is going to happen next. Just little things like that can help if you try them.

    That's all I can come up with for now, but some may say write when you feel like it. If you find that writing only when the mood strikes you isn't working, then maybe it's time to try something else.
     
  4. Quillstine

    Quillstine Troubadour

    111
    60
    28
    Lots of authors have quote along the lines of....The difference between a published author and an unpublished author, is those published wrote even when they did not want to!

    For Me, I force it. But I find once I get started....it quickly changes from being forced to me wanting to keep going. Inspiration does eventually kick in.
    If I did not force it at the start though...I doubt I would ever begin!


    This also really works for me. I find I am lot more enthused to finish a half written scene than to start a fresh one. So I jump up in the morning and write first thing if I left a half written scene the night before. By the time the scene is done...the mood is there I a roll right on it to the next one!
     
    Butterfly and Svrtnsse like this.
  5. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

    117
    55
    28
    I'm with Phil on this one, with one little caveat:

    Who says you have to work on the current story? If Mo isn't there for your story, write something else. Write up a character sketch. Write a short that involves characters in your novel. Drum up a blog post. Heck, write an editorial that nobody will ever see. Maybe even a journal entry.

    Oftentimes I have found that just the act of writing anything draws Mo in. He peers over my shoulder and is like, "Hey man, what ya doin there?"

    I mean, I went fifteen years only writing when the mood struck. Never completed a damn thing.
     
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,421
    2,422
    313
    The Hollis and the Quillstine have it.

    I'm often not in the mood to start writing, but once I've sat down and started typing I will almost always work up some steam and keep going.
    There's also no rule saying what you have to work on. There's more to the story than just the words on the page (look at me trying to seem all philosophical and learned). Do some work on your characters, or describe some location they'll visit. There's a lot that can be done to get your creative juices flowing.
     
  7. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    1,384
    168
    63
    Heinlein's rules of writing are:

    There have been modifications* to #3, #4, and #5, but #1 and #2 are really the keys here.

    #1 is the most obvious answer. Though he doesn't say "every day" a regular regimen of writing is clearly implied. #2 goes along with it, since you cannot finish what you write if you don't write on a regular basis.

    Let's say you write, on average, 1,000 words a day. (I like round numbers for examples, I'm not saying you have to write that much.) At that rate, you'll have a 60,000 word manuscript done in about 2 months, and if you are writing a much longer work, you can crank out 90,000 words in about 3 months.

    Every week you don't write makes it take that much longer. In fact, if you slack off too long you could lose where you were in the plot completely, thus making yourself re-read what you've already written to catch up. This, of course, takes even more time. You might even decide to abandon the project altogether, and then you'll never fulfill #2.

    A professional writer is one who treats writing as his day job... he writes every day (weekends and holidays possibly excepted) just like he would go to a job he has working for someone else.

    * Harlan Ellison famously amended #3 with "...and then only if you agree." Dean Wesley Smith amends #4 with "...or self publish" which then modifies #5 to "keep it up for sale."
     
    Philip Overby likes this.
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    6,008
    1,663
    213
    Heinlein was very prolific for a reason. He followed his own advice. One thing I think I don't do enough is follow my own advice. Like today I was planning on working on my novel, but I had a class earlier today and then I played a new game I got for an early Christmas present instead. I'm very much a "finish what you start" kind of guy (unless it is completely horrible and pains you in every single way possible, something I remarked upon in my most recent article), and I think that is only achieved through time.

    Like GeekDavid said, 1,000 words a day is pretty feasible. I recently worked up to 5,000 words in one day. That's pretty rare for me, but the more words you create, the more you have to work with. In this day, there are loads and loads of writers out there on the market. Some may say some self-published stuff isn't so good (although there are many awesome books in this camp as well), but one thing they did do is finish something. If you think your writing has potential, work as much and as often as you can. Before you know it, 10 years may have slipped by like they did for me, world-building and tinkering with ideas without completing them. It wasn't until 2012 I realized this method wasn't working. I had to get serious.

    Right. 3,000 words for me tomorrow. I talked myself into it. :)
     
    GeekDavid likes this.
  9. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    208
    42
    28
    I definitely forced myself to write last night.
     
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    2,581
    396
    83
    It's actually easy for me to churn out a lot of words in a short amount of time once I'm motivated. A couple of years ago I wrote a ~7,000 story over the course of three days, and more recently I finished a 10-page college paper within one morning (got a 95% on it too). The trick is catching or filtering out the inspiration and fleshing it out so that I know what I want to say. Unfortunately the former process is not a daily occurrence for me.

    This morning I caught an idea from last night's dream, and now I have the bones of the story written down in brief phrases on my notebook. However, some of the scenes are already playing in my head even before I write them.
     
  11. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    1,384
    168
    63
    Even with all those self-published authors out there -- good, bad, and indifferent -- there are still more people who sit around saying, "I'd love to be an author," but who never do anything about it.

    The difference between those whose names you see on Amazon and the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" crowd is this: the ones with books for sale wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and finished their book.
     
  12. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    1,228
    242
    63
    I definitely understand the realities of inspiration, motivation, and just realistic time management (I have friends visiting and had a large Thanksgiving the last week, so I wasn't doing much more writing than a couple of blog posts and emails), but definitely wilfully going several weeks when you could be writing and not doing so isn't great. If you have to force yourself to write, do so, but my method is more of a 'always have a document open and a notebook on hand' sort. Some days, I'll have two hours to kill and nothing's on my tumblr dashboard, so I'll sit down and write 2,000 words. Other days, I'm on the train and I just reword a sentence until the rhythm and diction really work for me. The '1,000 words a day' adage is popular, but for me, I think it's more important to pace yourself to fit your daily moods. Just do something as often as you can.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  13. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    1,384
    168
    63
    Just to make it perfectly clear, I picked 1,000 words because it's easily multiplied by 60 or 90, not because I am saying everyone should write 1,000 words per day (and I said that in my post, I thought... gotta go back and check).

    I regularly crank out around 2,000 words a day when I'm actually writing and not revising/editing/rewriting. But that's me, a slightly experienced non-fiction writer online, and not everyone has that experience. Some folks are doing good if they crank out 500 words a day, and that's fine. That's just how they work.
     
  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,924
    163
    In my opinion, sitting around waiting for inspiration is nothing more than self-delusion. It's making you consciously think it's okay not to write because you're not feeling the muse. Yet, deep down you know this is a bunch of malarkey, which is why you don't feel very good about it after some time has passed.

    I believe firmly that art not only can be forced, but should be forced if you expect to improve.

    "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." - Pablo Picasso

    "What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks 'the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,'.... And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I'm writing, I write. And then it's as if the muse is convinced that I'm serious and says, 'Okay. Okay. I'll come.'"
    - Maya Angelou

    Considering the inspirational works the above artists have produced, it should be plain to see they work hard, and they do force the effort. They believe that inspiration is real, and does have an effect. But, if you wait for inspiration, you're not likely to accomplish much because the muse is fickle if not compelled by the artist's determination. I agree with that idea completely.

    Don't allow self-delusion. The truth is, writing is hard work. From my own experience, it's hardest to get started, but once you begin, then the creativity can flow. There is a trick I like to use if I'm having issues with nightly motivation. I stop writing the night before, in the middle of a sentence, when I still want to keep writing. Having an easy starting point (the completion of a prior thought & sentence) can help overcome that daily fear of beginning.

    I've found that sometimes, when I go back and read things I've written during times I thought I was inspired, it can be a pile of fluffy crap. Others, when I felt I had to force every word to achieve my daily goal, I turned out some of my best. So again, in my experience, that mode of thinking that says "Will the material be bland and uninspiring if you make yourself work?", is just another exercise in self-delusion. It's an effort to justify a lazy approach that makes it okay to accept the avoidance of work.

    You may need to ask yourself this question, and ask it often:

    Do I truly want to be a writer?

    If the answer is yes, then put your butt in the chair and write. That might sound harsh. It's not intended to be. Rather, it is meant to help you be true to yourself, to use some honest introspection and decide if you want to be a professional or a hobbyist. It's fine to choose either. However, if you say you want to be a professional, then show up for work every day & lose the excuses.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    6,008
    1,663
    213
    I agree with T.Allen and I found Maya Angelou's quote very telling for many writers. Sometimes just writing crap may eventually wake up something. Like trying to turn over a car on a cold morning (I'm a poet and didn't know it!) the thing will eventually crank, you just have to get it warmed up. Writing makes no sense sometimes. But sometimes no sense leads to a lot of sense.

    The advice "Just write" or "Writer's write" is really the only advice anyone really ever needs. We can deconstruct many elements of fiction and discuss all manner of different things, but if you're not writing, it doesn't matter. If you're writing, then these issues all come into effect.

    For me, it's 4 am and I just forced myself to write about 500 words before going to bed because I would feel like crap if I didn't. And I'm glad I wrote because now I can sleep easy.
     
    GeekDavid likes this.
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,094
    3,930
    313
    OK, what exactly do you mean by force yourself to write? I have this image of a sort of Fight Club scene with you ending up bloodied at the computer.

    Or, to put it another way, who the heck else is going to force you? I'm not going to do it. I'm not even going to get in my car today. I'm pretty sure nobody else here is going to force you either. So, if you don't force yourself, then it won't get done.

    Or, to put it another way (I like putting things in another way), every day I write, I have forced myself to write. But, really, this is merely a case of poor verb selection. I didn't force myself to write, I chose to write. Why does everyone gravitate to that "force" verb? Why not ask how to persuade myself to write? To trick myself into writing? To cajole, encourage, threaten, or delude myself? There are so many opportunities besides brute force.

    Or, to put it another way (you see what I mean), there are plenty of things I have to do in a day. Cook. Clean. Work (well, I'm retired, but don't distract me). Walk the dogs. I don't say: how can I force myself to cook supper today? And so on. Writing is just another chore. Or, just another recreation, if you prefer. If you do it every day, after a year, it is no longer a chore, it's a habit. And habits, as we all know, are difficult to break. And even more difficult to iron. But we're not after irony here.

    All of which is to say, just do it. You don't have to do all of it, just do some of it, but do it every day. Because, in the words of the Wisdom of Sigfile: some of it, plus the rest of it, is all of it.
     
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,188
    3,509
    413
    Depends on your goals. If you're writing for fun, do what you want.

    If you're writing because you want to publish and get paid for it, then writing is to some extent a job and you have to treat it like one, which sometimes means working when you don't feel like it.
     
  18. Firekeeper

    Firekeeper Troubadour

    114
    10
    18
    Powerful stuff here, and it hits home. Yes, I want to be a published author. I really like what was said about feeling like crap when you don't write something, which is basically me when I don't write. Yeah, sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike is at least partly just an excuse to beat Fable III for 20th time....

    Yeah, being a full time writer is like a job, so I guess it should be treated as such. I'm gonna write 500 words right now!

    Another question before I get to work: Should you love every part of your work? For example, there are a couple of scenes in my story that have to happen; they just do. It's the way my characters have forced me to go...but the prospect of writing those scenes is daunting because....they seem boring to me. Do you have to love every chapter you write, or do you have to just soldier through these parts?
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    3,018
    1,741
    163
    No, you don't have to like every chapter you write. But you'd be surprised how good something you hate can turn out. Sometimes there are what's call a workman's chapter. It's not spectacular. It just gets you from A to B, but without it, nothing works.

    Also, during the editing, when you're I on draft 4 or 5, I bet you're going to hate everything you've written. I did and do. Not because it's necessarily bad, but because you're sick of working on it. :D
     
    Firekeeper likes this.
  20. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,924
    163
    I agree with PenPilot but I want to add a bit from my own experiences.

    Hating something I've written & being bored with something I'm about to write are different things.

    Hating something you've written is common because it takes a lot more work to whip the actual written words into a shape that fit the vision in our minds. It takes a lot of effort and there is a steep learning curve before we get there.

    Being sick of working on something is natural as well. Other ideas, fresh in our minds start competing for attention. Even if we're closing in on a finished product, we long to put it away and try something new.

    Boring though...to me that's a warning alarm. In my writing, if the scene idea bores me, it's certainly going to bore a reader. If I can't get excited about an idea, or scene, why should someone else that has no in-depth understanding of world, character, or plot beyond what I have presented in words on the page?

    If it's boring to me that's a signal that I need to find another way. Don't let that be another excuse. Work on the parts that excite you while you figure out how to change the mundane into the wondrous. There's no law saying you have to work in a linear fashion.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
    Penpilot and Firekeeper like this.
Loading...

Share This Page