Reaching Out for Easy When the Writing Gets Hard

“The death of reflection is the death of creativity.” Kim Wilkins. (This blog is inspired by Kim’s TED talk which you can find here).

Everyone bangs on about the shitty side of social media, mobile phones and the internet, but the truth is, this technology has added a host of new variables, solutions and problems to our daily lives.

Creatively speaking, one of the biggest cons in relation to the internet is the ease with which you can distract yourself. It is the ‘thing you do’ whenever you find yourself between tasks: flip open your phone and start zombie scrolling through stalkbook, insta, snapchat – whatever. The tendency to whip out a phone and send a text or check emails (for the fifth time that morning) has become an almost innate action whenever a moment of solitude presences itself: waiting in line at the grocery story, waiting for a bus, waiting in the car while our partner goes in to buy milk.

It fills the awkward time pockets of our lives.

What did we use to do while waiting for our partner to get dressed? Did we scan the inane junk mail or print magazines that once cluttered our kitchen counters? Half-heartedly pat the dog? Often, we did nothing. We just stared into space and allowed ourselves to sink into a mild state of boredom. (Or banged on the bathroom door and told our better-half to hurry the hell up).

Whenever I am writing and there is a break in the flow and I don’t know what to write next or where the plot needs to go, I open my browser. I check my emails. I scan the latest blog posts of a favourite authors or dip into one of the many online communities I am a part of.

Instead of pausing and sitting in the discomfort of not knowing what to write next, I reach out for a distraction.

I reach out for ‘easy’ because sometimes writing is hard.

‘It’s hard more often than it’s easy.’ — Anne Lamott

This is probably why I get more done in a two-hour writing sprint at the library (where I have never bothered to sign-up for internet access), than I do in a six-hour writing stint at home.

The insane thing is though, I get no satisfaction from internet roaming. Sure, there may be a useful tip or an insightful article, but these things provide no real pleasure or sense of accomplishment. So why do we do it?

Again, because it is easy. We do not have to produce. We do not have to sit in the uncomfortable proximity of ‘the blank page’. Someone has filled the page for us. Yipee! And we can consume and consume.

But true satisfaction and the gentle release of anxiety’s tight grip, can only be felt by doing the hard work. There is true pleasure in completing a challenging task.

When you opt out of the uncomfortableness of the blank page and dip into an online portal, you are only making the writing more difficult for yourself. The mood is broken, your trail of thought lost, and twenty minutes of Facebook scrolling will only make it that much hard to find your way back into the work.

That clunky sentence, awkward dialogue or unwritten chapter will still be there when you return to the manuscript.

There ain’t no such thing as editing elves.

You need to stay on the page, you need to work out what comes next. You need to write the next line and then delete it. You need to fiddle with the arrangement of your phrases or you need to pause, and think about the direction the work is heading in. If the next sentence is not coming easily, is it because you’ve lead yourself down the wrong path? Do you need to delete the whole chapter and take your characters or plot in a different direction?

Now, of course, I cannot ignore the fact that if you are an emerging writer today, you have to be on the internet. You have to have a presence. If you want to write and have that writing read, you need to be active online. It’s unavoidable.

So, shunning the internet is not a viable solution for pen monkeys.

Beyond your own personal blog and social media pages, it would be wise to produce and submit articles for other digital publications. And, you can’t write for a publication unless you are familiar with their style and content. That means you have to read their stuff. That means that closing down your word document, whenever you hit a literary road block, to read a few articles online, can seem very justifiable.

And maybe it is.

But please know that your literary road block will still be there when you get back. And while you were gone, that five car pile-up has now turned into ten, plus a road train and an over turned cattle truck.

In the elegant words of Elizabeth Strout, ‘When you do the work, the work gets done.’

Only you can decide how long, and with how much ease, that process takes.

Image: ‘Computer’ by Plymouth District Library

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