Friday, September 2, 2011

How I Avoid Train Wrecks: Confessions of a Creative Procrastinator

By Peg Brantley, Author at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

There's a reason why writer's should write every day (and more importantly, work on their current project every day), and that is because it takes a lot more energy to start a stopped train than it takes to get a moving train to go faster.

I'm told that true professionals write when nothing is happening for them. When the well is dry. When the words are jumbled or flat.

Depending on who you believe, either Peter DeVries or William Faulkner said something like, "I only write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at 9 a.m."

Then there's that quote I've only seen attributed to Jack London: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

But then there's the philosophy that if a train is stopped, it's unlikely to get in a wreck. No way a stopped train can jump the tracks. Am I right, or am I right?

Why tempt fate? If I leave the story alone right where it is, it's still a good story and there's no chance I'll mess it up.

Fear and Uncertainty are two creatures who are sure to kill creativity. They're twins who live to tell me I can't write and that no one will ever enjoy my stories. I've been on intimate terms with both of them. When my train comes to a stop, these two leap into action, and here's a partial list they hand me of some of the things I can do rather than write:

1. Do some laundry.

2. Clean out the refrigerator/pantry/drawers/closets.

3. Organize recipes.

4. Rearrange furniture.

5. Change my nail polish.

6. Fill the bird feeders.

7. Play Free Cell or Spider.

8. Watch LMN. Or HGTV.

9. Make a grocery list.

10. Clean something.

Blah, blah, blah.

But in the end, I'm a writer and I need to write. Somehow I'm reminded that Fear and Uncertainty are imposters and I give them both the boot. A possible train wreck is a whole lot better than rusting on my tracks.

What finally works for me is to just dive in. After a while, the words begin to flow easier and they go from flat to round and oval and all different kinds of shapes and colors. Pretty soon I notice the landscape flying past and I settle in to a very cool rockin' rhythm.


  1. I'm so glad to hear you're writing! Fear and uncertainty are always part of the writer's life, but you have to simply push on. Wrecking is better than rusting!

  2. I'd have to agree, Peg. I write every day, even if it's just a few scribbled lines. Most of it winds up on the cutting room floor but an occasional phrase or even more might be just the thing. I like your train analogy because sometimes the inertia of shoving all that tonnage into motion is overwhelming. When I'm stalled I start with a single word, explore the various permutations until something sparks and off I go.

  3. Really enjoyed this post. It's a great reminder that getting started is half the battle! Just the one I needed today!

  4. Great post, Peg! Words of wisdom for writers who are feeling blocked - just sit down and write - anything!

    Here are a few more quotes:

    The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. ~ Michael Crichton

    A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. ~ Richard Bach

    Keep working. Don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. ~ Michael Crichton

    There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~ Walter "Red" Smith

    When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "One word at a time." ~ Stephen King

    Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

    Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller

    If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. ~ Stephen King

    - and lots more in an old blog post of mine:

  5. Thanks for the boost, guys. Great quotes, Jodie!

    Writing, for me, is either painfully hard, or going so fast I can forget to eat. That's usually when words appear I have no memory of having written.

    Today, it's actually going pretty well. I just need to figure out where they found the body.

  6. Procrastination feeds from itself, as does productivity. Take your pick--whichever you choose will gain momentum and away you'll go. The direction all depends on you.

    Thanks for the post, Peg. A good reminder of this.

  7. A good reminder, Peg. Thanks. I got off track today...and even yesterday. Tomorrow is a new day...

    "If you wish to be a writer, write."
    –Epictetus, C. 50-120 A.D.


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