hey, long-time follower here. i'm sure you've gotten this question before, but i was wondering how you convince yourself to sit down every day and just write. what's the trick (if any) for getting out of your head? i have a lot of goals pertaining to writing but have such crippling expectations on my shoulders that i often give up. any advice? :(
1. i have pretty bad ADHD and the like. part of my problems weren’t a lack of discipline or energy or whatever, but some brain shit that all i could do about was self medicate with caffeine for the longest time. since i’ve finally got on meds for it into my late damn 20s, this shit has gotten a hell of a lot easier. what i used to do before that? struggle. a lot. some days crank out tons of shit, other times, go without getting anything done for weeks.
2. you’ll hear this a lot from everybody in every artistic medium, but it’s no less true: never start with your magnum opus. oh we all want to start with our dream projects, because those are the ones in our heads, but leaping at those first have a bad tendency to crush us with our own expectations of them, of ourselves, and of our skills that we haven’t quite refined yet. start with something small. completable. a short story instead of a novella, a novella instead of a novel. keep “my dream project” on the back burner for now, and go for “hey, this is a neat idea” kind of stuff first - this lets you develop skills, not just in the art of writing, but in the discipline of writing, getting it out when you don’t have inspiration. and when you have even a small thing completed, that puts ammo in your confidence towards completing larger, grander projects. think of how one would approach making a video game - we’ve all probably got big, huge, sky-high ideas for a game, but if we actually just came running at it, we’d find our skills to do that not really up to the task yet, get frustrated with ourselves, and then mentally beat ourselves up for not getting done what we dreamed. if you start with a smaller project that feels far more completable, you’ll get a lot further ahead.
3. chunks. chunks chunks chunks chunks. daily chunks, chunks between sessions. i tend to lean into a system where i try to write 500 words at least before doing something else for a moment, then jump back and writing another 500 words. if i think “oh, i need to write 8000 words today”, well then in all likelihood, that 8000 words is never gonna get written, is it? or even for much smaller amounts, like 1000 words. but if i break it up into much more manageable, less anxiety and stress inducing chunks, i get a hell of a lot more done, and i get it done more consistently. even if i only write 500 words that day - that’s still 500 words done at all. that matters, that pushes me ahead. and in keeping with this chunked format, i find i can often go for longer stretches of writing per day. on the last day of writing “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, i did about 6000 in one day, but i never came in thinking “i need to write 6000 words today”. i did my chunks and plucked at it and kept ahead. trying to write at least a LITTLE every day - and i mean a little, even 100 or 50 words is something - helps create discipline, gets you into a better groove, gets you writing more often and eventually for longer stretches of time. this, at least for me, works a hell of a lot better than going “i need to sit down at my computer and write for the next 8 hours, no distractions”. it’s the kind of system generated out of my struggles with adhd. much easier to slam out a little, then slam out another little, and so on and so forth, than to go “i’m going to start writing and never stop until (x) time”.
4. not every word, paragraph, page or even chapter needs to be perfect! think of it - how many writers of yours that are your faves have still churned out chunks you thought weren’t so great? nobody has a perfect batting average, right? and think of even more… how many chunks of a novel, especially big ones, do you just not remember, because they weren’t the Absolutely Big Crucial Moments to you? there’s an awful lot in books where things are moving and are being said but aren’t the most important part and we read those and don’t really think about ‘em, and we almost never think when we come back to our own writing that having those kind of, a little forgettable, pieces of our writing is alright. you don’t need to be slinging genius every single time, you don’t need to be putting out the world’s greatest prose every time you sit down. a lot of writing is functional, or even if beyond functional, just doesn’t stick in our brain compared to others. and that’s fine! if we give our favorite authors this kind of leniency, we should offer some of it to ourselves, don’t you think?
this goes in with those big expectations. i think a lot about how Kurt Vonnegut rated his own novels on an A-F scale, and he wasn’t wildly arrogant or self-deriding. he thought some of his work was great, some of it could’ve been better, and some of it stunk. that’s a much better, healthier way to look at ones own work! sometimes you’ll churn out mediocrity! you might even churn out crap! it’s fine! our famed “world’s greatest” authors did it too! give yourself the leniency to make some bad and mediocre writing as you’re on the road to getting better, more skilled, better knowing how you want to write! it’s crucial!
5. make sure you’re hydrated and that you’ve eaten. getting stuff done while your body has needs or isn’t feeling great in general isn’t a formula for getting a lot done, no matter what anybody says about art and suffering. this is a very practical thing, and i find practical matters are often overlooked.
6. speaking of practical matters, find out what kind of writing environment works best for you. total silence? music on headphones? a movie playing in the background? a very clean environment, or a kind of messy one? everyone’s comfort works differently here, and finding out what kind of space works best for you will help a lot.
7. buy a best seller novel. like, one of those random NYT best sellers that are done by folks with roving teams of ghost writers that come out every month. the ones you can tell on sight aren’t gonna be great. when you doubt your skills, flip that shit open to a random page, and you know what? give yourself that ego boost, that you’re moving ahead and trying to get better, not aiming to stick around that kinda level. i’ve done this with james patterson novels. helps me a lot when i doubt my own quality.
but yeah. starting small, and building a discipline to put out at least a little a day, and not tripping yourself up on trying to make every chunk perfect, will go far. and if you do miss a day? fuck it, it’s not the end of the world. sometimes you don’t get writing done, for whatever reason. maybe even a few days in a row. just don’t beat yourself up over it, because that makes it all the harder to get back onto writing. just, y’know, accept that it happened, don’t make it a bigger deal than it is, and push to get back to writing when you can.
best of luck, strength with you, and take care of yourself. hope this helped