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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Writing When You Don’t Want to Write

One of the edifying aspects of writing is that you discover things about yourself — hidden emotions, bursting attitudes, a-sometimes-sullenness towards your craft — that don’t necessarily come out in public (including your day job). I shan’t focus on the negative, however; rather, there’s one great positive part of this discovery when you allow yourself to be taken by it.

What I’m talking about is writing while you’re not in the mood to write. Had a bad day at work? Just crashed the car? Been dumped (again)? Are you hungry, and I mean really hungry? What about that thing called sleep … are you too tired to write? Yes, these are just some of the reasons we use to get away from the page. But if you’ve never used such emotional slaps as the gateway to sitting down at your computer, I suggest you try it. The results may astound you.

For the sake of brevity here, I’ll focus on one mood-changer: TIREDNESS (sometimes called “It’s time for bed.”)

Sit down at the computer when you’re tired, think for a moment about your character, or story, or a problem scene, or that nagging bit of dialogue you’ve been playing with, and you’ll find something incredible happening — your mind loosens up. You see, all that clutter from the day is back with “the day.” You’ve passed it up and you hadn’t even known it. This is night, moreover, and no one is here to tell you what to do, ask you another stupid question, or call you for help. And your mind knows this.

The mind is a funny thing: it can do many things at once; and when so many of those things have settled, it can really hone in on one thing. Let it find your story.

With this unfettered notion of focus in front of your eyes, story begins to happen. Let the story happen. Give your main character a line, a gesture, an entrance into a room to which you hadn’t yet opened the door. Or maybe, give the line to a secondary or tertiary character. Get characters together and see what happens; make something happen. Inside of three minutes, you’ll find that your fingers are indeed moving atop the keys. Five minutes later, you’ll find the storyline. Ten minutes later, you’ll not be missing your bed or sleep or that bullshit TV program that usually sends you to Nod inside of five blinks.

Inspiration is great when it strikes you, and when it does, get to work. But sometimes inspiration must be cultivated. The tired mind likes a tease. Why do you think we all grew up with the notion of, “Can you read me a story before bed, Mommy?”

(note: I wrote this after a 14-hr day, when my eyes felt like they were about to pour out of my head; the first sentence was a bit rough, then it came together in a redraft, and off I went. Now … I’m ready for that late-late coffee!)


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

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