Why I'm not writing: self sabotage

In all honestly, I’ve found it really difficult to get back into a writing routine after having a bit of a break. I say “break,” it was more a 5 year hiatus while I spent my time concentrating on a career I didn’t want and a relationship that made me miserable. When I finally got myself out of the life I didn’t want and into one that fitted me better, I was so excited to finally have time to concentrate on the “Thing I Really Want To Do” again. However, I sat down to write after all that time of not writing and realised that all I had was fear; self-loathing and a bad case of feeling absolutely terrified to be alone with my own thoughts.

I made up all of the excuses I could about how Real Life was constantly getting in the way of my writing time. But in reality, the only thing standing in the way of my writing was me. There’s nothing worse than finally setting aside some writing time after a busy work week to find that you have nothing to say, you are a terrible human and you should probably give up completely and spend your time more wisely by resurrecting your 2003 Neopets account. That, at least, would be slightly more interesting than the stories you currently have inside you.

Welcome to self- sabotage, the sure fire way to make sure you get absolutely nothing done.

Having a chat with some writerly chums recently has made me realise, that this level of self- sabotage is actually really common. Especially with us ladies who are already dealing with self-doubt and social anxiety wherever we go. I’ve found the most common excuses are along the lines of:

In some ways, this is very true. It’s hard to find time to write. Especially when you have a full-time job/a partner you might actually quite like/kids who need you/friends/parents/pets. You probably require an adequate sleep pattern and especially if your job is at a computer all day (as mine is) you need time when you aren’t staring at words on a screen unless you really like that feeling when your brain is frying within its own skull.

I try and write as much as I can without feeling like it’s an unachievable task that I’m destined to fail.

At the moment, I write for a firm four hours a week (two hours a night for two nights) plus another four hours that I’m more flexible on (some point of the weekend that I try and keep free – a Sunday morning is my personal favourite.) I find that trying to force myself to achieve any more than this just makes me miserable when I inevitably don’t achieve it.

Eight hours a week might not seem like a lot to some people, or might seem completely unachievable to you in your circumstance. Maybe start with just a couple hours of non-negotiable writing time a week and take it from there. You wouldn’t miss your Wednesday night Zumba class, or cinema date with your best pal, so don’t miss this. One to two hours a week for the “Thing You Really Want To Do” should be allowed, minimum. No questions asked.

As an aside, I’ve also stopped wearing make up to work (because I read The Life Changing Magic of not Giving a Fuck and realised, I have no fucks left for wearing my expensive face for work colleagues) so now I have 30 minutes extra every morning to sit with a coffee and write in my journal and generally just have some early morning Steph Time. Even if I only write something useful every 10th morning, this is still better than no useful words. True facts.

Every minute you can spare writing each week, will get you closer to your goal of being a better writer.

If you get to your scheduled writing time and can’t find your voice, do some writing exercises. Even ones you think are rubbish. For they might surprise you and if they don’t, that’s okay it was just a warm up anyways. At this point you are only writing for yourself.

I definitely find it difficult to realise sometimes that, no-one is looking over your shoulder and judging what you write as soon as you write it. Fundamentally, you only have to show people work that you are happy with and everything else is just for yourself. Just write some words down and they will hopefully lead to other words and ideas that will help you find your characters and plots. Read books, for they will help you think of ideas for other books. Write down your dreams. Write down conversations you overhear. The smallest nugget of nothingness can be the springboard to the greatest ideas if you just let it and stop second guessing yourself.

Good! I’m glad you think this. It means you aren’t delusional and don’t think every first draft you write is the literary equivalent of Anne Hathaway’s face. Perfect, in every way. Well done you. Always strive to be a better writer than you are today. And if like me, you’ve had a massive break and feel like the most awful writer that ever lived, remember that you can only get better with practice. Today you are the worst writer you will ever be. So just write the awful writing to get to some better writing. You know this to be true.

Top tip: If your short story idea is along the lines of “I woke up, I was slightly hungover, I looked out my window with a coffee and cigarette that magically appeared in my hands, and then I thought about you, my long lost love.” Throw that shit away! For that really is an awful idea. Everything else is probably cool.

I feel that anyone who is semi-successful at life these days is probably being trolled somewhere. Even our WIFIE Facebook page with 12 followers and 1 post on it gets these Youtube videos sent to us from some random about how women should be in the kitchen all the time. It’s sad and ridiculous but at least you have the knowledge that these people are spending their precious free time trolling you instead of doing something worthwhile like writing the Great British Novel. Less competition = more chances for you to succeed. Huzzah. Thank you trolls for achieving exactly zero with your lives.

Ach, I hear you. I really do. Thing is, I felt too old at 20. I feel too old at 31. I felt too fat at a size 10 and now I feel too fat at a size 14. The feelings are still exactly the same. I think in this case we just have to get over it and try our hardest to remember that our opinions and creations are valid even though we are giving ourselves a hard time. Especially when the things we are giving ourselves a hard time about have nothing to do with our abilities as writers. I have far more to say as a 31 year old, than I ever did as a 20 year old, but I do wish I had the confidence in my opinions back then to speak up. I stayed silent in countless tutorials at University because I thought my accent would make people think I was stupid. I’ve refused to volunteer my ideas in many meetings at work because I wasn’t sure how they would be received, only for a guy to say the exact idea I was thinking about 30 seconds later.

Where would we be right now if we had lived a life without fear of looking stupid?

Worst case scenario: I say a stupid thing, hold my hands up and say “actually, that thing I just said was a bit stupid” and then move on. I know it can be hard when you are around writerly people a lot because they are all really smart! But you are also really smart. Plus you’ve questioned how smart you are, which probably makes you smarter. Truth.

It can be hard with creative writing when it seems to be Postgrad central for everyone who isn’t you. But there are lots of published authors without any degrees. Research them, find them, read them, admire them and realise that they are every bit as polished and talented as the writers who went to University.
If you want to be really cheeky, you can find reading lists online and go take those books out of the library. Education for free! Follow smart people you like on Twitter and read what they recommend. Writers like Kirsty Logan are great for this, for they recommend all of the things they
like on Goodreads. Goodreads should be your pal.

Be friendly to people (even if you are an introvert like me who wants to run away from all other humans); follow nice non-trollish people on Twitter (publishers, agents, your favourite authors) because they tend to retweet opportunities that would be relevant to you or someone you know.
Join a writing group if you can spare the time and it doesn’t terrify you to your very core. Start your own group if there is nothing in your area. Dedicate time to research what opportunities are in your area – I lived in Aberdeen and bemoaned that nothing ever happened there when in reality, I could have looked harder or started my own networking events if I’d really wanted to. Be proactive. And brave. Bravery is everything.

In conclusion: I’M JUST TOO SCARED.
Bravery is everything.

Ultimately, I know myself well enough to know that I have this idea of, “If I never try my hardest in
the first place, then I can’t really fail.” But this is utter garbage because in reality I am only destined to fail BECAUSE I’m never trying my hardest.

So we need to give ourselves permission to find time to write, try our hardest, write some work we are at least kind of happy with (I find anything over 75% happy is probably entering into delusion territory) BE BRAVE and send it out there. And if/when it gets rejected, take it on the chin; write better stories and try again. We can’t succeed if we don’t keep trying.

Feeling brave? Send a piece to us for our current submission cycle Granny Stories. Deadline 31 st
September 5pm.