The ‘Just Write’ Principle

blockOne of the best things about being part of a community of writers – even if it is just on twitter – is the feedback and the tips you receive from your fellow writers. Anything from an idea for an article to a thorough critique on a long piece of fiction, we all need the eyes of others from time to time. However, it is also poignant to remember that no two writers work in exactly the same way. Over the past few months I was really struggling to write. Either I had an idea that did not translate to the page, or I felt the desperate urge to write and had no topic – and it was one of those spaces where I could not muster passion for other people’s ideas, kindly as they may have been offered. Which brings me to the “just write” principle.

Almost every day I come across a writer who is struggling with writer’s block or irritated because they cannot find a new idea for a story; and almost every day I see someone tell them to “just write”. Despite the fact that we all seem openly accepting of the idea that everyone works in their own way, it appears that the majority of writers agree on this: whether you hate your writing or you can’t find a topic or you simply don’t want to put [fingers] to [keyboard], the answer is to just write something – anything! – and the words will eventually come back to you.

Well, I would like to free the writers who want to be freed from the bonds of this contract. Personally, if I cannot write, and I force myself to write something sub-standard, I come away feeling much worse than I did in the first place. Not only have I spent a good hour or so on a piece of writing I knew I was going to loathe from the outset, but I realise I have plenty of other things I could have achieved in that time.

In fact, sometimes writer’s block is a blessing in disguise. When I am in full flow, eager to write and full of ideas that simply seem to spill onto the page, other parts of my life invariably get neglected. The dishes stack up, or the carpet doesn’t get hoovered, or I don’t complete my course reading. Of course, ideally you find the balance, a place where you can hold onto and evolve ideas without letting your home go to wrack and ruin, but it is harder to do the daily chores when you are buzzing with ideas that want to escape through your fingertips. On the other hand, I’ve come across writers – myself included – who find the rhythm and mundanity of things like doing the washing up, or sweeping the floor, or gardening to be incredibly stimulating for their thoughts. Maybe it takes a few weeks of knitting to fully formulate an article, but eventually it is there, and so much better than it would have been had you strained to force it out. (I will add, however, that taking time off from writing for me does not mean sitting idly by and watching the seasons change. Nothing stimulates nothing. If I want to be at all productive in any areas of my life, I have to keep my mind and body stimulated. Perhaps all it takes is a good book followed by a long walk, but I have to do something. Taking a break from writing does not mean I am on holiday. Ever.)

Don’t get me wrong – if the advice to “just write” works for you, then go for it. If you’re the kind of person who feels that when you stop writing you will never start again, then perhaps getting on with it is the way forward for you – but it does not work for everyone; and it irritates me when I see people preaching, as though this is the one and only way to achieve something, that we all just need to put our heads down and get on with it. For some writers, this simply does not work. Furthermore, if you take a break from writing and it goes on and on, it does not mean you aren’t a writer. It probably means you need to focus on something else for a while. And if you never find your way back to your words, perhaps that is sad; but the chances are that you’ve drifted away because you’ve found a new passion – no less worthy, but simply more present at this time in your life.

As with almost everything in life, we each have our own ways, and the important thing is to find the one that works for you. Whilst the “just write” principle may be a noble one, it is remiss of us to assume it works for everyone. By all means try it; but if it doesn’t work, then it’s simply not for you. And if you’re very lucky, the time given by taking a break from writing is time you can put to equally good use.

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6 Responses to The ‘Just Write’ Principle

  1. Brigit Delaney says:

    I could not have said it better myself…really. I am just getting through a bought of writer’s block, and like you, I was unwilling to sit and waste my time writing crap just to say I was writing. I agree with you, especially, on the point of letting ideas simmer while you focus on other tasks instead. Really, I think that is a healthier way to go about it. Whatever works, right? As long as we…eventually…write. Great post.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Thank you! Yes – I completely agree. And even if in the end you’re not writing, if you’re doing something else, that’s fine too. Just so long as you find it fulfilling and productive.

  2. Curious Muse says:

    Time and space in my head is what stops me. If it’s a question of ‘just do it’ there are always a million mundane things I feel I ought to do first. But if I manage to say ‘Fuck it’ and steal some time for me, then just writing works. Sometimes it is utter shit. But it’s good to just get words out.
    Now, where to find 30 mins to do that?!!! *hangs laundry, irons uniform, does banking, calls client, ponders 2 hour drive across country….
    But then if I didn’t make the 2 hour drive, or take a weekend to meet with friends or make a call I’ve been meaning to make for months, what would I ever have to write about?!
    It’s all a balancing act to bring life to writing. I think the most important thing of all is not to beat yourself up about any of it. That’s the biggest block of all.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      I think you’re probably right that beating yourself up about it is the worst thing you can do. It makes you tense and unhappy. Pointless. And if just writing, plunging ahead works for you, then do it! I just dislike the idea that it’s the only way and that it works for everyone – because it doesn’t.

  3. Mina Lamieux says:

    I find that I can only write when I am in the mood to write. Even if I have inspiration or a topic, I find I cannot sit down and write it unless I am in a writing mood. I should probably adopt the “just write” method.. but then… I won’t *feel* like it. Ugh.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Ah yes, the writing mood. I know that feeling too. Sometimes the words just have to wait. I don’t know how it is for you, but unless I’m blocked, the ‘writing mood’ is generally around quite a lot; it just seems to slip away every now and then.

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