Five Ways We Keep Ourselves from Writing

I was thinking recently of all the ways that we sometimes keep ourselves from writing. Here are but a few:

1.  We wait for inspiration to strike:  Sometimes, particularly in the early years of a writing career, we get the idea that our writing is the result of being inspired, and if we just don’t feel inspired, well, then, we just don’t, period, and we wait for that inspiration to come, and we wait, and we wait, and we wait. . . . We need to recognize that when we write, we practice a craft, and the more we practice it, the better we become. It’s not inspiration that we need; it’s time, a quiet place, and effort.

2.  We think we need to do more research:  Research is seductive. We fall under its wiles and the next thing we know we aren’t writing. We’re reading. When I’m writing historical fiction or memoir, I tend to gather information and artifacts to the point that I see my characters moving through a very specific world and starting to talk to one another. Then it’s time to write. I know that I’ll go back later and fill in the gaps with more research, but once a storyline launches itself in my mind, it’s time to follow it. We can research the life out of something. We can know so much, there’s nothing left to discover in the writing.

3.  We think we have to be perfect. When you’re writing a first draft, do you spend too much time writing and then rewriting a single sentence, a paragraph? If so, you’re a sentence or a paragraph torturer. I’ve been one in my life. I know that desire to make everything perfect before moving on, but we have to move on. Too much rewriting in a draft closes off spontaneous discovery. Produce pages; torture later.

4.  We give into despair. We listen to the little voices in our heads, and those little voices tell us we’ll never be good enough and that no one cares if we keep writing. That’s true. No matter how much we succeed, we’ll always think we can do better. If we stop writing, the world won’t even notice. The world doesn’t owe us that caring; we owe it to ourselves. So accept the fact that our craft is one in which more often than not we feel as if we’ve fallen short. Don’t give into despair. Use that feeling of wanting to be better to make yourself write more (see #1).

5.  We’re afraid to fail.  Those little voices in our heads (damn, those little voices in our heads) tell us we’re bound to fail. Tell those little voices to take note of what Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Here’s what I know: We don’t get anywhere by stopping. Whenever I used to tell my father I couldn’t do something, he’d say, “Can’t never did nothing.” True enough. Writers have to write. We have to care enough to keep going. The little voices in our heads have a number of reasons why we shouldn’t. Kill the little voices. Remember what former U.S. Senator and professional basketball player, Bill Bradley, said: “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”


  1. Denise Marois-Wolf on October 20, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Number 4 and 5, definitely.

    • Lee Martin on October 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      All of them for me, at one time or another, Denise.

  2. Jennie on October 20, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I agree with everything you said.
    At the research point now in a new novel and, yep!, wanting to do too much.
    Thanks for the reminder, Lee.

    • Lee Martin on October 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks for reading my blog, Jennie, and for taking the time to leave a comment. Happy writing!

  3. Joanne Glenn on October 21, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This article is spot-on. Thanks for writing it.

    • Lee Martin on October 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Thanks, Joanne!

  4. John Zulovitz on October 22, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    All of them for me, too, Lee.

    As I began reading, my head began to nod. And nod more. And nod more vigorously. One can be his or her own worst critic. As for me, I deal with the bane of torturing sentences. I have to continually remind myself that I must stop trying to make everything perfect the first time around. And then the self-doubt comes in. That pesky little voice that tells you you can’t do anything, you’ll never be a writer (even though you know you’re one down to your marrow; that you didn’t so much choose writing as it chose you); that no one will care; that you can stop and no one will be the worse for knowing (save for yourself, of course). But you stifle the voice and keep going because you must — you haven’t a choice; you care too much; you know the characters are fighting to live, and you must join in the battle.

    When asked what he did, Philip Roth said, “I spend each day moving words around on a page. That’s it. That’s what I do.” Put it such stark, mechanical terms, it can seem debilitating, especially when one considers all of the words available with which to tell a story. But we do it because not to do it would be to resign ourselves to a kind of atrophy. And who needs that?

    Thank you for these five points. It’s comforting to know we all struggle with them. By illuminating them, you have provided many of us with weapons of fortification. I’ve no doubt of this.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a date in the trenches.

    • Lee Martin on October 24, 2014 at 10:33 am

      It really does come down to that, doesn’t it, John–the practice of a craft, the passion, the moving around of words on the page. Keep fighting the good fight in those trenches, my friend.

  5. Robert Sykes on October 22, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    My area of writing/ listening to solitude and internal voice/reading and observing the voices of others has become a sanctuary in an otherwise complex if not maddening culture…thanks for the encouragement…again…most of my manuscripts,while unsubmitted , breathe and take nourishment in these challenging times…Blessings and Gratitude my friend…

  6. Lee Martin on October 24, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Blessing to you, too, my friend. Keep fortifying the spirit with the work that you do.

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