What To Do When the Well Runs Dry

If writing were easy, everyone would be doing it. So, even though it’s like working out at the gym or running (the more you do it, the more you can do), each day can be a new challenge, a new test of your commitment and skills.
Some days it just ain’t happening. You get up early (or whenever your writing time is—did I mention you need to have a regular time to write?), sit down, crank up the computer, and… nothing. You’re tempted to Facebook, read email, clean your desk.
Resist the temptation.
Write. Write something else.
if you’ve hit a dry spell in your current novel, start making notes on your next one. More than once, I’ve found that writing down ideas for my next book (working title: “The Dreamers”) somehow, magically, generates ideas for my current one. Even if that doesn’t happen, you’re not wasting your valuable, never-to-be-retrieved, writing time. You’re creating not just a book (or poem, or short story or screenplay), you’re creating a career.
Too many would-be writers I’ve met pour their hearts and souls into their one project, then, if they finish it, spend all their time trying to get it read and published. It’s as if they only have one idea, and they’re stuck on it.
That’s not how you create a writing career.
Sometimes I feel like making notes, or even writing a chapter in my “next” book is just a way of putting off writing my current one. I worry that I’ve run out of ideas. Maybe yes, maybe no. What I do know is, writing is better than pissing away time not writing.

Tip #1, continued: More on writing every day

The more you sit at your writing place every day, the easier it gets. It’s like doing pushups: it’s hard when you start, but those flabby muscles get stronger.

After a while you can start setting goals: so many words per day is the one I use. Choose a number just a little outside your comfort zone. If you can write 250 words per day, go for 500 WPD. If 500 seems easy, kick it up to 1,000.

Don’t expect to meet that goal every day; even when you’re in the zone, with words pouring out, it can come to a screeching halt. The flow can shrink to a trickle, or dry up.

Resist the urge to quit. Don’t do the email or Solitaire or YouTube.

Writers have dealt with dry spells in different ways. Somerset Maugham typed his name over and over: W. Somerset Maugham W. Somerset Maugham W. Somerset Maugham. Sportswriter Red Smith was asked if it was hard to turn out a daily column. He replied, “Why, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

When I was writing for television, I knew there was a paycheck waiting when I handed in my assignment. And possibly, another assignment. Great motivation. I have no such paycheck waiting now. And some days, I cannot get to my goal. I’ll talk about how to deal with this in future tips.

Note from a reader

Got this very nice email the other day. It makes me happy to know that some writers are reading this.

By day, I am a billing accountant for an engineering company.  By night, I write screenplays with my partner in crime (my wife) – and apparently I’m also an avid cartoon watcher/collector, coming as a surprise to myself; but my wife tells me the DVDs on my shelf make the truth plain and simple.

On the weekends, we watch cartoons to cereal, eat lunch over a movie, and work on our screenplays after dinner.

So upon discovering that you worked on so many of my favorite TV shows as a kid – AND the fact that you are a writer…

Dude.  You’re my freaking hero haha!

Forgive me if this e-mail sounds too “fan-mail” for its own good, but I just wanted to say thanks for your work.  It influenced my childhood, immensely.

And secondly, it’s inspiring to read what you have to say about writing.  I’ve spent years using my time after work to scribble down stories from my head, culminating into two uncompleted screenplays and one finished one (that my wife and I are still in the process of editing), so the idea of someday being able to at least be mentally satisfied with them, let alone share them publicly, is truly remarkable to me.  It’s inspiring to see how you have done so in your career and even affected my childhood in the process.

I look forward to keeping up with your blog as you journey on with your book!

PS: Wicked idea, selling those cartoon screenplays.  That is actually how I stumbled upon you.  I’ll definitely be picking one up to give to my wife as a gift at some point.

If you think this is kind of egotistical, you’re absolutely right. I’ve even got a new category for this (and all  the others I’ll be getting), ‘Shameless self-promotion.’

Writing Tip #1

Write every day. I know, I promised not to say what a million other writers say, but this is important; maybe the most important tip.

And, unless you’re going through this, or have done it, you cannot begin to imagine how hard it is to follow through. Let’s go through the steps to see how to get started.

“I don’t feel like it today,” is your worst enemy. The best, and maybe only way to even begin to deal with that monster is to set a regular time every day for writing, maybe an hour or two in the morning. If you go to work early, have kids to get to school or other tasks, make it an hour or two at night.

There will be many writing times when you stare at the screen, not writing. Or play solitaire, or read email, not writing. Or do anything but write.

Sit at your computer for your prescribed hours anyway.

Allow yourself one game of Solitaire, or ten minutes of email reading if you must. But that’s it.

How to write writing tips

Here are some typical writer topics:

  1. Write what you know
  2. Write every day
  3. Best markets for writing
  4. Hot topics
  5. Dealing with writer’s block
  6. How to find an agent
  7. How to find a publisher

I won’t be discussing any of those.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of websites dealing with those topics. I’m sure some of them have good advice.

What I want to write about is the day-to-day challenges (and occasional triumph—wahoo!) I’m facing in writing my first novel, The Story Store.

To be sure, I’ve got a leg up over some of my audience. I’ve written a couple hundred thousand words of fiction (TV) and non-fiction (books), so your struggles and mine might be different.

In that regard, I welcome readers to ask questions. If I don’t know the answer, I won’t bullshit you. If I have an answer you don’t like, tell me so. Very little of this is fact, it’s opinion based on experience. Your mileage, or that of other writers, may differ.

My first tip: don’t spend too much time reading what other writers say.

I was tempted to use “hello, World…”

…but decided to turn it on its side a little. This is my revised website, no longer a dust collector and recollections of a former career. Although there’s a bit of that on my ‘about me’ and ‘writing credits’ pages.

Writing tips.

Who the hell am I, giving out writing tips? I’m writing my first novel, fer crying out loud! Maybe no different from a lot of you reading this.

The truth is, this ain’t my first rodeo. I started writing for a living 34 years ago. Check out my credits here. And on IMDB.

Yeah, I’m a geezer.

But a geezer-writer.

I’m thinking this blog, for now anyway, will consist mostly of my adventures as a first-time novel writer and the lessons I’ve learned in my writing for a lot of television and non-fiction books.

I’m thinking this blog will turn into a conversation; I know some stuff that could be useful to those of you who are struggling with your first novel, or short story, or movie, or TV show. You might have solved a novel-writing problem that’s stumping me.

Or, this could be all one-way.

I’m game for whatever it turns out to be.