Marilynne Robinson, author of the Pulitzer prize winning novel Gilead, among other gems, spent years working out her Pulitzer winner in her head before engaging in any hard writing. Once she finally sat down to write it though, she finished the novel in eighteen months, which is incredibly fast for a masterpiece.
Now we can’t all be as lucky or as gifted as Robinson, but we can start building an attitude that values soft writing for the sake of our own writing, and, more importantly, for the sake of our mentality about our writing.
I’m the first to kick my proverbial butt for letting another day pass without producing any new pages for my book-in-progress. But what I often forget to acknowledge while beating myself up for failing, yet another day, at being a writer, is how many hours I logged thinking about my stories. Not, of course, simply thinking about what I’ve already written, but how I can make it better, what I can add to it, take away from it.
I need to start giving myself credit for soft writing, and I need to start treating it as something akin to work (notice my hesitation about that statement, even now!), because soft writing does indeed matter. The time I spend thinking about my stories will matter not only when I finally sit down to work on re-writing them, but also because the number one thing that keeps me from writing tomorrow is the fact that I didn’t write today.
As a professional excuse-finder, I’m really skilled at psyching myself out of something long before I even have the chance to do it. It’s easy for me to discourage myself from writing, especially if it’s been several days (or more) since I’ve done so. It’s easy for me to start thinking negatively of my capabilities as a writer the longer I’ve kept myself from doing it.
Over time, I’ve come to see that life often gets in the way of writing, but I’m only beginning to notice when I get in my own way. It’s my own negative thinking, above all else, that gets in the way of my writing. And this negative thinking manifests itself in many ways, from beating myself for not having written anything for a long time to instantly criticizing the words that make it onto the page.
I need to find ways to give myself a break as much for the sake of my writing as for the sake of my mental health. And one of the ways to do this is to give myself credit for the soft writing I’ve done on a given day, including the thoughts I’ve had about my stories, the brainstorming on paper, the online research, and on and on. I need to start acknowledging the benefit to stepping away from the page and gathering the tools I need to return to it, better prepared than before.
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