7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Writer

To be or not to be...writing vs. playing Angry Birds

Disclaimer: After reading this blog—which you are probably doing right now instead of writing your own blog or editing your own manuscript–you will better understand the problem areas in your writing life. I offer no cures. I think we both know there’s only one way to get those words on the page. Write.

Anyway, here’s everything you need to know to become a highly ineffective writer.

1.      Surround yourself with clutter.

By all means, do not write in a clean, neatly organized room, for if you do, you will find limited reasons to procrastinate. If there are no laundry to fold, no papers to grade, no toys to pick up, no dishes to wash, no books to read, and no dirt to vaccum, then the only thing left to do is to write.

I am a minimalist by nature. Honestly, I HATE clutter. I could live in a hotel room as long as a maid cleaned the bathroom and made the bed. Better yet, give me a rustic, clean cabin in the woods. If I see clutter, my obsessive nature kicks in. I can’t think about writing because all I want to do is clean.

2.      Place an object of temptation within your reach.

Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t think you’ll reward yourself for your 500 words by with a quick interlude of entertainment. Like to crochet? Put down the needle. You’ll only hurt yourself. Of course, you like to read, but that one chapter soon turns into two, and then before you know it, you’re engrossed, hooked. There are no intervention plans, folks. Withdrawal from a good book is killer.

My object of temptation? The guitar. My laptop is within an arm’s distance of two guitars and an amp. Even as I write this, I tell myself, “No. I will not pick up the guitar. I will not pick up the guitar.” But I already have.  True, one chord never hurt anybody. But I can’t stop at one chord. Now that I’ve learned how to move up and down the neck, I’m sliding over every fret. Dangerous.

3.      Participate in a pre-writing ritual.

What do you do before you fire up the laptop? Make a pot of coffee? Watch some reality TV? You’re not one of those fitness people are you? Tell me you don’t work out before you write. (If you tell me you do, then I’ll feel even more guilty. Not only will I have to admit to being a highly ineffective writer, I’ll also have to admit to being a lazy, highly ineffective writer.)

The point is if you become too focused on your ritual, you’ll place more emphasis on preparation than on production. Me? I MUST have coffee. But coffee is not enough. To clear my mind, I must go for a ride and
drink my coffee. When I get home, I’m usually tired. Then I need a nap. By the time I wake up, the day is done, and my writing is not.

4.      Stop writing; start researching.

You’ve set a goal. 1000 words? 2000 words? But the world of research calls. Do you answer, or return to the page? Research is fun. Research burns minutes. And hours. Even days.

I love research. Give me a name or a subject, and within an hour I can tell you anything you want to know about anyone or anything. And when I research, my mind wanders. And when my mind wanders, I think of new projects. But my old project never moves forward. Then I have TWO unfinished projects.

5.      Immerse yourself in a bottomless pit of social media.

By all means, get your name out there. Twitter. YouTube. Facebook. Google. But can you stop at one status, or do you find yourself wandering off to Farmville, Angry Birds or Zuma?

My downfall? I’m hooked on stupid Facebook quizzes, but I have learned so much about myself. If I were a vampire, my hidden gift would be to see into the future. If I were a Disney princess, I would be Snow White, but if I were a character from a horror flick, I’d be Chucky. What do my eyes reveal? I have a deep, dark secret I don’t want to share with others.

I wonder how much writing I could have achieved if I hadn’t been taking these quizzes.

6.  Become a jack of all trades, a master of none.

Your family needs you. Your church needs you. Your boss needs you. Your organization needs you. You have 24 hours in a day. By the time you’ve made the meals, served on three committees, spent an extra hour on the job, and organized a Boy Scouts fundraiser, you’re tired. You probably don’t feel like writing. But the real question is did God call you to do ALL of these things, or did you call yourself?

I’m one of those people who have a hard time saying ”no.” I believe I have a purpose, a calling to write. But so many other things pull me away from what I KNOW I’m supposed to do. While it is commendable to teach Vacation Bible School or to take youth on church camp retreats, I don’t believe God expects me to do everything that is commendable. I think he gave me the desire of my heart (writing), and I think He will give me the time to pursue it—if I’m not guilted into doing the things He’s not calling me to do. Unfortunately,I am the most guilty at making myself feel guilty.

7.  Never, ever forgive yourself when you fail.

Life happens. Deadlines for contests pass, and we don’t meet them. We rush a query letter to the post office, and then we realize the editor only accepts e-mail. We trade our 1,500 words a day goal to go play in
the park with our children. We lose the business card of a potential agent. Epic failures.

While we’re at it, we might as well condemn ourselves for ever sin we’ve ever committed, It’s so easy to make ourselves feel bad. It’s so hard to make ourselves work when we feel so bad about ourselves.

In the past year, I have suffered tremendous losses, and my writing success has slowed to a crawl. I feel like a failure because I lack the emotional punch to keep me going. Sometimes I fear I have reached a dead end, but I can’t stop there—even if it means turning around and finding another way out, another route to success.

We know what it feels like to fail others. Have you really thought about how it feels when you fail yourself? It  hurts just as badly. But just as we forgive others, we must forgive ourselves.

No one is perfect. We are all works in progress.

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16 thoughts on “7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Writer

  1. Okay, so I like have to amen numbers 5,6, and 7. But I have a question. Since when did you start playing Angry Birds?! Angry Birds is so freaking awesome. What worlds have you beaten? I guess I am distracting your writing by talking about Angry Birds now aren’t I?

    • I used Angry Birds in honor of you and Hippie Chick. I do not play Angry Birds. I refuse to get caught up in that world. I haven’t played Zuma in a few weeks, but I am caught up in those silly quizzes. If I were a dog, I would be a collie. Does that matter to you? Should it matter to me?

    • Woo hoo! I’m not alone. Thanks for taking time to read Cathey. I’ve had such a hard year. Sometimes I feel so isolated. Having people respond to what I write helps me feel connected somehow. I really appreciate you.

  2. The few ideas I have had for writing rarely came when I sat down to do it; they usually came while riding down the road thinking of something completely unrelated. Enjoyable piece. Thanks.

    • My ideas come to me so randomly. Usually, they come to me on mornings when I can lie in bed and not have to get up and just let my mind wander. Those are the best days. A rainy day like today would be a perfect day for daydreaming. But I’m a big of riding down the road and listening to the music and whatever happens to float into my brain. When I was a little kid and my parents drove to Nashville for Christmas shopping trips, I always looked out the window and imagined myself on a horse galloping through the fields. Silly, huh? 🙂

  3. Ummmmmm I thought you were going to cut yourself some slack? Your writing is so entertaining and easy to relate to! I’m not a writer, but I remember a really old movie called “I Remember Mama” It is a kind of campy movie and I remember watching it with my mom when I was 7 or 8 and in later years, I watched it with my husband. The premise of the movie was a young girl wanting to be a writer and in her experiences she came across a ‘famous’ writer who agreed to read her manuscript. The lady told her “Write about what you know.” I surmise that doing the things that are satisfying and make you happy will make you a better writer. To quote a Pastor and friend “do the things that bring you joy.”

  4. I struggle with #6. It’s so hard to say no. I like doing research too… not for any particular purpose, I’m just “passionately curious”! (I like that quote from Einstein.)

  5. I think I could be a private investigator. I just love digging for details. I guess I’ve always wanted to be part of the Scooby Doo gang and drive a Mystery Machine too. 🙂 I was talking with a friend a work today about finding balance. I am not in balance right now, and I know it. I do believe I will get there, but it may take me time to get my physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and creative parts where they should be.

  6. I am so inspired by your heart’s tug of war with what you do compared to what you are called to do! You don’t know the times that I have played Zuma and as I would play I would ask myself, when are you going to start writing, I just didn’t know what or when! This past year I had a motorcycle wreck and it sure slowed me down and tonight I started back writing Children’s Books again which seems to be where my heart is. I honestly can’t thank you enough for sharing your thoughts! Sure is encouraging to me to know there are others out there that struggle with the jump start phase!

    • Thank you so much for reading my blog and for inspiring me! I am happy to hear that you have returned to your calling. It is very difficult to overcome obstacles that slow us down physically and emotionally, but I’m proud of you for taking the first step. There will be more obstacles to follow, but please don’t give up. I would really like to hear more about your writing projects!

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