My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Six Ways to Not Actually Write


Ima Lister here. Today I have a list for everyone who wants to be a writer but doesn't actually want to write. And I'm pretty sure that's going to be a very useful list in this community!

By now you’ve started to suspect the truth: writing is work, and dreaming about just being a writer is a whole lot easier. Maybe you’re running out of things to do that aren’t writing. Perhaps you’ve even found yourself sitting in front of your computer and starting to think of sentences.
I'm here to help!

What is the point of dreaming of groupie threesomes, fame, and untold wealth if it’s just going to come with a 60-hour-a-week price tag and years of struggling in obscurity–if you ever make it at all? What is the point of imagining success if you actually have to risk failure to get there?

 If this is your dilemma (and you just don't really actually like the writing itself), never fear, this list is for you!

1- Writing can wait:

Post that thing on Facebook that’ll get you into a huge political debate. Your day just got interesting! Did a new season of House of Cards just drop on Netflix? Can you say binge watch? Friends heading out for a night of debauchery that won’t truly be over until the hangover wears off….the day AFTER tomorrow? Rock rock on Cheat Commando! New video game came out? Play it till your eyes bleed. Or surely your favorite MMO has some kind of special event going on (or coming up that you need to prepare for). Really the possibilities are endless. And if you’re thinking of being a writer, you surely have the creativity to come up with even more things that aren’t writing. Zero moderation!

Punchline: most writers do some of these things. They’re an easily glamoured lot with an insatiable taste for art and entertainment. Almost all have have blown an entire day watching Daredevil or reading the current author they can’t get enough of. You can indignantly point to them and rationalize any level of procrastination–even “indefinite.” 

The only difference is eventually they put down the distractions and write (or more likely did the writing before they “earned” some relaxation time in front of their distraction), while all you have to do is just keep repeating step one over and over again, and never really get around to the writing.

Look, it’s really simple. If you make the choice to write, you’ve taken the first step. You might never be published, read, appreciated, paid, but you’ll never even have to mess around with that risk of rejection or phenomenal work if you never actually do the writing in the first place. If you just don’t ever do it, it will never get done.

So why even bother with the other steps of avoiding work when all you really have to do is never quite get around to it.

2- Never Triage Your Life

Priorities. Meh. Priorities are for REAL writers.

You can do it all. Always.

Well, you can't do it ALL, but guess what slides quite easily to the back burner? Did you guess writing? Give yourself a cookie.

Do not worry about trying to consider your time as a limited resource and your decisions about what to do to do with that time to require forethought and conscious examination of priorities.

Take that promotion even if it comes with ten more hours a week of work. Join that raiding guild. Get involved with that long distance relationship who wants to Skype every night and do no less that a weekend a month. Commit a 20-hour period (from prep through recovery) each week to live action role playing. Volunteer to teach impoverished youth. Live life with no limits. No, don’t pick any one of these things–that’s something those working writers would do, picking the most important one or two that can fit into their life with their writing time. Pick them all!

Being a dreamer means never having to say no. If you can come up with any reason that any of these things might be good, ever, then you should keep adding to your plate and be perfectly justified in getting snotty with anyone who thinks you might need to pare down your life. Keep doing this until there’s no possible room left for writing. Then you can dream indefinitely and always be too busy to do any actual work.

Who the hell says "No, I can't. I have to write"?   Writers. That's who.

3- Never Stick With Anything

Finishing a single project is a lot of work. And I don’t just mean a montage of you brewing coffee, you clacking away Bruce Almighty style, and bam it’s done. I mean, it's a LOT of work. Especially when you hit that point where you realize you have to flesh out your “golden diapers” idea and couple of sweet, epic scenes you’ve envisioned with a beginning a middle and an end, details you haven’t thought of yet, character development, and hours worth of effort (if we’re talking about a novel, and you’re pretty fucking determined, about 2000 hours).

Again there is an elegant beauty here. Writers regularly advise that it’s okay to have a few irons in the fire, and if you can conveniently skip the part where most of them are talking about having a steady writing gig (like a blog) and maybe a short and a long work in progress as well as basically ignore how often those same writers emphasize how important it is to finish things you start, you can just keep adding more “irons to the fire” and never really dealing with the fact that you start a lot of shit you are never going to finish. Pretty soon you have fifty or sixty “Chapter 1”s and haven’t actually done any work in years.

I mean even that expression is a blacksmith allusion about having one iron heating up while you pound out something else, but what blacksmith didn’t avoid a little work by adding fifteen, twenty, thirty irons to their fire so that, even according to physics, none of them could get hot enough? The blacksmiths that actually were blacksmiths, that’s who. ("What's that? The manor lord wants his broadsword before the crusade leaves tomorrow? Well as you can CLEARLY see, the irons aren't hot enough yet.")

But at least you can get in on that sweet blacksmith dreamer action where you only imagine yourself with the beefy right arm and the vengeful Spaniards banging at your door.

4- Wait for The Perfect Situation

A great writerly-sounding way to not do any work is to dress up your procrastination in little formal wear and walk it around town like it’s something other than just run-of-the-mill procrastination. It’s like having a toy poodle in a hoop skirt or a toddler wearing a tuxedo. It just never gets old!

Remember do NOT sit down whether you’re feeling it or not–you have to be in the right mood to write (even if that mood comes but once every month or two). It has to be right time of the day or the Feng shui of your whole creative flow will be disrupted more than a living room without a little waterfall in it. Tell people you can’t get started until the sewing room is converted into an office. Then you can’t get started until you get that great desk. Then you need a MacBook Pro, but as soon as you have the money for that you are going to get started. (“Excuse me while I out bid this asshole trying to snipe me for this limited-edition Avengers helicarrier.”) Then you can’t get started until you have the right music. Then you can’t get started until you have that particular four hours set aside every single day. Then you can’t get started until you’re feeling inspired, which might require seeing that movie you watched the first time you had the idea and getting a little drunk—better make a night of it. Basically this can just go on forever if you want it to. (There is a wonderful list of excuses [over here]. All you have to do is tweak them ever so slightly so that you believe them yourself.)

Writers, of course, love special desks and music and inspiration and dedicated time each day, but you’ll find them longhand gutting out a sentence on the floor of the laundry room for the ten minutes their shirts take to dry if you take all those things away. But for you, that's just unnecessary work. The more pretentious you can be about what you need before you get started, the longer you can put off any real effort.

5- Hang on to Everything

Going back to the drawing board is a lot of work. Don't ever, ever, ever, ever kill your darlings.

Whether it is a character who doesn't quite fit, a scene that's doing nothing, or just that work that you wrote back in high school that for some reason won't gel, don't give up. No matter how much it isn't working, you just keep poking at it. Remember, everything you ever write should be slated for eventual publication, and that means that you never give up on anything.

See, if you put that in a drawer for a few years (or better yet call it excellent writing practice and move on), you have to actually do some serious work of coming up with something totally new. Writing drafts is tough.

On the other hand, if you hang onto that old work, you give yourself a never ending "retooling" license. You can always be revising that one work. Going back and noodling that one scene. Combine this with not finishing anything and you can have actual WRITING SESSIONS where you don't really actually do any work!

How fucking awesome is that, you would-be writer, you!

6- Rough Draft? More Like Perfect Draft!

If you start thinking that getting it out onto the page is the vital first step and that you'll fix things on revision, you are going to end up just putting in a MONUMENTAL amount of work. What you need to do is get that shit perfect in one sentence. If you start respecting how messy the writing process is, it won't be long before you're working a lot more than you ever thought possible and cutting way into your dreams of Manhattan penthouses and threesomes.

(Not a lot of people know this, but Van Gogh's Starry Night was painted in one stroke. He just went SLURRRRRP! BAM!  That's what makes it amazeballs. Not some sense of effort that went into it.)

Let me explain why this is genius. Because it's so genius, it's double genius. With genius sauce.

If you're not ready to trust the process and resign yourself to all the work of revision, you will not only avoid all those messy drafts that you don't need. You will also sit paralyzed in front of the page (or computer) unable to write a single word for fear that it isn't perfect.

So not only will you not work on the mucky gluck of revision if you finish this draft, you're so worried about being perfect that you'll never get the damned draft done in the first place. Double whammy not-work. Boo yah!

Shutting the fuck up and writing is a lot of work at the end of the day, but if you give ear to every distraction, self-doubt, and frustration, you won't ever really have to. Then you can want to be a writer and dream of how your life will be so much better when you achieve writer success without having to do the "lots of fucking work" part that so many writers seem to incessantly extol. If you use this list, you even have the tools with which to be righteously indignant if someone does suggest that your formula for success is missing a little bit of elbow grease.

If you're enjoying this blog, and would like to see more articles like this one, the writer is a guy with a rent and insurance to pay who would love to spend more time writing. Please consider contributing to My Patreon. As little as $12 a year (only one single less-than-a-cup-of-coffee dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, and my special ear when I ask for advice about future projects or blog changes.


  1. Well said. Reminds me of this Michelangelo quote, "If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all."

  2. This is epic! Every sentence was a hit, back to back. I only pray people won't read this and just swallow the words as they are, instead of washing and cooking them into the wonder banquet they are. And thanks for writing this Lma.

  3. Love your blog! Especially the psots like this that are a nice kick in the butt to make me go just freaking write. Think I'll go finish that blog post I've been procrastinating on haha Keep being awesome