On Not Writing

I have a compulsion. I have to write. No, I have to write. If I don’t write at least five double-spaced pages a day, I feel as if I’ve failed. Fallen behind. Wasted the day. It’s the curse of the scribe. If I don’t put words on paper (okay, on the screen), then I’m not working. And if I’m not working, I have no reason for being. I’m just taking up space. I write therefore I am.

But this, I know, is a bad attitude. But knowing the problem doesn’t always help the situation.  I have to force myself to sit still and not write. Why, you ask? There are many benefits to not writing. I’m not talking about doing nothing, just not writing. Reading, researching, making notes, collecting my thoughts, figuring out what to write, accumulating substance–that’s what I’m talking about. A lot of writers are long on style but short on substance. The author doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but he or she strains to say it beautifully. The result: empty reading calories. I know very well how this happens, and I’ve been guilty of it myself. But the compulsion takes over. Gotta make the daily quota whether I have something to say or not. The assembly line keeps chugging along, and I have to keep up. I have to make those damn widgets!

I’ve started working on a new book, a historical novel, and right now I’m at the hardest and, I’d say, most important stage, the Not-Writing Stage. I’m reading, surfing the web, gathering books and articles, taking notes–and it’s killing me. I want to dive right in, get the show on the road, put the pedal to the metal, and kick out my five pages a day so that I’ll feel that I’m really doing something. But I must plug my ears to this siren song and not open up a new file and type out “Chapter 1.” Not yet.  I have to stockpile my ammo first. There’s nothing worse than getting to the middle of the manuscript and having nothing else to say. Style will fill only so many pages.

One thought on “On Not Writing

  1. To our dear Bruno-san: From Sheila and Jan. We really enjoyed this. We’ve now finished the first book in our planned sci-fi/fantasy series for middle readers. It took us three years almost to the day. Looking back, we see the truth of what you wrote here. As frustrating as it was when we weren’t making forward progress in our book, those periods were invaluable for research, discussion, plotting, and everything else that goes with writing a good book with substance as well as style. We couldn’t have said it better than you said it in this piece. And we’re both eager to read your next book, the historical novel. Happy researching!!!! The Internet makes it so much easier!!!!

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