January 25, 2020

The Five Stages of Writing

The Sun sets on another productive (?) day.

It’s a daily battle that every writer must struggle with.

There’s a great scene in the British TV sitcom Spaced, where Daisey sits down and prepares to engage in the act of writing. As she looks around her, she sees chaos. Dishes needing to be washed. Pots needing to be scrubbed. Anything suddenly looks more appealing than putting the first word on a page. As the situation devolves, a decision is finally reached: “Let’s have a party,” she declares, knowing that the panic instilled in herself by the imminent arrival of friends now gives her a very good reason to quit writing and instead clean house.

It’s funny how a writer’s mind works. I have a pet theory that most successful writers are married to other writers, as few rank and file 9-to-5-ers would understand just how a writer’s mind works. Yes, staring out the window is indeed still vital work that needs to be done.

I’ve done it myself, especially when it comes to fiction writing. Running errands is still work, right? After all, I’m not really running away from crucial work that NEEDS to be done…

It’s a pitfall, to become swept away by life. I call it becoming the ‘Lord of Little Things,’ reacting to and putting out tiny fires at the expense of stillness and allowing the big thoughts needed to write to come.

There’s writing, then there’s preparing to write. Sure, we love what we do, and would do it whether we’re paid to or not… but getting paid for words that spring from our brain means there’s money to solve those other persistent problems, meaning more time to write. Just like a construction worker, a writer must haul tools to the construction site, set up, and prepare for the real work to begin.

One thing I learned in the military is that you never confuse planning with training. Likewise, while the trappings of the business of writing are necessary (promotion, invoicing, pitching etc) don’t confuse them with the act of bumping up the word count. That’s product versus process, and it’s a never-ending battle to strike a good balance between the two.

You could even lay out the stages of engaging writing in a similar fashion to the stages of grief:

Denial: Convincing yourself that formerly dreaded tasks are suddenly vitally necessary, in order to avoid writing. Hey, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all fall under the umbrella of ‘promoting my book,’ right?

Anger: It’s easy to look for things to blame, and soon, everything seems like a ‘minus one,’ bound to draw you away from the very act of writing. Every doorbell, every chirp, every incoming message. Flipping the wifi switch on your laptop to ‘off’ does wonders.

Bargaining: The old stick and carrot approach. The truth is, you can get away with it… for a while. I’ll complete 2,000 words today, say, and reward myself by going to the movies to goof off tomorrow.

Depression: Often rears its head as the garden-variety ‘writers block.’ Suddenly, nothing looks adequate, and no one is reading your stuff. But I’d counter that, if you’re not into self-loathing your writing at least some of the time, you are very probably doing it wrong.

And finally, Acceptance: Say it as many times as needed: No one can make the words hit the page but me. If I wait for the perfect time, and the perfect place, it will never happen. I’ll then be relegated to that 99.999% of humanity that feels ‘they’ve got a novel in them…’ Putting that first word on the paper is a noble and vital step. You’ll have you’re whole life to write that first novel, but if it’s successful, there will be deadline for the second.


  1. George Balogi says:

    The ‘planet nine’ link is a dead link in your KT19 article.

    -George Balogi

  2. David Dickinson says:

    Thanks… fix’d!

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