I’ve been in the writing game for many years: fiction, non-fiction, business, and poetry. I’ve also offered dozens of writing workshops over the past couple of years, and I can tell you with full confidence that the hardest thing about writing is not the lack of creative talent, knowledge of genres or wordsmithing, no.
The most difficult thing about writing is actually sitting down and writing!
Fear and the Creative Writer
It’s not my intention to come across as obtuse or sarcastic or simplistic here. For me, Newton’s First Law of Motion is in full swing here: an object at rest tends to stay at rest. It’s very difficult to overcome our resistance and get our butts into our writing spaces and open up the laptop or pull out some paper and get writing.
What’s interesting about this, for me, is the reason why it is so hard to stop procrastinating and to start writing. It’s not writer’s block or some other excuse like that, no. It’s got everything to do with fear.
Look, I see this all the time with my writing groups. We are terrified of what writing might do to us, we fear being judged by others, and so rather than take the risk, we simply avoid it altogether by not writing at all. That, by the way, is the real reason behind “writer’s block”... fear!
Overcoming the Fear of Writing
I’m no different than anyone else. I fall into the fear-trap frequently, and the only way out that works for me is to have a daily writing schedule that I force myself to stick to no matter what. I know, for example, that by 8:00 every morning, I’m going to be in one of two writing spaces, laptop open, notes beside me, ready to work. And I treat it like a job too. It’s the only thing that keeps me productive. If left to my own devices, I wouldn’t get anything written, ever.
A funny thing that many of my new writers notice too is that writing is actually hard work. I think we have this idea that writing is easy. All you have to do is learn words and a couple of formulas, and voila, you’re a writer. It doesn’t help either when Jessica Fletcher and other TV writers never actually write much on their shows! They’re always off doing other fun things. Miraculously, their books get written anyway.
But that’s not the way it really works. Writing is hard work. It’s challenging coming up with interesting and fresh story ideas, characters that don’t look like idiots, stories without zombies or vampires(!!), and then actually sitting down for a writing session.
So if you’re looking to be a more productive writer, the first thing to overcome is the fear of writing. Fight the inner resistance. Turn the TV off, log out of your social media, and make a habit of writing on a regular basis.
Julia Lye recently published her first novel Anelisha Knight In The Yarns Of Gods through DeeBee Books. Here is my interview with her.
Where did the idea for Anelisha Knight and The Yarns of Gods come from?
The Yarns of Gods technically began on my 12th birthday, way back in 2009, when my aunt and uncle gifted me a 320-page journal. As soon as I ripped off the wrapping, I decided to get writing, mid-party. At the time, it didn't matter what came of it. I just didn't stop, not even to this day.
After the success of that present, I started to receive journals from my family every birthday and Christmas, even my friends took up the new tradition, and I made it my mission to fill every journal to the last page. The Anelisha Knight books turned into a six-book series (now reduced to a three-book trilogy) and an entire universe was formed in ten other journals with several different main characters. But Anelisha Knight came first.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing The Yarns of Gods?
Time management was a big one. I wrote the majority of the book over the summer break between my third and fourth year at Carleton, but once I was back in classes, it became difficult to focus on editing the book and I had to extend some deadlines. Having daily goals and a plan to finish however many pages within a certain amount of time made it all more manageable, and having a forgiving publisher kept the stress off my back. Finally finishing the book felt even more rewarding after working on it for so long.
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
When I first began Anelisha Knight back when I wrote the first version in a journal, I was a pantser, writing whatever came to mind in a very stream-of-consciousness fashion. However, after I had that first edition out, I became a plotter, working with what I had already written. I tweaked it to omit the parts that the story didn’t need and expanded on the bits that kept my interest. Now, when I write new stories, I walk the line between pantser and plotter. My outlines are more like guidelines giving me an idea of where the story is meant to go, but I also let my writing take me by surprise as I follow winding rabbit holes.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For the most part, I like to incorporate the little themes and quirks that impact me most from my favourite movies, books, TV shows and even every-day life into my writing and make it my own. The bigger the emotional roller coaster, the better.
Now that The Yarns of Gods is out, can you tell us what’s next for your protagonist Anelisha Knight, or would that be giving away too much?
If I go into detail, it would be too easy to spoil the end of The Yarns of Gods, but I can speak about Anelisha, herself. After all, these books are first and foremost about her journey as a character through thick and thin. The end of the first book sees a big change in the life of Anelisha Knight, that forces her to face new dilemmas and hardships which threaten to consume her in the next book of the trilogy. She has experienced, firsthand, what it is to feel utterly alone, but has also fallen victim to devastating betrayal. Now, she needs to find her footing on new ground while measuring how much of her broken trust she is willing to give to others.
Do you have any tips for writers who want to write their novel?
The best advice I can give is to write. For a lot of people, that can be the hardest part of writing, but even sitting down for ten or twenty minutes a day and getting out whatever comes to mind will help oil the engine of your creativity. A good way to do that without distraction, I’ve found, is to write in a journal and then type it up later. That way, there’s no option of the internet to steal away hours of your writing time, as it so often does for me. And if you think of something in the shower or on your commute or at work, write it down, compile it, and use it however you can. Those little moments of inspiration are some of the best motivators to get you working on the story unfurling in your head.
Julia Lye is a writer living and working in Ottawa, Ontario.