Outwitting the Hump

Sometimes when I sit down to write I am on fire; inspired and eager to get at the story. Those are the easy times. If I only ever wrote when I felt like this I might churn out a couple of short stories or a paltry few chapters each year.

Most times when I sit down to write at 5am I encounter my old nemesis: The Hump of Resistance. He’s a kindly old soul who only wants what’s best for me. “You’re too tired right now,” he’ll say in a soothing voice. “You’ve been working hard to keep a roof over everyone’s heads and food on the table, you should give yourself at least a couple of mornings a week to just sleep in,” he’ll croon, words dripping with compassion and caring. “You can hardly be expected to write anything worthwhile when you’re this exhausted.”

I’ve learned not to look directly at him…on a cold winter morning like this one he’ll hold out a nice soft blanky that smells suspiciously like it just came out of the dryer, his head tipped to one side and his expression a comic parody of inviting sympathy and understanding. I ignore him. Really? You’re trying the warm fragrant blanky seduction? Come on! I sip my tea and stare at the glowing computer screen. “You could just lay your head down for a few minutes,” he’ll whisper.

I resolutely sip more hot tea, feeling it burn across my tongue and warm my stomach. I am starting to wake up and the voices of my characters are beginning to be able to compete with The Hump’s dulcet tones. Still ignoring him, I begin to get a gossamer glimmer about what I might write this morning. I begin to see a theme and a pattern. A few sentences occur to me and I tap the keys and begin to fill white space.

By the time I get up to make my second cup of tea, or perhaps put on a pot of coffee, I have usually banished him. He slowly, almost imperceptibly fades and my muse comes online. Then the writing is easy, like gliding across ice on newly sharpened skates; smooth, effortless, the slightest push carries me miles.

lone ice skater

Writers: how do you push through? Do you write every day? Do you follow any ritual to get started?

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26 thoughts on “Outwitting the Hump

  1. Thanks for sharing this inspiring reflection. I don’t write everyday, but several times each week. When I’m not feeling really inspired, I edit the many stories I have in progress. But I write new work when I am inspired, when the ideas are coming in too fast to write them properly. At these times I’ll often write down a sequence of scene ideas, and save them. Then I come back to them when I have time, and let them remind me of a time when the muse was chattering along unrestrained, and fill in the details. This is my best writing time and when the longer stories take shape.

    •   I like Hemingway’s advice to “Write drunk, and edit sober.” Not so much because I get drunk and write (not saying I haven’t ever done that – but never at 5am, at least!), but because to me it implies a necessity to write fast and full of fire “chattering and unrestrained” when we can, and then, as you say, come back to it with a cool head and fill in the details.         

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  2. It is hard sometimes to get it going. I do write almost every day, typically the first half-hour to hour staring dumbly at the laptop until I can form a sentence. Then it slowly builds from there until I’m full of ideas for where to go next and typing furiously and have to tear myself away when I absolutely have to leave for work. I then save much of my headful of ideas for next time, and by next time I’ve forgotten them, and here we go again. I don’t know if that counts as a ritual, but that’s my m.o.

    • Ha! Your m.o.; I like that, Kenneth. Ideas are evanescent and tricky things. Even if we take notes, sometimes the feeling, the essence of the thing that so excited in the moment is lost and unattainable at a later writing session. But so it goes. We must trudge off to the day job!

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  3. I’ve been in non-productive mode for the past 4 months so your post was very timely for me. I’m ready to get started again but it’s daunting after so much time off. Your words provided that little push that I needed. Thank you!

  4. I try to get my writing in before work also. This has its good and bad sides. Good because I think it helps my writing to come to the page soon when I’m out of my dream state and I’m not carrying the weight of the day. Bad because if the words really are flowing, I have to stop no matter what to get to work and I may not have the momentum the next day to pick up where I left off.

    I wish I had time to do the Morning Pages every day, but that would seriously cut into progress on my WIP.

    • Lately I’ve just been trying some free writing about my new characters, trying to get to know them, and hear their voices. I like that half-in/half-out dream state right upon waking too, Jackie. Some of the most surprising material spills out during those hours!         

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    •   Your talent is too good to waste, Christine. I know at some point you’ll have enough distance and healing to be where you need to be again. xo               

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  5. Good for you to keep the words coming out each day. I find later in the day as my energy wanes that that voice of giving up kicks in and I have to ignore it. Sometimes I switch from fiction to nonfiction writing and the jolt of difference kicks me back into action. There’s always some nonfiction that’s got to be done so at least I keep the towering pile of projects from collapsing onto me.

    •   The towering pile, yes, Judith, it’s never seems to go away, does it? Right now I am querying, so I fit that in where I can during late day, but try and keep the mornings sacrosanct – otherwise I let other things: phone calls, emails, the day job, family, distract and derail my fiction writing, which isn’t good!               

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  6. Thank you Cynthia I am glad I am not alone. I have a routine. I run on my running machine as soon as I wake and then a mug of green tea and up to my study , it works for me. I am undecided about two different paths for my character to take. I feel my gut feeling will decide. I am excited to see how this will evolve.Have a great day.

    • It’s so important for writers to get up off our behinds, Mardi. I admire your self-discipline, getting it in right away like that.  I usually try and take a walk with my Pom, Zeus, after I get done writing. Yes, by all means, follow your gut (things usually turn out best that way). Let me know how it goes!         

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  7. The Hump of Resistance evidently makes the rounds. I don’t start writing quite as early as you, so he has plenty of time to slunk away from your writing nook and head over to mine, where he attempts to bait me with similar empty promises.

    I think you hit the nail on the head, though. He’s there. Always there. There’s nothing to do but ignore him. Give him even a sliver of attention and he’ll latch onto it like a reality TV star latches onto their 15 minutes. Come hell or high water, he’s not letting go.

    But, never give him the opportunity to dissuade you and he throws in the towel surprisingly fast.

  8. For me, the key to pushing through is to read the work of others that have inspired me. I actually have a file of favorite passages form favorite books that, inevitably when I re-read, inspires my own words. It works every time. The key, however, is to opening that inspirational document regularly, when the muse won’t participate!

    • Oooo, what a great idea, Melissa! I like to read to get the creative juices flowing too, but hadn’t ever thought of keeping a file to inspire me. May have to do that!         

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  9. I feel this 100%. At this point I’m so pleased with myself for getting up at 5am that I’m a little easier on myself for spending half that writing time worrying about what to write (on the macro AND micro levels).

    • You should be pleased! It’s HARD some mornings. Yes, I know what you mean. The clamor for attention of all the differing topics and stories is confusing, at times. I try and go with what I am most passionate about.

  10. Cynthia, I don’t know why, but I’m just tickled that you’re a tea drinker, too! Cheers! (raising my cup of P&G Tips)

    Brute force works for me. If I’m at a loss on a new scene, throw them a monkey wrench and imagine what happens.

  11. Cynthia, as an English professor grading essays for hours on end, I am used to extended sitting. Now in this current phase as a writer, getting the seat of my slacks to contact the seat of my cushioned writing chair does the trick.

    Keeping up with a blog too is a built-in discipline. Twice weekly I post memoir-like snippets from my Mennonite childhood, and my readers expect something more from me than rough ramblings. I’m not saying it’s easy, and sometimes I walk away, but I can “mute” my other life when I have to. Some habits are hard to break.

    I like your lines so apt for the season: Then the writing is easy, like gliding across ice on newly sharpened skates; smooth, effortless, the slightest push carries me miles.

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