If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When?

The worst danger a writer confronts is procrastination. There’s no plot hole that can’t be filled, there’s no writer’s block that can’t be worked through. Unless you quit.

Dashiell Hammett: If the story’s stalled, have a man carrying a gun come through the door.

I can’t guarantee the quote’s absolutely accurate. It still makes the point. The first job is to get the words on paper – or the screen, if that’s your style. Until you see your words with your eyes, you have nothing. Even if you write slop and have to throw it out and start over, you’ve kept moving forward. More to the point, you’ve kept the story vital; it, too, has moved forward, if only in the sense that you’ve learned to avoid that path. The real problem is when we stop the flow. Once we allow ourselves to quit moving for any length of time, we stagnate. As writers creating new material we believe in our hearts that every word we commit to the story (article, poem, script) is perfect. In our minds, we know that’s malarkey. We know we’re going to rewrite, revise, edit, etc. If we have an agent and an editor, we’ll get to all of it all over again. At least twice. But what if we decide we don’t want to work that hard? What if we allow ourselves to procrastinate? The work dies. It dies if we let that plot hole swallow us. It dies if we surrender to what we like to call writer’s block (which is just a term invented to mask procrastination at its worst). Your story may not tolerate a man with a gun suddenly appearing, but there’s something that’ll jumpstart it. You don’t put off searching for it and finding it. We experiment, we hack, we put down gibberish, but we keep pushing forward until the right stuff shows up.

You’re the only person who can tell your story. I don’t care if you’re writing about proper paperclip maintenance – you do it your way. Just do it. Take a break? Sure. Back off and re-think something? Of course. But never let yourself confuse refreshment and retreat. Understand that not all your ideas will work. Never forget that no idea will work if you don’t push it to its – and your – limits.

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