The Power of Stop. Breathe. Write On.

stop-breathIf we’re honest, us writers tend to be a little on the obsessive side. We get an idea, a character forms, and before we know it, we’re tits deep in 30,000 words of wordish vomit. We swim in it like it’s a jacuzzi with naked waiters continuously handing out glasses of champagne. No one wants to get out of that jacuzzi, I know I sure as shit don’t.

But sometimes, after you’ve been chucking up the good kind of word vomit (the one that’s rough round the edges but makes pretty pictures in the middle) all of a sudden it stops. Then you’re pouring out illegible turds, minus the glitter and shine.

Something’s broke. Really broke. It’s not writers block, because the words still come. Only now they’re turd-words instead of smothered with genius literary butter.

Now, no matter what you do, the pretty word vomit won’t come back. So what do you do? If you’re anything like me, you either:

  • Beat yourself with a pen chain and spiral bound notepad until your face is pitted with imprints or
  • Fall into a deep pit of self-deprecating writerly hatred

Neither of which are particularly effective at producing anything other than obscure shaped bruises. Trust me.

I had to try something new… So today, is less of a crazy lesson with bookish explanations and crude examples, and instead a lesson I’ve learnt through experience on my writing journey.

I’m working on 13 Steps to Evil right now, it’s my non-fiction book designed to help writers create the best villains possible. But something was off. It wasn’t hanging right and I couldn’t get the examples right. No matter what I did, crapsicles kept falling onto the page instead of the glorious wordery I was wanted.

The book was fucked. Royally. And it was in serious danger of being resigned to fuckit bucket so I could move on and write the prequel to Keepers (my first fiction novel which is with beta readers right now). But I don’t give up. Ever. And villains wasn’t about to beat me this time either.

What do you do in the case of word-turd? Let me know in the comments below.

I decided that if hammering away through the word shite wasn’t working, there was only one other option.

Just fucking stop. I put down the proverbial pen, and stepped the fuck away from the computer.

I know. I know. Don’t freak out…. But apparently a writer can stop… you know… writing. Seriously, it’s true. I did it. Despite shocking the shit out of myself and walking around like a lost ghost sheep. I actually stopped writing.

I mean, I don’t ever stop. Like never. There are no Sundays, no mid-week rests or Friday nights off for a takeaway.

I write E.V.E.R.Y.S.I.N.G.L.E.F.U.C.K.I.N.G.D.A.Y

My kind of ‘binge’ on a Friday night, doesn’t involve mini skirts, excessive eyeliner and wine buckets. It involves frantic slapping of the keyboard, adding more forehead grooves to my brow than Grammy’s, filling my table with stale discarded coffee cups and post-its. LOTS OF POST-ITS.

I started writing every day because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. I’d read it somewhere. So it must be true. Only, back then, I knew shit all and didn’t realise that what everyone meant was not that you had to write everyday,  but build a habit.

It doesn’t matter if you write for 10 minutes a day, or 1 hour every three days. The point is, if you want to be a writer, you need to integrate writing into your life, treat it like a job.

Anyhoozle, I wrote everyday until the habit became an obsession, that became an addiction. Now, if I even get a whiff that I might not be able to write of an evening, or lunchtime or anytime, I’m like an angry bitch protecting her new cubs. Come anywhere near my laptop or headspace and I’m guna rip your head off and make your spine a chew toy for my characters.

So I stopped writing. I didn’t know how long I’d stop for. I just had to stop. I put the pen lid back on and walked away. I did other shit, like live. Talk to my writing-widow wife, meditate, listened to music and tried not to think about writing or the villain shaped problem.

I’d committed to taking a break and if that meant a week off and deadlines having to shunt, then so be it, and if you know anything about me, you know that deadlines do not move. I’d rather cut out my kidney and pawn it for a roach infestation than move a deadline.

Praise be the karmic power of a break because it didn’t take long for the answer to arrive. I had two issues.

  1. Apparently, I am a pathetic pawn, a disembodied slave to my characters who write the book for me. It was only when I realised there were no sodding characters in non-fiction that I worked out why it was so effing hard to write. BALLS.
  2. Villains started as a series of blog posts, that became crazy popular and still get me tens of thousands of views every year. So when I started writing the book, I just sort of carried on. I figured I’d pants my way through it, you know, like fiction, when you make shit up. Umm, No. Wrong. So fucking wrong. Non-fiction requires quite the structure, instensive planning and careful consideration of EVERYTHING. Or at least it does for me. And there I was convinced I was an out and out pantser. 

You don’t need my permission, but you have it. Next time you vomit word turd on the page, just fucking stop. Step away from the computer, take a chill pill, drink wine, motorboat a cupcake, smoke a joint, whatever your poison take it in large quantities and when you’ve recovered, go back and write on my story soldiers. 

Sometimes we just need to stop, breathe and write on. 


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August welcome

112 comments

  1. I am surprised you haven’t discovered this before, Sacha. I use it a lot, and you can use it for everything, life, relationships, even gardening. If something refuses to work, or work the way you want it to, step away. Remove yourself from the equation. The time away is totally up to you…

    1. Ahh no, see I never stop. I’m like the Duracell bunny. I don’t have an off switch. I motor on at 1000mph never taking the time to rest or look after myself. My wife says she gets exhausted just watching me!!

  2. Yep, you do need to sometimes give yourself permission to just not write. I can always tell before I’ve even started if what I’m about to write is going to suck, so I do something else (like write blog posts or whatever). Then I get seized by the urge to write again, and away I go! Hi ho Silver!

  3. It happens so often that I get inspired and so many fantastic sentences are forming in my head. But by the time I am finally at my keyboard this all is gone. I still have the topic but the flow is gone. Then again there is still so much in my heart and mind but it doesn’t get into words. I often started writing sticking to the fragments of what I could remember but that wasn’t satisfying at all. After editing, deleting and adding again I had a completely different post… but after spending a lot of time. So I started to stay away from too or go there with a fresh mind and not thinking of what I wanted to write in first place… just let the words come and through writing all forms naturally again.

    1. Oh no! you need to carry a notepad constantly! Well, I guess they do say that books are not written but re-written so I guess it never comes out perfect on the first go anyway.

      1. That’s true since you are working over it anyway! Ha, there were time when I was stirring in a pot with one hand and writing with the other one. In the book process I always have a notepad next to my bed. But sometimes I can’t just interrupt what I am doing when inspiration hits me πŸ˜•

          1. Yes, exactly! Yesterday I had an idea for my next Tuesday poem and the story was already forming in my had but I did not have the time to sit down and write…. I hope it is coming up again tomorrow… lol!

  4. I think that’s very true, Sacha. Sometimes you can’t force it. You just have to let it form in its own good time. And sometimes it needs to do that out of the pressure cooker and away from the spotlight. Sometimes the best thinking is done when you’re not thinking at all!
    But talking about turds, you might enjoy this story to lighten your day.
    Over here there is a delicious small tart on offer in cafes. It is a delightful citrusy tart called lemon curd tart. Hub and I often share one when we have coffee. One day when it was his turn to shout, he ordered a lemon turd cart! I’m pleased we got what he intended to order! πŸ™‚

    1. haha pressure cooker, I like that analogy and I suspect my subconscious is a bit like that, I get a lot of emergent ideas so I suspect they brew quietly for a while in there.

      PAAHAHAH that’s hilarious, your hub sounds like a right laugh, I’d love to meet him πŸ˜€

      1. Yeah, sometimes it good when the pot goes off the boil for a while. What’s the saying about a watched kettle? I think I’m mixing metaphors!
        He is a right laugh! One day – who knows?

          1. A watched kettle never boils. I guess I was interpreting it, in this instance, to mean that if you keep trying to force the ideas to come, they’ll just go into hiding. πŸ™‚

  5. Yes to all of this! We all need to stop and get away from things, otherwise we break down. This is so interesting, actually – the third or fourth post I’ve seen today addressing how I’m feeling about stuff in general. Messages coming through! πŸ˜€
    As a writer, this is sound advice too – manuscripts need to rest, and so do our writer brains from time to time. And if you feel you HAVE to write, then write about something else.

    1. Ohh really? What else was on the list of things you’ve read that you’ve experienced? That happens to me sometimes too – I’ll find that all of a sudden a heap of posts come up just as I’m about to post, or I read something and it explains exactly what I couldn’t place a name to. Love when that happens. definitely agree about manuscript rest. I finally feel like I’ll be able to pick so many holes in mine when I go back to it πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ and I was completely blind before, it is actually amazing what a break can do. It gives us time to grow and develop too.

      1. Oh, I had a day yesterday where I felt a bit stuck in general, then I saw a couple of posts about living a creative life, taking time out, being true to yourself, yada yada – plus my playlist seemed to be following along with the theme ‘this will pass.’ So it was encouraging, cause I was feeling a bit low.
        Oh, and yes, you’ll look at your ms so differently when you get it back! I have to go back and read my Ambeth books (so I can sort out book four) and I know I’ll be the same way πŸ™‚ As you say, the time away from something is the time we grow and develop.

        1. ah, one of them. I had a lot of them after finishing the manuscript. I have finally pulled my shit together and am now looking forward to making the manuscript better, and enjoying writing other stuff. But I do so hate those low days, I had about two weeks of it. Can’t believe you’re on book 4, it’s flown, I wonder if there will be more than one S&B books…………

          1. I’m glad you’re feeling better – they do suck, those days, don’t they? I’m glad you’re writing more, too πŸ™‚
            I can’t believe I’m on book four either! It’s a fiddly one, too, lots of story threads from 1-3 coming together, which is why I’m a bit stuck. As for S & B, yeah, I think there could be a second book…
            PS Speaking of books, I’ve just finished yours – I’m not going to say anything at this point other than well done! Going to read through again before writing notes…

          2. Ummmm *gulp* *reaches for whiskey* oh gawd! Right okay deep breaths!

            Yeah, the odd thing is, I always expected to have less of those days the more I wrote, but that’s not the case, it’s more cyclical, the start of a book is a buzz, the middle is hard (enter low days) the end is a buzz, and then bam, low days once it’s out of your hands. So weird.

            Ahhh yeah, Ive outlined the prequel and book 2, and I know what happens in 3/4 pretty well 5 and 6 are hazy but I know the major plot line. But it does mean a LOT of threads. And ensuring u foreshadow in the earlier books.

            Ooooooooh, a second S&B oh god I can’t even cope waiting for the first, don’t be telling me there are more!

          3. Ooh, a six book series! Just like Ambeth πŸ™‚ (although now I’m also thinking of a book of short stories to add ha ha). Yes, it’s great when you know how it’s going to work out as you can foreshadow things in earlier books – I’ve found that really helpful. It’s just keeping track of all the damn threads that’s the bother, especially for a pantser like me!
            Yes, definitely one more S&B – the way the first one ends leaves it open for one more, definitely. Though it can also stand alone. God, I need to get on with writing it, really.
            And your book is great, don’t fret!

          4. hehe I think it will be six books anyway. Can’t be 100% sure, but DEFINITELY more than 4. I have two and three very clear – the second is outlined and a prequel I’m writing now. The 5th and 6th are a bit foggy but I doubt I’ll be happy to give up the characters after 4!

            I am definitely not going to publish the first couple for a while, writing the prequel has shown me I already have timeline issues in the first book (the one you just read) and that’s without all the beta changes, so I will have to hold off publishing till the second and probably third are written so that I can tweak if needed. SIGH. SUCH A LONG process when all I want to do is get it out in the world already.

            I am so bloody excited to hear there will be another S&B <3 <3 <3 I seriously hope I will be beta'ing that one too… no pressure but I will hunt you down. #justsaying.

          5. Gah! Timeline issues – that’s what I’m wrestling with in book four – a huge amount of stuff all comes together in both Ambeth and our world, and I’m working on making sure it all works timewise. It is SUCH a long process, as you say, but well worth it to get the details right.
            Oh, and don’t worry, you will be first to get S & B when it goes out for beta, and, if you like it, first to get the second book too πŸ™‚ I’m actually looking forward to getting back to Emelia’s world, once I sort out all this other stuff!

          6. ahhh I can just imagine the nightmare you’re having, I have enough issues as it is and I am only handling two stories at the minute so I cannot imagine what four is like!

            hehe, yay πŸ˜€ so can’t wait for S&B <3 <3

          7. Oh, it’s just that I added a couple of twists in the earlier books, so I have to make sure they come through into book four. Plus there is a lot that happens over about three days, so I have to make sure it all fits in, as certain events have to occur at certain times so other events can happen, if you know what I mean. So it’s a bit tangled at the moment but I’m sure it will work out!

  6. Hmm… I do recall saying something like this to someone… Numerous times. Who was that? Oh. Right. Some stubborn writer who refused my advice to take a break. Sometimes you just have to walk away. Even if you write something else (or not), and get some perspective.
    Glad to hear this. Also, you’ve got some great images in this post. πŸ˜€

  7. For me, the first draft is almost always a brawl, a melee, a riot, a brouhaha. I start with a concept and populate that concept with characters and conflicts. Once done, I start revising and focusing on the theme or themes I want, and that means scraping out the crap and carving detail into what’s left. I’m not the detailed, focused kind of writer that starts out with a complete concept of how I will make my plot idea work from point A to Z. For that reason, I allow the word vomit freedom to spew while writing the first rough draft. During revisions (My first published novel went through more than a dozen revisions. When I was done, the stack of printouts of all those revisions was taller than me, and I’m 6 foot 4), the vomit gets cleaned up.

    1. and so the first draft should be! I love that about first drafts, you literally cut your heart out and splay it on the page, it’s the same for me too. Makes it a messy one but thats kind of the point. I’ve lost count of the revisions, but I suspect it won’t be far off the number you made! 6 foot 4 :O you’re like a foot taller than me! hehe.

      1. Well, most of us shrink as we age. I was 6’4″ back in 1965 when I joined the Marines and that’s the height I’ve shared every time since then. I also weighed 125 pounds they day I signed up. If I stood sideways, I’d probably have vanished.

        Boot camp put 30 pounds on me and today I weight about 190 today. According to this height and weight chart, I’d have to lose about 2 pounds to get back to normal for my current height.

        https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/quick-guides/what-is-a-healthy-weight

        How tall am I today. I had to find out. By myself, I just stood against the wall in my bare feet and marked a spot on the door jamb with a pencil placed on the top of my head. That measurement, give or take an inch one way or the other, was 6′ 1.25 inches. If correct, that means in the last 51 years, I shrank 2.75 inches. Before my dad died at 79, he was 7 inches shorter from when he was 18. It’s mostly the disks in our back that does it. As we age, those disks shrink.

        β€œOlder adults can get shorter because the cartilage between their joints gets worn out and osteoporosis causes the spinal column to become shorter,” he says. … Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and fracture, which can also cause a person to become shorter.”

        According to this piece in the Daily Mail, its normal to shrink, but we can get it back. The piece says its worse for women than men.

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3204168/How-stop-shrinking-middle-age-s-terrifying-true-lose-height-older-back.html

        1. WOW, I can’t even imagine how skinny you must have been! THAT’s TEENY especially for a guy so tall too. You pops lost SEVEN inches??????? That’s over half a foot!! I can’t even imagine losing half I’d be SOOOO tiny. I’m only 164cm as it is!!!! haha

          1. I think I was so skinny as a teen that if I stood sideways I’d look like a straw. I started Marine Corps book camp weighing 125 pounds and left about three months later at 155.

          2. It’s amazon how everything is relative. I was born into a family living in poverty but never felt sorry for myself. I didn’t even realize I lived in poverty. By the time I knew about the challenges children face living in poverty I was already in my 30s and had left poverty behind.

            That life growing up was normal to me. Everything is relative based on the perspective of the child. I think its easier on the perception of individuals to go from poverty to the middle class or wealth then it is to go from wealth or the middle class to poverty.

            How can anyone resent something they never had until after they had it and lost it? I guess there is envy but I don’t remember ever being envious of anyone.

            I had to overcome sever dyslexia to learn to read, but never blamed anyone or felt sorry for msyelf. I could have blamed my parents. Both were smokers at the time I was born and my dad was an alcoholic. But I refuse to blame them. They did the best job they could for who they were and the obstacles and challenges that high school dropouts face in this world in the struggle to survive.

            Such is life. Do the best you can with what you have.

          3. That is a great truth there, it is all relative. Besides, billionaires can be as miserable as the next person, and impoverished people the happiest there are. So it’s definitely all relative, and I agree to your philosophy too. What’s the point of living in the past and blaming parents or family. There’s nothing but the creation of pain for yourself there. We have to let go. I learnt that the hard way over the last couple of years. It’s one of those lessons I’ll never forget.

          1. Lol!… what if my 1000 words end up as a short story instead of an addition to my WIP? Just clarifying!!! You know, it could be the start of something new!!!

  8. Thank god I`m not the only one who gets the turd words halfway through. It starts off brilliant and shiny then it dips, so I`m going to try the walk away thing because I`m like you, if i`m not writing I feel as if I should be bashing my head with a hammer.

    1. haha, I reckon it might be tiredness? Perhaps we burn out and then the turds arrive? Glad I am not the only one that feels like that if they have to take an enforced writing break!

  9. yes, I found the idea of doing nothing grim. But, taking my latest as an example I wrote about 5/6ths or some such and the ending that I had, that I had had for ever, suddenly dissolved in a heap of cliche. I was in the process of writing towards a dumpster into which the book would go if i continued, like the authorial equivalent of Thelma and Louise hurtling across the dessert towards the canyon. So I stopped. I sat and I thunk and I kept thunking and getting the square root of fuck all. And one day it was there, a real, well, blow me for a Donald, proper ending. So yep, I get the break. Painful but better than a 100,000 word suicide note.

    1. Yeah that’s not good, especially if it was clichΓ© enough you spotted it. I have some in mine tbf I think, but hopefully not overly noticeable, but some are borderline tropes. Wow, dumpster…. never, never dumpster your work, no matter how bad it can be saved.

      Lol to thunking. Is that actually a word? LOLLLLLL 100,000 word suicide note, seriously, have you been practicing funny this week?

  10. Loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee this post and all your hilarious expressions and word choices. Love -word turd! I’ll tell ya Sach, you could re-write the damned phoned book and I’d read it. I love your writing!!!!!!! And you are correct my friend, sometimes the only thing that will help is stepping away from the writing, that’s it, plain and simple. And interesting you have seen the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction my friend! Excellent shit here!!!!! πŸ™‚ <3

    1. No, no, not in spam, I just moderate everything so I don’t forget to, or miss comments I need to reply to. Takes a bit longer, but means I definitely reply to everyone. hehe, I am rather fond of word-turd too, haha. Do you know, I am so printing this out and keeping it, re-write the phone book! lolllll that made me roar! <3 literally love your face!

      1. LOL you crack me up!!!!!!!!!!! And cool that you’re now moderating everything. Seems a few have begun his lately. Of course, I must have been a dinosaur and always done it that way, lol. Moderating also give us the chance to correct spelling errors. I know as a commenter in the night, I’ve left my share of typos, lol.
        Okay, I’m waiting for your newest version of the phone book! LMAO xo<3

        1. Been doing it for a while tbf, Hugh got me on to it after I had a meltdown over lots of lost comments. It’s a ball ache but so much more practical and what can I say, I’m a control freak!

  11. Nothing wrong with taking a break, Sacha. I tend to write through my periods of producing word-turds, knowing that I’m still moving the story forward according to the outline. I’ll be going back and fixing it at some point anyway with a bucket of disinfectant and polish. But, I take lots of small breaks to recalibrate. Just a half hour away doing something completely different (like stacking wood or picking herbs or taking a shower) is all I need to reset and get back at it. I like how different we all are, and that we each need to find our own writing rhythm and norms. Non-fiction is a whole other beast that I haven’t tried!

    1. I do too, that’s exactly why having a night off felt like pins and needles in my eyeballs! lol. But it did work. Not sure I want to make a habit of it though.

      I think, slowly, I am getting to grips with the non-fiction, but its so so so very different!

  12. By George! I think she’s got it!

    Well done, Sacha. The thing is, you had to learn it for yourself. No one else could have taught you that.

    Hope you resolved your other problem from last night

  13. I don’t know if you’re aware, but somebody seems to have taken over your blog and published a post, Sacha. This can’t have been written by you. No way! Not possible! Then again, did you finally listen and get what taking a break really meant? πŸ€” High-five, if you did πŸŽ‰

    1. Wait what, ATTACK, IMPOSTER! I mess, the thing is as soon as I’d told myself I wouldn’t write, I went right back to it! okay maybe a day or two off but not long! in the end I just needed to tell myself that’s what I needed to do, and it took all the pressure off

  14. What to do about word-turd… hmm. I guess it depends on the case. Nibbling a few extra bits of cheese can help sometimes if the words aren’t coming together nicely. On the flip side, going for an extra long walk or two can help get everything flowing once more. The important thing, especially as you mature as a writer, is to occasionally let your mind go blank and allow more fiber in your diet. (fuel inspiration by everyday routines).

    1. LOL when other people say word turd, it sounds hilarious! Extra cheese *snigger* allow your mind to go blank? What is this craziness???? I ought to practice more meditation, can’t remember the last blank mind I had. sigh.

  15. Oh, this is SO good. I’m only now, FINALLY, figuring out that silly peddle between the accelerator and the clutch…

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