Writing to the End of My Rope

A Distractions & Subtractions post

A/N: I’m making my way through my Distractions & Subtractions posts.  I only have four more to go after this: two for me and two for my blog readers and followers.

It’s not too late for other readers/followers to submit their own writing subtractions.  I’ll write a blog post for anyone who does.  Who doesn’t want a blog post written in their honour.

Today’s post is one of my own subtractions.  Coming up next week: a post for national/international award winning Australian author Dianne Gray.


If you were to visualize yourself in the act of writing, what would it look?

I’ve written about the power of visualization a fair bit here in the past few weeks: about how I every day visualize the sentences and paragraphs I plan to write that night.  About how some personalized visualization can help induce an altered state – can help trick the mind into believing that computer time spend working on your work-in-progress isn’t just more staring at a screen after a long day of doing just that at work.

Someone visualizing him-/herself writing might call up that same imagine of being bend over a computer keyboard, typing up a storm.

Someone else might envision him-/herself writing longhand in an elegant notebook, or frantically scratching down a lightning flash idea or line of dialogue on the back of a grocery store receipt.

Yet another person might see the scenes of his/her WIP unspooling before his/her mind’s eye, like the frames of a movie.  Someone else still might imagine all of the above.

For me, my images of myself in the act of writing are perhaps a little more esoteric:

I see the gears of a wind-up clock, with their ticking, interlocking teeth slowly rotating each other this way or that.

I see the drive-train of a bicycle, with its chain cycling around the cogs in a smooth, steady spin – the way a bike is meant to be ridden – as opposed to with jerky, halting, knee-busting force.

I see the ouroboros – the ancient image of the serpent devouring its own tail: the mythological symbol of recreation and eternal return; no end and no beginning.

And when I visualize myself not writing, that looks like a rope paid out over a cliff meant to lead the way down to safety, but with a rope that’s significantly too short to reach the bottom.

Too much too soon

I have a really bad habit when it comes to my writing: I often write too much.  Even though, in truth, I don’t write nearly enough, because I write far slower than I should for all the outlining, and pre-planning, and visualizing I do.  But that’s a whole other blog post.

As I mentioned previously, every day, I rehearse in my head what I’m going to write that night.  The mistake I often make, though, is in writing everything that I’ve rehearsed – in stopping at the end of my ideas.

Doing so almost always results in my stalled progress the following evening: a good half hour or so spent hanging from the end of my metaphorical rope trying to figure out how to get my feet on the ground.

This on top of the low-level anxiety I already endure at the start of every writing session for fear that the words won’t come.

This despite subsequent mental rehearsing and visualizing the following day.  For some reason, whenever I start cold from the day before, the words are just slower to emerge.  It’s like going from standing motionless to a dead sprint without first making a few warm-up laps around the track.

It’s neither a comforting nor comfortable experience.

A preventable condition

If not thinking enough ahead of time about what I’m going to write is my most fatal subtraction, and not having an outline to follow is my oldest one, halting a writing session at the end of my ideas for a given day is perhaps my most preventable subtraction.

Yet, I still sometimes don’t manage to prevent it.  Typical reasons for this include the following:

  • I’m too far off from my daily word count quota to stop where I am without feeling guilty or lazy
  • I’m near the end of a chapter and am too eager to not complete it
  • I’m near the end of a chapter and tend to struggle with chapter beginnings anyway, so being stuck is on the horizon regardless
  • I’m in the middle of a challenging scene and just want to get it over with
  • I won’t be writing again for two or more days and want to get everything down to ensure I don’t forget it
  • I’m writing a fun scene, have already blown past my daily quota, and don’t realize I’ve gone too far until I suddenly come up short

(That latter situation, incidentally, is the very worst example of this subtraction – like a bucket of water tossed on you while sunbathing, or popping a kid’s balloon.)

In the end, though, be it a case of excitement on my part of indifference, the result is still the same:

To quote a song by the Great Lake Swimmers, I wind up “stealing tomorrow from today”.

Circle theory

The key to preventing this most preventable subtraction of mine is to practice what I’ve come to think of as circular writing, just as the clock gears, and the bicycle chain, and the ourbouros all move in continuous circles.

I do this by holding a little bit back at the end of each writing session – perhaps typing a few rough notes on it right there in my novel-in-progress document, but not forming proper sentences and paragraphs out of it until the next day.

Those notes then become the next day’s warm-up session – something I’ve now thought about/mentally rehearsed two days in a row.  Something I can write so easily, I fool my mind into believing that writing in and of itself is easy – that there’s no need to be anxious, for of course the words will come.  They just did, see?

And they will again.  As sure as the world keeps turning.

(Image source #1, #2, and #4)


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4 thoughts on “Writing to the End of My Rope

  1. I absolutely love the visualization of the ticking clock with the cogs and teeth – fantastic! I’m the type that sees my WIP unspooling before my mind’s eye, like the frames of a movie 😉

    Great post and Happy Birthday!!! 😉


    • I’m not surprised that you see your novels like movies given how fast you can write. If I were to visualize my actual story, it would look more like a blueprint for a structure I still have to build rather than something that already exists as a whole in one form or another.

      And happy birthday to you too! I’m amazed that we have this too in common as well as so many of our writing methods and personal tastes as well. 🙂


  2. I’ve never thought of visualizing myself writing, but I just did, and there were too many attractive, love-starved women around me to getting any writing done. What a horrible idea!

    For reals, I like the concept of cutting it short while the creative juice is still flowing. Being a controlling person, I can’t relax until I hit my mark for the day, sometimes pushing into the zone where the writing gets sloppy and the next day’s motivation is diminished. Your suggestion is like saving a few Oroes for tomorrow instead of eating the whole bag at once, which is something I can easily do.

    I don’t know if it’s like the Oreo thing at all, but I’ve moved onto visualizing myself eating a bag of Oreos, which is much more plausible than the first fantasy, so I couldn’t help but mention it.


  3. I’m not much of an Oreo-lover myself. Substitute in Kettle Chips, though, and that feeling I get when a fierce KC craving comes on and I discover I did indeed leave a few behind after my last gorge-fest is actually pretty similar to how I feel coming to my WIP and rereading the notes I left the night before. That is to say, relieved, and fairly hungry as well. 🙂


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