First World Writer Problems 1: Don’t want to start, don’t want to finish

I must begin...I must begin
I must begin…I must begin

I’m just nearing the end of writing an article about a superb new British movie which tackles islamophobia. The film is called Freesia (you can watch the trailer here if you’re interested) and I’ve been privileged to see the whole thing. Despite the understated, non-melodramatic and sensitive handling from the director, Conor Ibrahiem, the film reduced me to tears and deciding to write a series of articles about it for publications around the world has not been a chore.

Except that it has.

I don’t think it is possible to have been more devoted to a subject – harmony between different cultural groups and the eradication of prejudice of any form is something close to my heart as it is – and yet it took me days after interviewing Conor to start writing in earnest. Sure I was busy. Sure I had lots of things I had to do first. But they weren’t the real reasons the page stayed mostly blank on my laptop for days. It was something else I know well – I just didn’t want to start!

This is a writer problem I know I’m not alone with. I’ve been trying to write a book with a very good friend of mine for about two years. In truth, she’s probably a better writer than I and I’m excited about what could come out from this but we’ve tussled with finding time, not fighting each other (we’re poles apart in character) and motivating ourselves to get beyond the planning stage. Recently we’ve kickstarted the writing process again and been doing some shorter stuff together. What I found interesting (and why I’m telling you all this) is her observations that it felt ‘a drag’ to get started but that once she made herself begin the writing flowed and she enjoyed it. Just as well – she writes brilliantly.

I know just what she means though – the ‘drag’. Every new project. Every new article, book chapter, story or even blog post – I find myself starting with my head in my hands thinking “why did I ever think I could be a writer? I’m never going to be able to write this.”

And then, eventually (and often because deadlines are looming) I make myself write and, like a steam train pulling off from cold, I make a lot of noise and slowly gather momentum until eventually I’m making good speed.

But that brings us to the second half of the problem. Once I start, I rarely want to stop.

In fact, I’m writing this now simply to put off finishing this article on Freesia. I don’t want it to end. I’ve enjoyed typing up my notes, getting into the meat of the film, the issues it raises, British Asian movies in general and delving into the social issues affecting the UK today. I could keep going all day. I’ve done this many times before too. It would seem, there’s simply no pleasing me. Maybe that’s why my friend and I have never come close to finishing our book together? When we do, what will we do without that project which has been there with us for so long?

Last year, I wrote a course on Psychology for an educational company in the UK. I love the subject and know a lot about it, yet it was a struggle to get everything written. This was partly because I was very busy with writing projects for other clients but also because I enjoyed taking my time far too much with the material. In truth, I was sad when I finally sent off the last unit – though a good friend of mine, who coaxed me every single day for weeks to get the thing done, was not! To say I taxed her is an understatement. Hairs, I believe, turned grey. You can imagine her exasperation when I told her recently I’ve begun writing a new course for the same company just this week…

I do wonder how other writers do it. I still have the luxury of being able to take a whole day to write a 1500-word article if I so choose but some writers I know who work for several newspapers and other publications have to churn out several pieces per day (I write between one and three each day depending on my mood and how many have clumped together with deadlines because of my procrastinating). How do they do it? I’m certainly glad the newspaper I write for is a monthly. I’m not sure I could make myself write something every day or even every week for it. And if I did I’m not sure the editor would print any of the twaddle I would spill out!

Well anyway, I suppose I’d better get back to finishing this article then? I only have one paragraph to write then the first draft is done.

But then the editing and redrafting begins. Oh my goodness…now that’s another writer problem to save for another day…

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12 thoughts on “First World Writer Problems 1: Don’t want to start, don’t want to finish

  1. Definitely a problem for me… starting is my archenemy… I always seem to look around for other stuff to do, and if I feel there is something, it has the effect of hanging over me until I do it… and I often have a bit of a jam in writing anything until I come up with a decent opening sentence… even if I know exactly how I want the middle to look…

    Finishing… well, it depends… short pieces tend to finish by surprise… I suddenly find that I’ve written a brilliant conclusion, and I feel slightly bereft… longer pieces… well, sometimes I put off finishing them just so that I can have the comfort of knowing that there is something I’m working on that is going well… even if it isn’t…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ll have to send me links to your stuff Kirk – I’d love to read some of your work.

      I’ve often followed the principle that you forget about writing a good opening. You just write and then once done, go back and delete your first paragraph. Then you write your opening again.

      It’s a good principle though I’ve rarely actually deleted the complete opening – probably because I’m so relaxed not worrying about it and knowing I CAN delete it that it turns out pretty decent and not needing more than a tweak. Have you tried that approach?

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  2. Yes, this is me too. Good advice given to me years ago. .. Start anywhere there is something to say…and work from there. I completely hate the process…the guilt, shame of procrastinating and failing to meet deadlines (I always need to know the ‘real’ one)…and ultimately knowing someone else could do it better!!!

    I’m never writing a book chapter of article again…..am leaving my last one (still needing final edit) as it….so yes, it took me months to start and I’m seemingly unable to commit to finishing!!!

    Maybe genetics..?

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  3. Well said Ken. I think most, if not all, writers share the pain of damp starts. For me it comes down to pressure. I’ve found I’m not writing as much if I’m freelancing (which is most of the time) as I would be with an employer wanting results asap. I was fortunate to work in a busy TV story office last year and it was pretty much full steam ahead and I found the pressure of deadlines made me carry on, as well as my office colleagues sharing the same struggle lol. It was our common denominator. It made me realise actually I can knock out quite a bit of writing in one day. So I shall now succumb to it – I will formally announce my wife as the boss! Trilogy here I come!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha yes the wife is always a good motivator! As a freelancer I understand your issues. I too have no colleagues to cajole me on or at least share the pain. I guess we just have to get on make do as best we can πŸ™‚

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