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Getting Words Written Even When It’s Hard Work, by Helene Young

Some days writing is like pulling hens teeth…

I’m writing this post on the 2am watch aboard sailing vessel Roo Bin Esque (and yes that name is a play on ‘Rubenesque’ because our home is a sexy, fat-bottomed French boat).  We’re relocating from Cairns to Brisbane for compelling reasons I won’t bore you with, but the timing of our move couldn’t have been worse.

I have a novel manuscript due in less than seven days and there is still much to do on it, including writing the ending. At this time of year the Great Barrier Reef is extraordinary, packed full of marine life. Migrating whales play in the azure depths of the Coral Sea as the daytime temperature sits at a balmy 24 degrees. Dolphins slice through the bow wave of our catamaran, their skin glistening and slick. The sky is winter blue and the winds, for the most part, are light. Inspirational material for a writer you may think and it would be if I were writing a romance set on the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, the view is even more compelling than Facebook or Twitter, and I find myself deserting my story and gazing over miles of endless ocean studded with rocky islands as the sun rises and sets in a glorious riot of colour.

A timely post from a blog I follow arrived in my inbox. Chuck Wendig is forthright so if you zip over to check it out please don’t be offended by his language. Its title was ‘Yes, Virginia, you can totally force art.’ It made me laugh out loud (and distracted me from the view for five minutes.)

His message is loud and proud – waiting for the muse to strike is a load of bunkum. I have to agree. As professional writers we have deadlines, we have publisher and reader expectations, we have a job to do. That means some days just getting the words down on the page is hard work.  Some days it can be about meeting a word count, or in my case, completing a scene and simply grinding away until the book is written.

I used to worry that the words written under duress may not be lyrical enough, might be pedestrian at best, but the reality is that can happen whether I’m writing in a ‘stream of consciousness’ way, with words pouring out faster than I can type, or whether I am plodding along barely making headway.

Only once those words are down can they be edited and that’s when they will start to shine. I’m not a plotter and find it far easier to write when I’m wildly excited about the journey my characters are taking me on. By the time I arrive at the end of the story it’s increasingly difficult to finish. You might be forgiven for thinking this reticence is because I’ve lost the plot and wandered off, but that’s not the case. Typing ‘The end’ means the characters who have lived in my head for so long, who’ve become my friends or my nemesis, are about to leave and that means there’s a part of me which is grieving.

I hang on to them for a little longer, I procrastinate a little more stubbornly before I finally force my bottom onto the chair and my fingers to the keys to tap away until it’s done. That’s where I’m at right now and I know there’s only one way to finish this story. It’s not going to be pretty aboard Roo Bin Esque for the next five days.

So next time you feel as though your muse has deserted, have stern words with your muse. You have a job to do and there are no paid sick days or holidays for writers, so your muse needs to knuckle under and get writing when required. Drag your muse kicking and screaming to the keyboard. Do whatever it takes and don’t believe the naysayers who claim you can’t force art.

Perhaps the camp that says ‘you must suffer for your art’ has a point after all.


Helene Young’s author website:

Helene Young’s bio page


Wings of FearShattered SkyBurning LiesHalf Moon Bay     House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. kerriepaterson #

    I am so glad that it’s not just me – I find it incredibly hard to write those last few scenes / chapters too. Not because I don’t know what has to happen, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m grieving because I don’t want to leave them.

    Good luck with your deadline – and see you VERY SOON!

    August 10, 2013
    • I was crying for half of yesterday, Kerrie, as one of my favourite characters died… At least Capt G knows to simply hand me tissue 🙂

      August 11, 2013
  2. Oh, checkout MY post next month, Helene!!!!! I’ve got the muse-ic in me! LOL

    I so know about saying goodbye too. I actually cried the other day as I re read the end of book two as I say goodbye to Calingarry Crossing. 😦

    August 10, 2013
    • Lol, will enjoy reading your next post, Jenn! They become such important parts of our lives and are with us more than most of our friends. And if we didn’t cry then we couldn’t expect our readers to feel that emotion.

      August 11, 2013
  3. This applies to non-fiction writers too. I’m writing a thesis and some days the procrastination bug is so strong and the ideas won’t flow, or I get exciting ideas for writing something else…
    As you say, you just have to write something.
    Thanks for this timely reminder.

    August 10, 2013
  4. Hi Helene. Reading your post and the comments about ending your time with characters is so true. I’m going to pretend it’s like playing dolls at the tea table, and I can go back, read again and play if I wish, (I need my options). Sometimes I think intuition comes sooner if you give yourself the mental space, meditate etc. Best wishes in your ending/deadline and relocation to Brisbane.

    August 11, 2013
    • Susan, love the idea of having options and being able to revisit. I always assumed I would reread my books once they are published but I find I don’t. I’ll read snippets for events or because I’m doing a blog post but after the first one I haven’t read any of the others from cover to cover. So perhaps I’m more fickle with my character friends than I think I am. I do find it a little strange when you’re at the point of doing promotional work for the published book, editing the current one, and writing the next story. I guess we all get used to it.

      Thanks for your good wishes. We’re in the Sandy Strait today and it’s glorious!

      August 11, 2013
  5. Opinionated introvert, it is such a common theme with writers. We will head off on a new project rather than knuckle under and finish the old one. All the best with your thesis 🙂

    August 11, 2013
  6. Good post Helene, as usual. It’s really just a matter of ‘Do It’, isn’t it! Keep writing and keep at it until the solution comes, which it will. It’s like a spinning top mechanism, you have to get it spinning and when you take your hand away it keeps spinning. No spin = no momentum = no words = procrastination = doubts and then it’s a free fall into the chocolate, bounce down the cliff hitting wine, TV and someone else’s book and then land at the bottom of the cliff – with nothing.

    It must be very hard to keep writing when you are on a boat in the Barrier Reef, I salute your dedication!

    August 11, 2013
  7. Love your analogy of a spinning top, Phillipa. It does gain its own momentum and become almost self-sustaining. But I’ve had those moments of taking out the chocolate and the wine on the way day as well…

    Staying motivated while underway is a little more challenging than I anticipated, but there is nothing like a deadline for delivering a swift kick!! And back to writing I go 🙂

    August 11, 2013
  8. Thanks so much for your wonderful article. It helps to know that professional writers such as yourself struggle too. And it is hard saying goodbye! I’m actually discovering that I want to spend more time with a character of mine from Tomaree, my second last book. I’m just beginning a manuscript where she will be the main character and eighteen years younger. Should be fun.

    August 13, 2013
  9. Debbie, that sounds like a wonderful step back in time with your character. Enjoy every moment of it.

    It is always comforting to know other writers go through the same angst – terminal uniqueness we used to call it in flying when a trainee believes they are the only ones struggling to master something!

    August 16, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Month In Review (August 2013) | Writing Novels in Australia
  2. Writing Doesn’t “Just Happen” | Jennifer Greenleaf

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