Another nice post by Emily from the fiction writing trenches.
Somewhere Graham Harman wrote that your biggest enemy is the blank page. Just tell yourself that your first draft is going to suck and that you'll have plenty of time to rewrite. I find this pretty helpful advice.
Emily doesn't mention a couple of other things we both do. First, it really helps if writing is ritualized. I always end up writing about the same time of the day in the same place and listening to music. These slowly change as life presents different obstacles and possibilities, but they usually stay the same for months or years. Right now the only way I can write is to wake up at 4:45 AM, ride my bicycle into my office by 6:00 AM, and get a few hours in before students start to show up and make noise. Second, distractions should be minimized. Emily writes in a little side room in our house where the wifi doesn't come in. In addition to writing in my office before the custodial staff even show up, I've found that things go much better if I don't open facebook until I've finished whatever goal I set the night before for my writing.
Finally, Graham Harman also somewhere said that your second biggest enemy is the completed book or article. It's very important the day before to figure out exactly what tiny piece you want to get accomplished the next day (of course there might be some lagniappe, but focus on the tiny piece) and then when you're actually writing don' t worry about anything but that tiny piece.
- Fight the empty page by (a) typing and see what happens, and (b) telling yourself the first draft will suck, but that doesn't matter because most writing is rewriting,
- Find ritualistic times, places, and stimulations (music, caffeine, whatever),
- Minimize distractions, and
- Fight the spectre of the complete book by figuring out the night before exactly what little bit you are going to tackle the next day.
Admittedly these are not sufficient. You also have to cultivate certain character traits that keep you doing it. If you are writing for publication, you have to be able to get back up over and over again and resubmit things that have often been rejected multiple times. When the acceptance rate is lower than 5%, that means if you are average with respect to other people submitting you will have to submit at least twenty times for each acceptance. The odds of acceptance are vastly worse in fiction. There's a karmic balance though. If it's easier to get academic work published, it's not any easier to get it read. The overwhelming majority of articles and books never get cited by anyone other than the author self-citing her own texts later on. Most of us have to master the art of writing into the void.
If writing into the void drives you nuts, take some consolation in the fact that even the people most cited are in all likelihood writing into the void as well. I'm not talking about the heat death of the universe. Intellectual fashion is fickle. Suzanne Langer and Hans Vaihinger were probably bigger names than anyone writing today, but who is teaching their books. If Nelson Goodman can fall from grace, then anyone can and almost everyone will.
The benefit of writing into the void is that it keeps us honest. There's a bit of a paradox here. The collective system that does or doesn't recognize us only works if enough people remain unmotivated by collective recognition. I'm sure a good Hegelian like Robert Brandom would have interesting things to say about this. . . but I need to get back to work.