250 words per day: the dark side

I wrote before about the Magic Spreadsheet, which is the only thing that has ever really gotten me to write daily. I’m happy to report that I am at 51 days and counting, but it’s been getting harder, and the reason is time.

As is typical in my field, academia keeps me very busy. I do have some free time–a fair bit of it on a good day, which is one of the reasons I’ve been able to keep up with it. But what I do not have is large blocks of free time. And I find that when I have to write for a long time without that flexibility, I’m more and more likely to get stuck.

I’m the type of writer who always has several projects going at once. I realize that this is violating one of the rules guidelines of writing: “Don’t cheat on your writing with your other writing.” (I thought I had heard this from I Should Be Writing, but I can’t find it now.) It sounds like good advice, but it doesn’t work for me most of the time, so I keep a shortlist of active projects instead. Unfortunately, my shortlist looks like this:

1. A short story that requires significant research about the War of 1812 to write coherently.

2. Starting a novel that is pretty well outlined, except I never thought of a good opening scene.

3. Some pop-science material that I’m not sure how to explain at the correct technical level.

4. Editing a different short story–more on this in another post.

All of these projects are at a critical point: I need time to give them some serious thought to organize them and knit together the little snippets of material I have for them. Too often, I don’t have time to do that, or (more insidiously) I don’t feel like I have the time. So I usually end up choosing option 5: some cool scenes from other projects that are a long way from being seriously worked on. I still get my writing in, but it’s not as productive. Or I might pick option 6: some legitimately useful outlining and/or background material.

With spring break coming up, this might change, but with general exams also coming up, it might not. So, to all you writers out there, any advice on how to get a project unstuck? Leave a comment below, and, until next time, keep writing.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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