Nancy: Quotes and Clichés for Writers

Quotes for Writers

Seize the day.

Get your butt in the chair.

You can’t edit a blank page.

Just do it.

We writers tell each other these things. We tell ourselves these things. Sometimes daily. We mean well; we really do. But like all clichés, these word glommed together and uttered repeatedly tend to lose their meaning. They end up not motivating us after all. We still manage to shut off our minds.  We ignore our WIPs. We’re easily distracted, and next thing we know we’ve spent two hours watching adorable animal videos on YouTube, or doing household chores that under any other circumstances would drop to the bottom of the to-do list, or spending just a few more hours on the day job.

A few days ago, I found myself muttering some of these well-worn phrases to myself while diving into the project of organizing six boxes of books onto my new office bookcase. I turned to see my computer sitting on the desk, its indicator light blinking its hibernation status. My husband was busy with his own tasks. My consultant clients had all the documents they needed from me for the day. The cats were napping. It was just me. Me and my computer.

And that’s when it hit me. All the clichés and best intentions were not making me seize the day nor get my butt in the chair nor create new words to edit later. I wasn’t just doing it. My plan was to cross all the other things off my to-do list first. Writing would come after that. That’s the way it had to be; after all, those other things were on the schedule for that afternoon (you might recall that I discussed my compulsive need to develop and follow a Schedule a few weeks ago).

I couldn’t come up with any pat words to make me ignore the Schedule and just write. Today is the first day of the rest of your life? Um, no. Write (or dance, or paint, or just generally create) as though no one is watching? Not exactly.

I gave up on motivational quotes, tossed the Schedule aside, and sat down with my computer. I opened the WIP, went to the first yellow highlight (my color coding that tells me where I identified a missing scene in my first draft read-through), and started writing the scene. Forty-five minutes later, I had 1300 new words and a plan for the next missing scene.

I used a similar approach the next day, and the day after that. Three days does not a writing streak make, but in a few days I’d written more than 4000 words, and now I only have a handful of new scenes to write for this first full revision.

In 1964, a young Mick Jagger fronting the Rolling Stones, sang, Time is on my side. Ten years later, an older and possible wiser Jagger sang, Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me. Yeah, it’s not a very uplifting quote, but it’s a true one, and sometimes a good, swift kick in the ass from the truth can be motivating in its own right.

For the next few weeks, I’m giving up quotes. I can’t totally give up the Schedule (my client and husband and cats do get dibs on some of my hours, and that requires scheduling!), but I can be more aware of those little breaks in the action when I’m alone with my computer or with paper and pen, and I can seize the day, get my butt in the chair, and get words on the page that I can later edit.

Obviously, I’m not giving up motivational quotes and clichés completely. They have their place. They can be mantras that get us into the writing zone or help us focus on the path so we can back to it when we lose our way. What quotes or words of wisdom have meaning for you? Have you found any that sparked your creativity or led you back to your creative path?

6 thoughts on “Nancy: Quotes and Clichés for Writers

  1. (-: Can I give you a quote?

    “Pay yourself first.”

    The wise people say if you want money in your retirement fund, you have to take that money off first, and stash it in your retirement fund. Don’t pay all the bills and all the fun stuff first, and see what’s left.

    I think that works for writing, too. Give yourself 45 minutes (or even 20 minutes!) first.

    It works when I do it. Unfortunately, everything else has been getting in the way lately, and I’ve wanted to shove whoever said, “Pay yourself first” into the nearest dumpster for being so smug and right. Because of course, she’s right. I need to pay myself first. And right now, it looks like what I really, really want to do is listen to NPR podcasts and chat about books on the internet first.

    Right now, this minute, I feel like I’m going to have to leave the building maybe in about 10 minutes, and I don’t have time to write . . . . So many excuses . . . .

    Good going on your three days, though, and may you have at least three more (-:. (No pressure.)

    • Excuses and distractions seem to be in endless supply, don’t they? I’m guilty of ‘letting perfection be the enemy of good enough’ (to paraphrase another bit if advice) when it comes to writing circumstances. I become the princess from The Princess and the Pea, unable to settle in and comfortable unless everything in my environment is perfect, which happens pretty much never. But three days of ignoring the need for perfect circumstances and slotted time on the schedule was a step in the right direction.

      • Yeah, sadly, I know exactly what you mean. And I know what I *should* do. I just have to get that little kid inside me from screaming, “No! No! You can’t make me!!!” And writing really shouldn’t be a “make me” — it should be a “let me” feeling.

        Ah. “Should” is such a dangerous word. I guess it depends on when and where one is in the process.

  2. This works for me, Nancy: don’t die wondering.

    I first heard the phrase used by an Australian TV commentator who was covering the Tour de France cycling. Some brave soul broke away from the peloton, miles from the finish. Eight or nine times out of ten, a breakaway will get reeled in by the group, but sometimes the rider manages to make it stick, and then he wins big. The commentator said ‘Well, HE won’t die wondering.’ It’s stuck with me ever since, and it feels more powerful than ‘seize the day.’

    • I’m one of those people who has to know these things – did the rider win? Regardless, you got a good quote out if it :-).

  3. My favorite (it’s on my mouse pad!) is “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” (Henry Ford — he’s got a lot of good quotables). Everything is a frame of mind, and the mind has power over lots of things…if you use it to your advantage. I’ve been meditating (well, mulling — I don’t do much meditation) on that quote a lot lately as I decide to put Three Proposals in the corner for a little while. I know I’ll finish 3P…just not in the next month.

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