Why It Takes Me Years To Write Anything

I am one of the world’s slowest writers. This is not only because I have a busy non-writing life, but also because I have a hard time thinking of what to write. I have some writer friends whose minds are always seething and burgeoning with ideas for plots and characters. They never encounter writer’s block. Their main frustration is that they will never be able to write all the books they want to write. Give them half an idea and off they go—no outline or anything. They just start writing and see where the story takes them.

I tried that once. I don’t think I even made it as far as the end of page two. No, I need structure in place like a scaffold that I can hang my thoughts on and fill out to make a decent story. But even then it’s a struggle.

I always start a scene with a goal in mind. For example, one character needs to communicate some information to another character. However, I cannot simply write, “John walked into the room and said to Isabella, ‘George is coming to visit. I don’t know how long he will stay. I think something is bothering him.’ Then John walked out of the room again.”

So I set the scene a little. After writing, “The fire was burning merrily in the grate and Isabella was sitting beside it with her embroidery as John entered the drawing room,” I sit there for half an hour wondering what the two of them might have to say to each other that might lead up to the news about George coming. There must be some kind of perfunctory greetings, and I get those out of the way quickly. Then I decide that maybe one of the children mentioned “Uncle George” to Isabella, and her telling John about it reminds him of the letter he received from George that day announcing his visit.

Now, what could the child have said about Uncle George?  My mind wanders to thoughts of my own uncle, and a funny story he told on Facebook. I check Facebook to remember exactly what his story was. Fifteen minutes later as I finish one of those internet quizzes about “Which Jane Austen heroine are you?” (that counts as research, doesn’t it?), I remember that I’m supposed to be writing. I stare at my screen for another ten minutes. Nothing comes to me. I must need to get myself re-immersed in my story, I think, so I re-read my previous chapter. I find several instances of awkward phrasing, a missing word, and a hideous paragraph-length sentence, all of which I duly correct.

None of this helps me when I arrive back at the scene I’m trying to write. Finally, I fall back on my personal Scarlett O’Hara technique (i.e. “I’ll deal with it tomorrow”): I write in bold “Isabella says that one of the children mentioned Uncle George” which is my way of alerting myself the next time I read the chapter through that I’ll still have to come up with something for her to say about this. At least I can move on.

“‘Ah, that reminds me,’ said John,” I type, and then decide that sounds too modern. “Ah, that puts me in mind,” sounds more Regency. “‘A letter came from George this morning.’” Oh, dear. Why wouldn’t Isabella be there when he got the letter? After all, didn’t most letters arrive around breakfast time and wouldn’t John and Isabella be together then? Isn’t that when Marianne got her letter from Willoughby? I must research this. An hour of research follows, during which time I decide that it is possible that John received a letter at a time when Isabella was not with him. I have John deliver his message about George coming. Now to work in his suspicion that all is not well with George.

“Is George well?”  Yes, that is a very Isabella-like thing to say.

“He said nothing about ill-health, so I suppose he is. And yet—” John paused.

Isabella looked up from her embroidery. No, I already used that word for what she was doing. Her sewing? That sounds like she’s mending shirts or something. Her stitching? I think that’s better for embroidery. “Yes?”

“I may be entirely wrong, but I fancy there was a touch of disquiet in the tone of his letter. Nothing definite, but the letter seemed to lack his usual cheerfulness.”

“I hope you may be wrong. Perhaps he is only tired.”


There, now I have finished what I need to say in this scene. Would it be too abrupt for one of them to say, “Let’s go eat dinner now?” Probably.  I spend another ten minutes looking at the screen before employing Scarlett O’Hara again: Find a way to end this scene.

You see the problem?

Find something witty to end this blog post with.

17 responses to “Why It Takes Me Years To Write Anything”

  1. chautonahavig Avatar

    I love you and your writing. I’ll take it any way I can get it.

    You know, you could write a book about an author who has a dozen sure-to-be bestsellers all but done on her computer but she doesn’t know how to fill in the bold parts, but in the process of filling the bold parts, she figures out how to be more bold herself and oh, the adventures she could have then!

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      You narrowly escaped being named in this post as one of my writer friends who can write a story with literally any prompt! This sounds like a book you could write!

  2. Susan Kaye Avatar

    Congratulations on getting anything done!

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      Thank you! It’s a battle …

  3. Stephanie Mudd Carrico Avatar
    Stephanie Mudd Carrico

    Love all your works. Just glad you keep it up, even when life gets in the way.

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      Stephanie, you are always so encouraging! Thank you!

  4. Regina Jeffers Avatar

    One thing I have enjoyed about this new group is hearing something of everyone’s processes and how each of us came to this moment.

  5. Glynis Avatar

    I’m not a writer but I totally get where you’re coming from here. It’s like when I decide to tidy something (major hoarder here!) I get started, then find something I haven’t seen for ages so I simply have to spend time getting re acquainted, ooh and I’ve just remembered something else, now where did I put it? Etc etc then I usually just stuff everything back where I found it and make a note to try again tomorrow!
    I really admire your ability to write anything. I just can’t come up with the necessary ideas until I read them in someone else’s book!
    Keep going!

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      I so sympathize with your organizing difficulties! That sounds like me, too!

  6. Brenda Webb Bigbee Avatar
    Brenda Webb Bigbee

    I sympathize with you for I am a slow writer, too. However, I think too many “stories” are being written that are NOT finished. No character development, no build up to a plot in any fashion and unfulfilling, to me at least. I am amazed at how many authors now put out a book a month, or sooner, that are lacking all these things and have many followers just waiting for the next to drop. I attribute that to the younger generations need to have things instantly and I pray that enough old-school readers still exist that like a long, well-thought-out tale.

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      I agree! Thanks for your thoughtful response!

  7. Nikki Avatar

    Barbara, I loved this post. I always struggled with writing when I was in school and all throughout my career in investments. I appreciate your description of your process!

  8. Riana Everly Avatar

    Writers Block is my devil these days. In my last story, I got the point in editing where the manuscript read, “STUFF HAPPENS. MAKE IT INTERESTING.”
    Uh… thanks, Me. That’s helpful.
    Your process might be slower than some, but the product is lovely. Do whatever works.

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      Hahaha! I laughed out loud at your comment. Sorry you struggle with it, too! Hopefully we’re better writers in the end because of it! Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

  9. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    I’m sure writers block is a pain! Hopefully you will get past it. Love the post not sure how I would end it.lol

    1. Barbara Cornthwaite Avatar

      Thanks so much!

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