When the Failure Begins: Talking to Myself While Writing

Posted on 29 January 2014

Last week, as part of an assignment for workshop here in the MFA program, I recorded one of my writing sessions. That means I used my phone to record myself giving a voiceover of my writing process, including complaints about my hunger and the cold and my reluctance to actually, you know, write.

Here are a few actual excerpts from this recording. Allow me to preface this by saying that while this makes me look really, really lazy, I actually accomplished something during this session. Regardless, read at your own risk:

  • I’m talking a lot right now because I don’t want to actually write. Because it’s hard. And because it’s also really weird talking to myself.
  • I am not saying what the title is and I’m not describing the premise because I fear if I say it out loud, even if no one’s going to listen to this, it will sound so incredibly stupid that it will discourage me from continuing.
  • Why is this so hard? And I really want to eat these crackers so I’m setting them aside. Okay. I want more coffee too. Basically I want to do anything but write. Because when you start to write, that’s when the failure begins.
  • It would just be so easy to never do anything.
  • Now I’m going to try to change points of view. After one more quick game of spider solitaire.
  • I’m just staring at the cats now, in case anyone’s wondering.
  • I don’t know why writing is so damn hard. Seriously, what’s the deal with that?
  • My ear just started ringing. Better stop writing! Just kidding.
  • To my cat, Saucy: Do you want to write my story for me?
  • So much of writing is pushing away my mental blocks. I’m looking at this and already thinking someone in workshop is going to say, “You don’t need this first part, just get to the next section.” I already know this, but I need to write it anyway.
  • (Quiet mumbling) Shitty first drafts, shitty first drafts.

Shitty first drafts, indeed. That 75-minute writing session, which I came to hungry and tired and obviously predisposed to whining, resulted in a new story opening. So at least there’s that.

What are you saying to yourself as you write?

Photo: lincolnblues

13 responses to When the Failure Begins: Talking to Myself While Writing

  • When I’m writing it goes something like this: I’m a genius/this is a load of horseshit/I’m a genius/this sucks

    When I’m trying to write it’s more like What can I do that is not writing? Should I do the dishes? That’s not writing!

    • I know. Housework suddenly becomes the most fascinating and pressing thing on the planet. I try to remember what Bonnie Jo Campbell said when she came to Bowling Green: “I think it’s a good sign as a writer if your house looks miserable.”

  • Teri says:

    All I’m thinking lately is, “You say this is what happened, but what are you hiding?”

    Writing this memoir, I’ve learned how much I feel I need to hide … even from myself.

  • Sarah W says:

    Usually, I’m saying, “Honey, go back to bed right now—you have school tomorrow. No, I mean it. Okay, one more hug. Now, go. No, you can’t have a drink. Fine, but that’s IT.”

    • I am ashamed to admit just how much I talked to the cats during this writing session. They follow me everywhere, including to the writing room, so at least I guess it makes the process a bit less lonely?

  • Josey says:

    “Because when you start to write, that’s when the failure begins.”


    This is brilliant. (And kinda like listening to a therapy session, right?) It’s funny how similar these thoughts are to what I’m thinking during during a yoga class: Why is this pose so hard…I’m hungry…it’s cold in here…What time is it? How much longer? Why are there no clocks in here?

    It’s the whole quiet mind thing. I have an 8-1/2″ X 11″ sheet posted right above my desk with the three words in gigantic font: NO EGO ALLOWED

    It doesn’t work like I’d like it to work, but it’s a nice reminder every so often. I also like the idea of going beyond “permitting yourself to write a shitty first draft” but making it mandatory…as in, “My process (ugh, I know) starts with me having to write a shit first draft. It’s the only rule I’m not allowed to break.”

    • No ego allowed — I like that. I spent all day Tuesday writing and, while I got a lot done and am happy about it, it was often a struggle. I think I work better as the years go by, but it never gets easier.

  • Averil says:

    The title of this post is brilliant.

    I’m usually saying, “Please dear god don’t let me die right now and leave this for my family to find.” I think if I felt a heart attack coming on, I’d probably race for the computer instead of the phone. “Delete! Delete! Del—“

    • Teri says:

      This is my first thought when I’m on a plane that starts bumping around in the air. Not thoughts of my family, thoughts of my incomplete and jumbled manuscript.

      Followed by my second thought, which goes something like, “don’t think about that you f-ing narcissist!”

  • Catherine says:

    Great post and horribly relevant for me too. I’m back to crude writing tomorrow after a month of house guests and trade fair work abroad and general unsettledness.
    So true that failure creeps in as soon as you begin.
    And I think your thoughts mirror much of my attempts to harness some level of concentration while staring about the room and refilling my tea cup… It’s an act of permanent falling and never gets easier. Harder, probably.

  • Downith says:

    Horribly familiar sounding

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