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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Writing Is Not Your Servant: Guest Post by Kathy Hopewell

Dr. Kathy Hopewell

Dr. Kathy Hopewell, writer, performer, teacher and blogger at The Freewriter’s Companion, candidly describes the disappointment of discovering that writing cannot be a command performance. Thanks to Kathy’s willingness to share her insights, you can follow Kathy’s suggestions for partnering with, instead of trying to dictate to, your writer-self and thus avoid that particular frustration.


Recently I finished the second big edit on my new novel, Death for Beginners.

“Now I’ll write short stories,” I said to myself. “When I get a story published in a journal or placed in a competition, an agent will surely take me and my new novel on.”

Trying to Move On

I sat down and wrote a list of the short stories I would write as quickly as possible, with the sole aim of getting a deal for my beloved novel.

You can guess what happened when I gritted my teeth and started the first short story that would be the passport to my success as a published novelist: total paralysis.

I managed three pages of the first draft. When I read it, I was so disgusted with its banality and pedestrian style I couldn’t even bring myself to try again.

Well, that Didn’t Go as Planned

Instead I had a tantrum. I didn’t actually throw myself on the floor screaming like a toddler, but I may was well have.

I couldn’t accept that I could not have what I wanted. The tantrum led to a sulk, which led to not writing at all, which led (almost) to depression.

Prospero and Caliban from The Tempest
© Bardolator21 Creative Commons

It was then I remembered poet Gillian Allnutt who said:

Writing is not your servant.

It’s hard to accept that good work, or the sort of work most useful for the advancement of a career, won’t appear at the snap of the fingers.

You can’t summon it to do your will. Sometimes you can’t summon any writing at all. This, I think, is the true test of the writer: to learn to wait for writing to come.

Learning to Wait

Waiting for writing is NOT filling time with distractions or slumping mindlessly in front of the TV/tablet/phone. Waiting for writing is active.

Observe and record ideas at your desk or screen. Go out with a notebook. Put yourself in the way of inspiration. Take a long walk. Have lunch with a friend.

You can do just about anything as long as you maintain awareness of your need for guidance and stay open to answers to your conscious and unconscious questions.

The goal of the first of Rosanne’s three writing habits, Process, fits perfectly here: surrender expectations and don’t begrudge the time spent.

Because writing comes in its own time and — beyond a certain amount of coaxing and shaping – its own shape and form, writers must cultivate acceptance and a huge amount of patience.

Wooing Writing

© Can Stock Photo / EpicStockMedia

While treating your writing as a slave gets you nowhere, wooing writing as if it is a potential lover really works. The power dynamic between the writer and the writing is all on the side of the writing.

But we love-struck writers are not completely helpless; we do have some tricks and techniques. If you arrange your day around writing, if you drop other commitments when it calls and simply spend time with it, writing will gradually trust you and reciprocate.

If you buy your writing presents or take it out to see things it loves, it will succumb and will give you what you want.

Space to Discover

My favorite way of making myself ready to receive a scene, plot, character or blog post is to create space by freewriting (instructions and suggestions on my blog.) In a ten-minute freewrite I agree to accept whatever writing is delivered to me and to avoid at all costs behaving like a spoiled toddler who goes into a fury when she doesn’t get what she wants.

The results of freewriting are rarely good writing. It’s always messy and some of it is truly awful! That is the most important lesson of all: writing is not my servant that delivers exactly what I want when I want it.

On the contrary, writing is at first an alluring stranger, and with luck and good practices, becomes a well-loved partner who cannot be controlled or told how to act.

So instead of having a tantrum next time writing refuses to obey you, be as charming as you can. Cultivate an attitude of waiting and watching. Freewrite some love letters.

Dr. Kathy Hopewell (aka The Freewriter’s Companion) is a writer, performer, teacher and blogger.  She works at Bangor University in North Wales where she teaches creative writing and women’s studies. She is one half of Hopewell Ink, a spoken word and music band which has released two CDs and was featured on BBC Radio 3. She blogs on freewriting, surrealism and everything in between at www.freewriterscompanion.com where you can subscribe for free to receive a ten-minute freewriting prompt in your inbox every Friday.

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  1. Hello and Welcome to Bane of Your Resistance Readers! | The Freewriter's Companion - July 1, 2019

    […] Writing is not your servant by Kathy Hopewell […]


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