The 15 Stages of Sitting Down to Write

Young woman using laptop working at home
FG Trade/E+/Getty Images

We all know that the life of a professional writer is exciting, glamorous, and filled with unqualified success. The only downside to a career in writing is the actual writing. Writing, as most people already know, is impossible. If you've ever tried to write something, be it a novel or a term paper, you're probably well acquainted with the struggle of actually sitting down to write.

Everyone procrastinates once in a while. We mean to go to the gym, but we end up taking a nap (why are workout clothes basically pajamas, that seems like an obvious design flaw). Or we fully intend to respond to that Very Important Email, but then we find ourselves adrift in the backwaters of the internet, looking at mug cake recipes. But there's a special intensity of procrastination when you sit down to write. Even if you're writing a research paper, there's a certain vulnerability to just sitting there and putting your thoughts down on a page. And if you're writing something personal, like a short story or a satirical essay about your last Tinder encounter? Forget it.

Luckily, the writer's best friend/mortal enemy is that sense of last minute panic. If that sounds familiar to you, then you'll probably recognize some of these stages of sitting down to write:

1. Deciding to sit down and write

The time has come. You've set aside this time to WRITE. You've told all your friends that you will be setting tonight aside for WRITING, and so you cannot join them at dinner/the bar/that party that your ex is attending. Tonight is the night when you finally become the you of your dreams. Historians will look back on this as the night that the next Great American Novel and/or Screenplay was born. It's happening. Let's do this.

2. Checking Facebook

Oh. Whoops. You meant to open a Word Document, and yet somehow here you are, on Facebook. You'll just check to see if you have any new notifications. And then maybe scroll through your newsfeed, to get the general vibe of how people feel about the election. Is that a new photo from your ex's solo trip to Europe? You would like to take a solo trip to Europe. Maybe you should just check to see if your high school rival has posted anything new on the blog that you hate-read...

3. Getting a snack

Ok, ok, you're closing out of Facebook now. No more. It's time to write. What's that Virginia Woolf quote? "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well"? That is so true. You'll grab a quick snack, get a coffee, adjust the lighting, find the right pair of sweatpants, adjust your desk chair, and get down to writing. That's the responsible thing to do. Now you just have to decide what to eat...

4. Staring blankly at the screen

Hmm. This isn't quite the outpouring of pure, unfiltered creativity you were going for. All yesterday when your friend was venting to you about her job, you were crafting the perfect opening paragraph in your mind. And now you can't remember any of it. Your mind is so blank. The cursor blinks. The cursor is taunting you. It's time for a break.

5. Candy crush

Or 2048, Angry Birds, Dots, or Words with Friends. Just one game. To clear your head. And then right back to writing.

6. Reevaluating your life choices

Okay. OK. This is getting ridiculous. You need to WRITE. And also you're locked out of Candy Crush. Maybe you weren't meant to be a novelist. Maybe your third grade teacher was right about you. Maybe you peaked in college. Maybe the rest of your life is going to be one nightmarish descent into failure. Maybe if you'd actually finished your NaNoWriMo last year, your ex would have invited you on that solo trip to Europe. Maybe that second cup of coffee was a mistake.

7. Searching for “inspiration”

Deep breaths. You just need to be inspired before you can start writing. What's that quote? Genius is one percent perspiration, ninety-nine percent inspiration? That sounds right. Maybe this article about a turtle and a cat who are friends will inspire you...

8. Picking out the perfect writing music/outfit/font

What, are you supposed to write without being comfortable? The problem is that you've been wearing that one kind of itchy sweater this whole time. And you have to find the right playlist—a sort of upbeat yet chill, focused, pump-up, relaxing dance vibe. And you've been trying to write in Arial, which is basically just a tarted up Comic Sans. No wonder it hasn't been working.

9. Cleaning

When was the last time you vacuumed? Or organized your pens? Or pruned your terrarium? If you don't do it now, it's just going to keep nagging at you until you do do it, and then you'll never get to your writing. So the responsible thing would be to clean. Or maybe go to the gym. Or take a shower. Or finally get around to starting Breaking Bad.

10. Getting a second snack

You never should have started off by eating all that cheese! What were you thinking? These veggie chips are much better brain food. And maybe another coffee, because your hands are starting to lose their natural tremble.

11. Despair

This is it. This is your lowest moment. It wasn't that time you accidentally called your teacher "mom," or when you tried to pull a pen out of your bag and all those tampons came flying out instead. It's this. You're staring into the abyss. It's almost... peaceful. Like how people go all warm before they freeze to death. Maybe you'll just... go... to sleep...

12. Resurrection

NO, dammit. You're going to to write SOMETHING tonight or you are going to die trying. You can do this. You are a warrior. You work best under pressure. Maybe it's the third jolt of caffeine hitting, but YOU FEEL SO ALIVE. LET'S DO THIS.

13. Writing that first sentence

Yes, you're KILLING IT. Look at you go. You're typing all kinds of words. You are a god. This is it, this is the true meaning of art, distilled down to it's purest form. There. A full sentence. You've written a sentence. Arguably, this is the best sentence you, or possibly anyone else, has ever written.

14. Deleting that first sentence

...On second thought, you could probably do better. Like maybe take out a few adverbs. And nouns. Or just completely scrap it. Let's try this again.

15. Actually, genuinely, starting to write

It's nearing 2 am, and you're entering a fugue state, but come hell or high water you are putting words down on the page, one after another. Beautiful! Now you just have to figure out a way to do this every night... for the rest of your life.

Images: FG Trade/E+/Getty Images, Giphy