Category: Writing

Writing Is a Job

Writing is a job-text on the background of a notebook.

Writing a book sounds romantic, gazing over the roofs of Paris in a chilly attic room, slowly sipping hot black coffee. Fluttering curtains in the golden sunset. Sometimes it can even be that. 

But writing is, above all, a job. It’s work and routine. Toil and exhaustion. 

You have to go to work like everybody else and do the time on the chair. It means having a set time and place – be it a home office, a café, or the kitchen table. So you put on your working clothes, sit down at the set time, and start writing. No exceptions, no excuses, just doing. Every day.

Sometimes the words will flow, pouring of you so quickly you can hardly keep up typing, the pages filling effortlessly. You’re a gift to the world. Working is easy and pleasurable, and you can keep at it for hours.

Other times, you stare at the blank page and can hardly resist the urge to run. You write a few words, decide they’re lousy, and delete them. You start again. How could you ever think you could write?


Time drags on. Lunch cannot come soon enough. Or any interruption, really. You’re almost glad if something breaks. Then, suddenly, you’re happy calling the plumber or the electrician for an emergency repair. Or grateful if the delivery man seems to have time for a chat. Anything to avoid looking at that blank page, the blinking cursor a silent countdown to an inexorable deadline.

But you keep at it, how uncomfortable you may be. You’ve learned discipline. You’ve learned that if you sit there long enough, something will happen. An idea, even a kernel of an idea, will appear, seemingly out of thin air. An image that triggers long-gone memories. Scenes from a distant past or a shimmering future. And you’re in again. In the zone where fantastic things happen and writing is easy.

If you’re not able to write, write about not being able to write. For a writer, everything is writing material. Even not being able to write.

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Writing Is an Exercise in Humility

An Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) Photograph by Mihaela Limberea, in tones of green, lavender and orange
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)* photograph of one of my flowers beds.

One thing anybody could tell you about me is my patience. Or lack of it. It’s a paradox, really. While I can be still for hours when stalking birds to take photos, for instance, most of the time, I have no patience. None. I’m the kid who ate the marshmallow immediately (and went looking for another one in the corridor; no nice waiting for me!).

Gardening has been a lesson in humility for me. It simply takes time for plants to grow, and a fully grown garden takes several years. Even then, it does take time for flowers to bloom or for butterflies to appear in the spring. By creating and tending a garden, you learn patience along the way.

After creating my first garden in Sweden, tending to another in Switzerland, and then creating a new one when back in Sweden again, I thought I’d mastered patience. 

Ha! So easily fooled we are! Especially by ourselves. 


Writing a book takes a lot of patience. Sitting at your desk day after day after day, toiling away a page at a time, with no end in sight. 

One day you think you’ve made good progress; you only have to keep going, and you’ll get there. The next day, nothing works. You write 500 words and delete 400. You start doubting yourself. Do you really have what it takes? Patience and perseverance to sit there every day and build a cathedral by yourself, one brick at a time? To compare the wondrous vision of the building in your head and the lone low wall in front of you that you managed to erect so far?

Someone said that the only thing you need to write is a good chair. That’s a good point. You’ll need a good chair because you’re going to spend a lot of time in it. Sometimes writing, more often staring in space or scouring the internet for the best slug repellent (true story!).

I killed off all distractions on my computer, turned off e-mail and notifications, deleted games, and so on. Closed all programs, except for Scrivener (going off-road now, I know, but if you need anything to write, in addition to the said chair, you’d also need Scrivener, believe me! the best writing software, ever). And the internet browser. 

It’s a risk, I know. An internet connection while writing it’s an open invitation, a free-for-all buffet of distractions. 

I decided to take the risk. Looking up synonyms or the name of a bird I can’t bring to mind is worth it. Worse case, I’ll know more about the mating rituals of penguins or find the best slug repellent (I tend to be practical in my distractions; wasting time, yes, but at least I’ve got something for it).


So, I sit on the chair and stare at the Scrivener binder. Every morning. I try not to think about the number of days required to write a whole book. I try to have faith that if I show up every day, do the work, do the best I can, I’ll produce a book in the end. And maybe learn some patience on the way.

Writing is an exercise in humility. Day after day after day. Brick after brick after brick.

If you’ll excuse me, I have more bricks to lay now. Rome hasn’t been built in one day, and so on. Ta!


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A Few Steps Further Down the Road

Deep blue sea. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I work slowly but steadily on my book—word by word, pebble by pebble. In fact, I’m not writing that much at the moment, mostly research notes, as I’m working my way through the research books; and morning pages, of course. 

I read, I take notes, I read some more. Days blend into each other. My hand hurts. My head hurts even more.

Will I ever get there? The end product, the book, seems so far away. I try not to think about it; it’s so overwhelming at times. I feel I’ll never get there. It’s just so … much. Too much to think about, too much to read, too much to write. Like rowing a small boat across a vast ocean with only a flimsy map and an old compass to aid.

At times you may see something on the horizon. Maybe the coast, or maybe the gathering storm clouds. Hard to tell. You keep rowing, blistering hands on the oars and eyes on the horizon. The vision at the end of the ocean is the only thing that pumps your muscles and keeps you going long after you’re all spent.

Sometimes you see a sailboat, swiftly gliding away in the sunset, ahead of you. Tanned people with big smiles waving happily at you as you toil alone and exhausted in your rickety boat. You envy them, their seemingly effortless travel and happy faces.

Grudgingly, eyes off the happy vision, you grab your oars firmly once again and keep going. That’s the only thing you can do. Keep working, keep trusting the vision in your head. Work and have faith. Do your best and hope you’ll cross the ocean unscathed and find the treasure at the end of the rainbow.

There is a certain satisfaction in having done your best. Maybe your best is not good enough; you’re not always the best judge of that. Even so, you know that you’ve done the best you could at that moment. Right now, right here. You can try again, do better—step by step, day by day.

Happiness is this moment now, the sense of quiet accomplishment at the end of the day, the string of tiny moments, a task well done.

I put my books and papers away. Another day, another page, a few steps further down the road. Closer to the rainbow.


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If You Want to Be a Writer, Write!

A pink water lily. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I was talking to my aunt some time ago, and I mentioned I was reading about stoicism. “Well, that’s certainly the best time to do it.”, she said as we were talking about Covid-19 just before we moved on to books.

A practical philosophy to guide you to live a better life, become a better and wiser human being, more resilient to whatever life throws at you, Stoicism is definitely helpful these days. 

But what I was thinking about, in fact, was the way you could apply it in your creative endeavors.  We’re all human beings, after all, before being artists.

Stoics didn’t give much for theories, they were more hands on. They valued action, not talk. 

Live your values, don’t just talk about them, simply put.

For an artist, it means you shouldn’t talk about the book you’re going to write, the music you’ll compose, the painting you’ll do. You should write. You should compose. You should paint. Then you can talk about it.


Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it, said Epictetus.

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be oneMarcus Aurelius advised.

If you want to be a writer, write. Don’t talk about writing.


As a beginner, it’s easy to get caught in appearances. You know, people-watching at a café, scribbling ideas onto a Moleskine notebook. Buying the latest and greatest writing software and gadgets. Tinkering with a website. And so on.

But these are all, well, appearances.

What you don’t see when reading a good book is the toil behind it. The time on the chair, the long hours spent staring at the blank page, the despair, the self-doubt, the inner criticism, the endless edits, the re-writs, time after time, day after day. Writing is a hard business, as Hemingway once said. *

Don’t be one of those people sitting at the café, sipping their latte, and talk about writing a book. Stop talking and start creating.

You become an artist by doing the work of an artist, not by talking about it.


* letter to Maxwell Perkins, 1938 from Selected Letters


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Dreams Are Involuntary Fiction

Close up of a skyscraper in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Close up of a skyscraper in Tokyo, Japan.

Last night I dreamt of … Bear with me, please. I know, reading about someone’s dreams is as exciting as watching your computer progressing through system updates—even well-written ones. 

I guess it has to do with their purely fictional character. We know they’re made up. Fiction pretends to be real, and we call it out when it’s not working. We’re willing to listen to the tale that is disguised as true, but not to the dream we know is not.

Dreams are second hand, involuntary fiction.

So, I had a dream. I won’t bother you with the details. But being through a scary experience (being lost in a city I didn’t know, walking very determined to nowhere), I did what all writers do: wrote about it in the dream. I had, apparently, decided that I could at least get a story out of that scare. Never let a good crisis go to waste, and all that.

And when I woke up, I wrote about the dream. As any writer would do. 


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All Creation Is an Act of Faith

Reflection of reeds in the lake water. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

All creation is an act of faith. Faith in yourself and your capacity. Your skills. Your persistence. Your vision. Especially your vision.

As an artist, you don’t have a blueprint, a manual to show you the way. No IKEA how-to-kit. “Follow these steps, assemble these parts; here’s the final product.” Only the vision in your mind, of what it could be.

At times, you may waver. Self-doubt creeps in. You run into a problem, and your vision seems to be more and more a fata morgana, a mirage drawing further and further away.

Other times, you cannot be even bothered to do the work. “What’s the use? It’ll be useless. It’s such a bad idea.”

That’s fine, in fact. Self-doubt is an artist’s constant companion. We have to learn to live with it. Acknowledge it, look it in the eye, and keep working. 

There’s no other way.


If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means, paint, and that voice will be silenced.
― Vincent van Gogh


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Keep Going: Cardio for Zombie Hunters and Writers

Digital art by Mihaela Limberea.
One of my early digital artworks.

As a writer, as an artist in any field, in fact, you need stamina. Endurance. Grit. Persistence. The equivalent of Rule #1 in Zombieland: cardio. Cardio for the brain. 

Laboring day after day, alone, with no other guidance than the vision in your head, takes its toll. You waver. You stumble and fall. You lose your way (even Dante needed a guide).

Self-doubt sets in. “Am I really doing the right thing? Should I have gone a different way? What if I fail? Is this good enough?” The inner critic gains on you; you start losing yourself, overwhelmed by his incessant, malicious chatter.

Patience wears thin. You look at the few lines you wrote and imagine the unfathomable amount of time it’ll take to stretch it in a book. A whole book. How would you ever get there? You can’t imagine it anymore.

Distractions attack your focus. You mean to check a synonym, and half an hour is gone, without a synonym to show for it. (But on the other hand, you know a lot more about the mating rituals of penguins).

Yet, somehow, you have to keep going. Keep working, keep realizing the vision in your head, despite, at times, crippling self-doubt, constant restlessness, and distractions.

How do you do that? How do you keep going when you feel you’ve spent yourself, and you don’t have anything left to give? When you can’t imagine writing one more paragraph, let alone a whole page or a whole chapter? 

Simple. Small steps. 

Forget the goal (a whole book!), just focus on the task for the day. Writing 500 words. Or 1,000. Then forget them as well. 

Write one sentence. Just one. Then the next one. Then the next one.

Don’t think, just write. One word at a time. Pebble by pebble by pebble, as Donna Tartt says*.

Successful writers are the ones who keep working, not the ones who have talent or write beautiful sentences. Yes, there may be more talented writers, and yes, some may write better than you. But this means nothing if they don’t persevere and actually finish the project. What matters, in the end, is the end result. 

So, you write one word, and another one, and another one. Day after day after day. There’s no other way.


* It is just pebble by pebble by pebble by pebble. I write one sentence until I am happy with it until I go on to the next one and write that one until I am happy with it. And I look at my paragraph and if I am not happy with that I’ll write the paragraph until I’m happy with it and then I go on this way. And, of course, even writing this very slow way, one does have to go back. One does start off on the wrong foot sometimes and a whole scene has to be chopped and you have to start over again. Generally, you know that pretty quickly though. You realize you have painted yourself into a corner and you think, “Okay I am just going to trace my footsteps back to the last solid bit of ground that I know. Look around start again and take a different tack.” It’s the way that William Styron writes and he said, when he was about my age, that he realized that he had maybe four or five books in him—the way that he worked—and he said he was fine with that. I’m fine with that too. It’s okay by me.Donna Tartt


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You’ll Always Have More Ideas Than Time

Coffee mug and notebook near a fireplace.
Photo by Rafael Leão on Unsplash

While I am working diligently on my research, I’m fighting this sudden urge to abandon the book I’m toiling on and write another book. A very compelling idea came my way. It feels so right that I’m ready to jettison the current material and just start again.

It’s a huge temptation. But is this the right thing to do?

I know it’s not. How do I know? I’ve learned it the hard way. *

A bright new idea makes current work seems dreary compared to whatever I’m working on. Naïve me abandons said dreary work to jump on board another project, so full of promises and hopes that it’s only right to do it. I enthusiastically start, work for a while, and realize that it’s become, well, dreary as time goes by. Then, I have an idea. Again. I feel stupid, but I’m not willing to cut my losses. Yet. I’ve invested in the first project, discarded all that work, started again, put in more time and effort – should I abandon this as well?

It’s a vicious circle. You’ll always have more ideas than time to execute them. It takes a lot of discipline to resist the pull of sparkling new ideas; the brain loves shiny bright objects, the rascal (this is the novelty bias at play).

I cannot afford to be seduced by new promises. It feels good in the beginning, then reality sets in, and I’ll be back to square one in no time.

Reluctantly, I write down the new idea in my Future Projects-list and go back to work.


* Remember when I said that I’d write a short story instead of the SF novel I was working on? Guess what? I didn’t finish it. Nor did I continue with the novel. Instead, I got a new idea! A non-fiction book! It’ll be great! Leave the dull stuff behind; let’s do this new, cool stuff instead!

This is why I started documenting the process of writing my book here on the blog. This serves a dual purpose: first, I’ll be less prone to chase new ideas, and second, I’ll have to finish it. Don’t underestimate the power of social accountability to keep your promises.


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Nothing Is So Intimate as Writing a Book

An open notebook
Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

I know I’ve been secretive about the book I’m working on, but I can’t help it. It’s too fragile a thing to be exposed to the world. A small plant, a tiny greenhouse flower that still needs nutrients, and water, and a lot of tender care and protection before it’s ready to be planted in the garden to stand on its own.

Maybe I doubt it’s a good idea after all, and I don’t want my bubble to be burst yet.

Maybe I’ll change my mind and go into a different direction.

Or maybe I’m not ready to bare my soul yet. Nothing is so intimate as writing a book, pouring your soul on the page, and sending it out in the world, alone and vulnerable. 

As Vita Sackville-West said, “The book the one is writing at the moment is really the most intimate part of one, and the part about which one preserves the strictest secrecy. What is love or sex, compared with the intensity of the life one leads in one’s book? A trifle; a thing to be shouted from the hill-tops.”  (in a letter to Virginia Woolf on July 24th, 1929, from the book The Letters of Vita Sackville -West and Virginia Woolf, edited by Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell Leaska).


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Perfect Is the Enemy of Done

A book and a notebook on a desk.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Many people dream about writing a book but never get past talking about it.

Some start but get stuck “researching,” afraid that they may miss something essential if they don’t read that next book. And the next one. And the next one, in a never-ending stream of self-deceit.

Others start but never finish because they’re continuously tinkering with it, adding a word here, another there, shuffling paragraphs around, the eternal Joseph Grands. They’re not adding new material propelling the book forward, just recycling old stuff.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. We’re only deceiving ourselves thinking that one more day, one more week, one more month to put the finishing touch on that artwork, on that project, will miraculously transform it, making it perfect.

Perfect is the enemy of done.


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