I’ve long thought that the two most difficult parts of writing are sitting down and standing up.

The reasons for the difficulty-in-getting-yourself-to-sit-down-to-write part are myriad, as anyone who has ever tried to write can attest. The standing-up part, though, might need some explanation.

Most times, standing up from writing—that is, leaving the work behind in search of something better to do, especially if that something involves a visit to the fridge—is easy. You’re bored with what you’re writing. Or you can’t think of anything to say. Or even, hallelujah, you’re on a roll, ideas firing, words flying, synapses snapping: How much happiness can one brain take before it explodes?

Whatever the case, you stand up.

But then comes the time that the work isn’t going well but . . . it might. Maybe all the pieces will fall into place. Maybe if you reverse these two paragraphs over here and here, or rethink the end of the chapter, or change a character’s name, or start with a scene instead of a summation, or try present tense, or switch to second person singular, or—oh, this is brilliant!—play with the font!

Then again, maybe not.

Maybe what has to change isn’t what’s on the page but the person who’s writing it. Maybe you need to leave your chair. You can even turn your back as you’re walking away, if symbolic gestures are your thing.

I know, I know—walking away from your writing can feel like a defeat, an abandonment of both project and hope. It can induce guilt—or, more accurately, multiply the guilt you’re already feeling just because you’re presuming that you deserve to write. I’ve already come so far! you might feel. I’ve actually overcome the difficulty-in-getting-myself-to-sit-down-to-write part. And I’ve stayed sitting, just like a writer! And now—what? I’m supposed to just get up and leave?

Yes. Because stewing there in your chair, failing, isn’t going to help.

So stand up. Walk away. And please: Take your time. After all, the problem isn’t going anywhere. It’s staying right there, on the page. And when you return to your chair, the problem will still be there, right where you left it.

Only now, it will be different, because you’ll be different. ENDING TK. (One more beat? Humor? Callback to fridge!)

(Or not?)

(Different font??)

Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight Fight Fight
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Richard Panek

A Guggenheim Fellow in science writing, Richard Panek is most recently the author of The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, which won the 2012 Science Communication award from the American Institute of Physics, and the co-author, with Temple Grandin, of The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Nonfiction Book of 2013. He also wrote the National Geographic giant-format movie Robots 3D, now playing in museum theaters across the country. His educational and professional background is in both journalism and fiction, disciplines he combines in trying to illuminate the history and philosophy of science even for readers who, like himself before he begins his research, would know little or nothing about the topic at hand.

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