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Reader Profile: Donald E.W. Quist

by Jennifer on April 15, 2010

By Renee Tomasek

Beginning with a word count as his goal, Donald E.W. Quist, forces himself to write every day as a way to combat the irritation that haunts all writers: procrastination.

Even if what Quist begins to craft as he inches toward his desired word count strays from his current novel project, he forces himself to continue writing anyways. He convinces himself that regardless of the topic that fills his given word count, he will eventually get back the project he had been working on.

At times what makes his word count increase is a list of tasks he must get done on any given day.

“I find a rhythm in it [task lists] and that rhythm carries me back to the subject,” Quist says.

Many writers say, “If the ideas aren’t flowing, don’t force them,” meaning, if ideas are not coming to you naturally, then you should not force their arrival.

Quist disagrees with this advice.

“It’s writing, not plumbing,” he says.

Many writers become frustrated as they search for inspiration, but Quist takes a different approach to find inspiration.

He waits.

Many writers are impatient and become irritated when the ideas don’t just flow and they give up. Not Quist.

He waits for inspiration, filling his time with small compositions of randomly selected word counts until he find his way back to his original story idea.

Whatever it is you’re working on, “Just get it written,” Quist says. “And you should be able to give yourself enough time to come back and polish it up.”

It may sound like Quist has all the time in the world. But he doesn’t. Like most writers, finding time to write is one (of many) obstacles he faces. Currently, he works two day jobs and writes at night when he can find the time to do so.

He also struggles with finding focus.

He finds himself with “writer beer goggles,” realizing the idea he had the night before did not look as good the next day.

Quist used to struggle with the fear of thinking he was not good enough to be a successful writer. To combat this, he often told himself, “You won’t be an author unless you keep writing and seize opportunities to share your work.”

This is a fear many writers struggle with, which prevents them from authoring anything; it kept Quist from writing until he finally brought his head above water and believed in himself.

He found that what was preventing him was his fear and his attitude; it was not the worry or concern about others; it was him who was getting in his way of being successful.

He still struggles with this from time-to-time, however he has overcome it enough to offer advice to other writers and to write.

Although it sounds so simple, just sitting down and writing something is one of the best ways to overcome procrastination, Quist says.

Like any sport or activity, writing takes practice, that’s why writers must write as much and as often as they can.

Just as any writer would, Quist carries a notebook with him, just as Impressionist artists used to do back in the day in case they found an inspirational scene. Instead of drawing, though, Quist writes from these inspirations, even if it’s only a few sentences.

“I’ve knocked out entire chapters waiting for my wife to finish shopping,” Quist says.

He also suggests finding yourself a writing space in which you can relax and write with no distractions.

And Quist says you can never read enough.

“READ,” he says. ”When you lack inspiration, when you don’t know where to start, read. The correlation between good writing and good reading is undeniable.”

About the Author: Renee Tomasek is a writer, an undergrad at Utica College and one of the three Procrastinating Writers interns.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rebecca Morris April 15, 2010 at 7:52 pm

He’s got a blog on tumblr I absolutely LOVE!!! – aletdownsquid.tumblr.com

2 Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist April 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I pretty much just grit my teeth and force my fingers to type out 1000 words. It is excruciating. But sometime, around word 427, my fingers start flying and I lose track of time. And on the days that doesn’t happen, I am always surprised by how many of those 1000 words are not half bad.

3 Donald E. W. Quist May 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm

@Rebecca(1) – Thank you so much!
@Rebecca( 2) – I love your blog!

4 Andrew Toynbee June 17, 2010 at 7:49 am

If I hit a point where I can’t work out how to construct or start a scene, I’ll hop to the next scene and fill that one in, then construct the problem scene in reverse, filling in from the one ahead and the one behind until they join (I hope) seamlessly.

I agree that forcing ideas is a great way to get bad ideas. Let them come to you. If they don’t, forget staring at blank paper or screens – take the dog for a walk.
You’ll end up with a good idea – and a happy dog.

5 jennifer blanchard June 17, 2010 at 9:53 am

@Andrew Toynbee I think walking is an excellent method for solving writing problems. Julia Cameran talks a lot about this in her book, The Writing Diet. Daily walks is one of her creativity tools that helps writers solve challenges–in their lives and in their writing.

6 Debra Grant October 4, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Appreciate your approach and ideas. I have recently started a book and need all the advice I can get.

7 Joyce Rose-Harris November 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm

My name is Joyce and I am a procrastinating writer. I don’t know what causes writers to do everything but write; if we buckle down and get to it we usually do fairly well. I found another good blog (other than my own of course). I just heard Donald E.W. Quist read at an poetry venue in Columbia, SC. I am enjoying his book “Let Me Make You A Sandwich”.

8 Jennifer November 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm

@Joyce I also enjoyed Donald’s book! So glad to hear you’re a fan.

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