Elizabeth: Back to Basics – Writing Life

Stories Yet To Be WrittenFor the past several weeks I’ve been talking about individual craft elements in conjunction with the new book I’m starting. This week, I’d like to shift focus away from the craft and onto the writer.

I’d hazard a guess that most readers have, at one time or another, thought of writing as “probably not that hard”. After all, how much time could it take to write a book if it only takes a couple of hours to read it, right? Since statistics show that up to 95% of people think they might write a book “one day”, I’m guessing the “it’s not that hard” thought is fairly common one.

Turns out, however, that writing is not quite as easy as it may seem from the reader side of the page. Some might even describe it as challenging, difficult, or “a real pain.”

While some of the ladies here on the blog have finished the stories they started with when we first began this blog and gone on to pen additional books, others have had to drag their stories to the page, kicking and screaming, one word at a time. For those of us working on our first novels, the process has been a great learning experience but, as Justine pointed out in her post yesterday, it has also meant stories that felt “almost done” 6 months ago (or even 3 months ago),now appear rife with gaps and weaknesses. Add to that the problem of finding the time and inclination to maintain a consistent writing process and writing is definitely not a “piece of cake.”

I read an interesting blog post by Wil Wheaton recently (you may remember him as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek or more recently from his repeated cameos in The Big Bang Theory). In the post, he talked about how he was getting in the way of his own creativity with the choices he was making.

“This thing that I’m doing? This series of choices I make every day? It isn’t working. . . Things need to change.” ~ Wil Wheaton

I can relate to that. Being in the right frame of mind to be creative is challenging, and blending a consistent, sustainable writing process into an already full life can be a real balancing act. There never seems to be enough time or energy to do everything we want to do (or think we should do). Or is there?

Make time to write

I had to give a talk a few months back as part of a communications training class. My random topic was exercise and when doing some quick research I found a graphic out on the web that said “if you have time to be on Facebook, you have time to exercise.”  The idea being that we all have little bits of time here and there that we could “re-purpose” for something that we really want to do.

I know that was certainly true for me when I made a concerted effort a few years back to start going to the gym every day. I didn’t stop doing anything that was really important to me, but I did manage to find 45 minutes a day that I could put to better use. Sure it did mean that I didn’t spend quite so much time on the internet and there’s an amazing amount of dust under the couch, but really, who cares? In the grand scheme of things, going to the gym was more important than those things, so it took priority.

“. . . looking at the Internet isn’t making me happier, more creative, more productive, or more inspired.” ~ Wil Wheaton

Take care of yourself

Making the time to write but being so tired or frazzled or preoccupied that you can’t concentrate isn’t likely to be of much use. If you’re going to take the time to write, then you need to have the energy and focus to actually write. That means getting enough sleep so you’re not yawning your way through your story; eating well so you’re not distracted by feeling bloated or hungry; and exercising so you’re not sluggish and ache-y.  If you’re feeling strong and healthy, then you’re likely to be more creative and more productive. As a bonus, you’re likely to have more energy for other things you’d like to do. A win-win.

Read so your imagination inspired

Look at any list of Top 10 Recommendations for Writers and you’ll find “read widely” near or at the top of the list. Reading widens your horizons and triggers thoughts, letting you go places you’ve never been and see things you’ve never seen. Well-written books help you see craft-in-action, while poorly-written ones provide an example of what to avoid.

“I need to read because if I don’t, I’m not going to make time to write.” ~ Wil Wheaton

I’d expand this “read” advice to include all forms of narrative. Whether you’re reading a book, watching a television show (or movie), or playing a video game, you’re learning about narrative and absorbing information that can be of real value to your creative process.

But what if you’ve rearranged your days to find the time to write, you’re healthy and well-rested, and you’ve been absorbing narrative like a sponge, yet you still aren’t writing?   If that’s the case, then maybe it’s time to step back and decide whether writing is what you really want to do right now.

That’s exactly what I did this past summer after the draft of The Traitor was finished. I had plenty of time, but no inclination, so I stopped beating myself up about “I should be writing” and did other things. I made a quilt. I took photographs. I worked in the yard. I painted walls. I gave myself permission to do something else for a while and eventually, thoughts of story started competing for attention again.

Second Chances, the story I’ve been talking about in this “Back to Basics” series, is that story. I didn’t sit down and force myself to think of it; it came to me when it was good and ready.  I’m guessing the story was marinating in my mind while I was off doing other things and giving my creativity a chance to rest and rejuvenate was just what I needed.

Now that I’ve got my creativity back, a new story, my health, and the time to write, there should be nothing keeping me from getting words on the page. I’ll be able to test that theory during the 30 days of NaNo coming up. I can’t wait.

So, how about you?  Is there anything keeping you from writing or have you found  process that works for you?

14 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Back to Basics – Writing Life

  1. I’m writing every day (or nearly) but I’ve fallen into an OCD cycle of rewriting the same 25,000 words over and over. I’m convinced I must get the first act of this book into good enough shape to serve as a springboard for the rest of the book before I can go on.

    Any suggestions, short of medication, to break this obsession would be welcomed.

    • Maybe try a random future scene? I don’t have that problem. I tend to write scenes in random order and have difficulty going back to any of them until I have the whole thing written. I find it easier to weave in the foreshadowing, motif/metaphore, etc that way.

      I need work on the writing every day bit. I’m hoping NaNo will help with that.

      • How about setting a rule for yourself that you can’t work on an existing part of you story until you have written xxx amount of new words. Was advice that helped me last time through.

        • Tried it. All that does it make me not write at all. I’ve decided to take a break and do some research on art. I think I’m getting stuck trying to write an artist character because I know so little about art.

        • I’m with you on not writing out of order. The only exception is writing the ending scene early in the process so I have an idea of where the story is heading.

    • Jeanne, have you brainstormed and plotted out act 2? If not, your brain might be stuck in a do-loop because it doesn’t yet know where to go next. If you’ve done that, maybe try closing the file that is act 1, opening a new document, giving it a new name (DD Part 2 or something), and try not to open act 1 again until you’ve made some progress or even finished act 2. I remember at McDaniel Jenny said each act is, in a sense, a story unto itself, so if you give it its own file and name, it might come to you :-). If those things don’t help, I’ve got nothing, but some of the other ladies probably have some helpful suggestions.

      • I had Act 2 plotted out at a high level. Maybe I need to get down to scene by scene before I go on. I did follow your suggestion and create a second document for Act 2, delcaring Act 1 officially off limits for now.

        There was an interesting article in Atlantic recently about the connection between creativity and crazy….

        • I think your instincts are right. I spent most of this year reading about the 1890s and women photographers. Lots of old newspapers and contemporary accounts. I wish I could have gotten my hands on a diary or two, too! But, ah well. Anyway, I’m in a better place than last year as far as knowing what my character knows.

  2. “The series of choices I make every day? It isn’t working.” I feel you, Will. My goal is to prioritize the writing, doing it before so many other things, but that’s really tough when I roll out of bed just in time to get ready and make it to the day job. But there are some minor medical/fatigue issues affecting that, so hopefully when I get that sorted, I’ll get on a better and more energetic path.

    I also agree with Wheaton’s quote about the Internet not making him happier, more creative, etc. Same here (except when I’m on 8LW, of course!).

  3. What Nancy said. I’m still wrestling with the Time-Sucking Project That Is Not Writing. I thought I’d be able to put the lid on it tomorrow (or at least, enough to get back to my keyboard), but today was the Worst Yet. I’m about to have a large glass of wine and a long, hot bath and then I’ll spend the rest of the evening figuring out what I have to do to kill this thing stone dead. Sharpened stake, silver bullet, whatever it takes…

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Where Does Writing Fit in Your Life? – Eight Ladies Writing

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