I know that I don’t really suffer from writers block. I suffer from not writing. It’s not that the muse is missing, the ideas aren’t coming, or my brain is shutting down on me, it is pure and simple that I don’t sit myself down at the computer and force myself to write.
How do I know this? Because this week I wrote. I wanted to enter a competition which closed at the end of May, but it had opened at the beginning of January. I had two stories which needed a bit of work, but I neglected to do it for weeks and weeks on end. Then the deadline was on my doorstep, so I sat down and did it.
I wrote several thousand new words and edited nearly seven thousand words all up. Not a huge number, but it is a number. It’s a number that really I should be getting each week. I did that number with all the same work, family and social pressures that I’ve had ever other week when I did not write.
I don’t have another deadline looming, so I know I am running the very real risk of slipping back into doing no writing. But at least now I will see that for what it really is; laziness.
Most people who have joined a writers group or done a course in creative writing have done writing exercises. I haven’t. I’m one of those people who reads a ‘how to’ creative writing book and diligently reads the exercise at the end of each chapter, but never does them.
I feel like I’ve got enough unwritten or unfinished stories that if I’m going to sit down and write, it should be to get those done. Writing about my character’s childhood or their last breakup seems a bit pointless. I can know how it would have been for them, but that’s a moment’s reflection, I don’t feel I would gain anything from writing it down.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if during these little hiatuses that I seem to have with increasing regularity, if maybe I did some exercises I might get back into the habit of writing again much faster. There is only one way to find out. I’m going to try a writing exercise. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Yet again there is talk of redundancies going around work, and to be honest it has become the norm over the past 12 months. This got me thinking about what I would do if I got a redundancy, and I’ve decided it is time for another mini-retirement.
As a great lover of goals and spreadsheets, I set out my writing plan for the 6-12 months I would take off. I did take time off work to write once before, the problem was it only lasted a little over a month before it got taken over with packing, moving and setting up home in a new state. There is no risk of that happening this time.
But it means I only have a very small experience to draw upon of what writing would be like if I wasn’t working. So I’ve done the Stephen King thing of setting a goal of three months to get a first draft out, but I can’t help but look back at my experience last year where I got a first draft out in four months while working full time. Should I try to pop a short story or two into that mix as well?
Something I do remember strikingly well from my month off before was how little I managed to get done with so much more time. In fairness I was trying the online presence thing back then, and that was my allocated morning job, but it was like I was on go-slow when I had all the time in the world. Would I have the discipline to work as hard at my writing as I do at work?
On most Monday mornings at work, around 10am, I stare out the window and think about how desperately I don’t want to do any work. I usually have a meeting coming up, or a form to deliver and my boss sits next to me, so this little vague-out only lasts for a few minutes. If I was at home with no boss, no deliverables and no meetings, could that vague-out turn into half an hour, then a walk, then getting lunch prepared?
Perhaps along with my spreadsheets and goals I should investigate tools to keep me motivated and working? The last thing I want to do is damage my career with a sabbatical and not come out at the end with three finished first-draft novels and a script (that’s the 12 month goal). But gosh it is exciting to think about. That vague-out tomorrow morning might last a little longer than a couple of minutes this week 🙂
Over recent months I’ve learned that one of the best things to inspire me to get back to writing is reading a good book. As such, I’ve actually got some emergency authors I turn to when I’m feeling particularly sluggish. So this year I’m going to give you my top ten authors who entertain and inspire me.
For some of them, they have booked a place in the top ten with just one book. When someone has written something that makes you want to hold onto that book forever, no matter what your reaction to the rest of their novels, I think they are worthy of getting into your top ten. Others have just consistently delivered books I love to read, that I can’t wait to get back to, with characters that I think about long after I’ve put the book down. And some authors have managed to do both.
I’m going to deliver them in a bit of a random order, I struggled to whittle down to a top ten, let alone put those that are in there into any kind of order. Also there is no denying that mood plays a big part in how much you love a book, so what is number 1 today may be number 7 tomorrow after a big day at work.
So, for the next ten months at least, my last post of the month is going to be my top ten; the authors I turn to when I want inspiration. I would love to hear your top ten, because I know there are many great authors out there I have not yet discovered. Tune in next week for my first top ten post.
After the success of my pantsing trial and subsequent lack of writing over the past month, I’ve decided it is time to try out another method. A lot of my writing friends regularly use this one, but I’ve always been too afraid to give it a go, until now. This is what I call the write the interesting bits method.
In this method writers write the highlights of their novel, not necessarily in order, and then go back later and write the connecting parts to turn it into a complete novel. I guess the theory is that you’ll be more inspired and they are the bits you can normally see more clearly.
I’ve always thought this was fraught with danger because if you wrote an earlier scene after you wrote a later scene, things may come out differently to how you expected, and that might have a knock on effect. But I also thought pantsing had too high a risk that you might never finish, but I did.
So I’m going in with my eyes open, I can imagine there will be some massive editing involved when I’m finished. The project I have in mind is pretty well mapped, so I can’t see myself going massively off track, regardless of what order I write it in. My biggest challenge is working out how to save all the parts I write in a way where it is clear about what scene comes before or after the other scenes.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
I have just finished writing a novel which, when I sat down to write it, I didn’t know much more than what happened in the first chapter. I had faith that it would be a novel, and I had seen a lot of my writing friends successfully write novels with similarly no idea about where it was going, so I had support from them that I could do it too. This was my experiment with pantsing.
The first thing I was overjoyed to learn is that pantsing is fast, really fast. I started writing my novel on April 4th and finished it on July 31st. I have written a planned novel in a similarly short time, but it had about two years in research and note writing and quite a few non-starts over many more months in that time.
The next thing that struck me is just how much hard-core editing I’m going to have to do. I have to insert people into earlier chapters, remove stuff that never went anywhere, inject some foreshadowing and delete out foreshadowing for things that never happened. This is all stuff I rarely need to do when planning.
The last big difference I noticed was the drive to sit down and write. I don’t know if it was to do with pantsing, a wet cold winter, or the deadline of a submission period I wanted to sub this novel to, but I wrote about 3,000 words a week while working full time. Part of it was the excitement of seeing what would happen next and knowing that my mind wouldn’t head out into the next part of the novel until I’d written the bit I knew about.
After all this, I actually still feel very unsure about pantsing. Next week I’ll share my conclusions about the process and what I’m going to do next.
Every time I sit down to write I begin with three games of Freecell. The only time I play Freecell is before I write. This was a conscious ‘habit’ that I forced myself into so that on those days when I don’t want to write, my games of Freecell tell my brain that it has no choice; writing is about to happen because it ALWAYS happens after three games of Freecell.
Some days I want to jump straight into the writing, but I still play the Freecell. Some days I can feel myself dragging the games out so that it will take me longer to get to the writing bit, but there always is a writing bit. I can honestly say that many times the Freecell has been the difference between getting words on the page and staring into space for an hour. It works.
So if you often find yourself lost for motivation or inspiration, just start programming yourself instead so you no longer rely on those –ations. Habit is reliable, hard to break once it is set, and something every writer should get into if they ever want to finish that novel.
In an effort to free up more writing time on the weekend I’ve started writing my blog posts on a week night. The problem is I work with computers all day so when I get home the last thing I want to do is turn on a computer. My solution has been to write longhand into a notepad.
I don’t normally write a lot by hand (shopping lists, notes, that’s about it really), but I know a lot of writers who always write their first drafts longhand. A writer friend of mine said she preferred it for first drafts because she didn’t feel the urge to go back and correct or edit like she does when she is typing.
Maybe one of the reasons I don’t like longhand is because I do go back and edit as I go. Even this short post was covered in cross-outs and microscopic inserted text by the time I got to this point. Squiggles and arrows rendered the draft almost unreadable.
Freehand writing makes me feel limited, not liberated. So I think this week’s post may be my last longhand writing effort. I might just have to fire up the computer on a week night. Who knows, I might even end up writing.
I thought that writer’s guilt (over not writing) was a fairly unique thing, but as I look out at my weed-infested, overgrown-lawn, desperate for a trim garden I realise there is gardener’s guilt too.
I have had a large yard for 4 years now, so the gloss has come off having a garden, especially after 4 weekends of rain. It isn’t all just planting vegetable crops and flowers, there is maintenance, lots of maintenance. You also need to learn stuff, like where to put what when, what looks good together and what overpowers what.
I guess in that way gardening is like writing too. Something that seems like it should be second nature is actually a skill that needs to be crafted and honed. You will probably kill a few plants along the way, but you will learn some tricks eventually. Also, if you neglect it, well, it just looks like crap.
I can’t help but see the irony in how when my writing is going well, my garden is usually being ignored and vice versa. But there is one huge difference between the two. If the work in the garden all gets too overwhelming, I can pay someone to tidy it all up and the garden will still feel like mine. I don’t think I could say the same about getting someone in to write my novel.
I started writing the pantser novel; the one with no plan, no real end and only vague plot points for me to aim at. I’m up to chapter 5, the dreaded chapter 5. For me, this is the chapter where a novel normally stalls. This one feels like it is stalling.
I’ve spoken before about how chapter 5 is my insurmountable hill. If I can get past that I can probably write the book. In fact, two of the three novels that I wrote beyond chapter 5 are actually finished. The third is really close to finished.
So what is it about chapter 5 that chills me? I think it is because this is where the novel is really starting to take shape. You feel like you know the characters, you have a pretty good idea about what type of book it is going to be, and you start making your characters go in directions that are going to have massive ramifications on the book.
It is that last point that worries me with this one. It is a true pantser book, I don’t know where it is going and it has most certainly started going somewhere. What if that somewhere is bad, or wrong, or worse; nowhere?
The only thing I can think of to get past this is total immersion. I’m cutting myself off from the outside world this weekend and I’m writing chapter 5 and 6 in one hit. As far as I can see it is my only option. I have to break this chapter 5 curse, and I have to find out where this book is going to end up.
Wish me luck!