Monday, October 22, 2007

Just Writing

I've been pondering writing posts on getting back to pure creativity, or not worrying about how you plot your books (heavy outlining vs. seat of the pants), but I realized that one of the hardest roadblocks authors face is this one:

Writing pages.

This is what separates the wheat from the chaff, the women from the girls. You can go to all the workshops on plotting you want; read all the books on conflict you can get your hands on; and chart, outline, and plot your book to the smallest minutiae, but eventually one thing has to happen:

You have to write scenes.

For many people, that's enough to send them running back into the world of workshop tapes, meditation exercises, or serious closet cleaning.

I think this is where writer's block (or as I call it "writer's attitude") sets in. The realization that OMG, I actually have to write sentences, and they have to be good AND fill 400 pages.

You're panting heavily just to make it to 15K, and you have 85K more to go.

I've been there on every single book I write.

There are some days I simply can't write sentences. I don't know why, but my brain refuses to put words together that make any sense. On those days, I go back and lightly revise what I have written, brainstorm future books, or clean out my closet, whichever I think will benefit me most.

But because I have deadlines, I don't always have a choice (i.e., I have messy closets). I've devised the folowing methods to get myself to write pages:

1. Get rid of the idea that the pages have to be good. Allow yourself to be bad. You'll have time later to fix the stilted dialog, wooden description, boring introspection.

2. Don't worry about writing the book linearly (page 1 to page 400 in order). If a scene from the climax of the book is burning up your brain, write it. You'll have to write it eventually anyway; it's not wasted effort.

3. No writing is wasted. Even if you trash half of what you write; you might be able to use some of it in another book. Copy and paste it into a "saved" file instead of just erasing it. Also, any writing flexes your writing muscles and keeps your brain in practice.

4. Trick yourself to get words on paper (or computer screen). What works for me is:
  • Going to a coffee house or similar place to write for X amount of time. I am not allowed to do anything during that X amount of time but write. No games, no reading the newspaper, no chatting, no Internet. I can't leave until that time is over. (I am allowed to use the bathroom, but only if it's desperate.)
  • Writing on a computer that isn't configured for Internet. When I got my last laptop, I deliberately never activated the Internet connections. I love cruising the Net, posting on blogs, chatting on email loops, and other HUGE time wasters! I stymie myself by having to use a different computer for Internet.
  • Note: If you're on a budget and can't afford two computers, get an Alpha Smart--a text editor that's lightweight, has a battery that lasts forever, holds a ton of copy, and is easily uploaded to your computer so you can edit it.
  • Taking the computer games off the computer. I love that darned Spider game. I rock at the hardest level. I finally had to disable it on my laptop. (It's still on my desktop; I'm not that strong.)
  • Rewarding myself for X number of words. I tell myself that I have to sit down and write 1000 words (or to the end of the scene or end of the chapter), and then I can do something for myself. Indulge in my hobby, go out to lunch, write scenes for the story I'd much rather be working on, or play that darned Spider game.

I can get four thousand words a day out of myself using these techniques, and since I write so many books a year, I have to.

Now, happily, I don't always have to trick myself into writing. Often the story and characters take hold and just pour out of my head. I don't want to stop writing (not for dinner, a tv show, chatting on the Internet, calling my friends, spending time with my husband). I love it when the fire is hot!!

But realistically, the fire isn't always hot, and you can waste tons of time waiting for it to burn again. During that time, you aren't getting down the mechanics of the book, the pieces that hold it together when the fire finally returns.

Having to get words on paper, having to fill 400 pages with productive copy is truly what keeps many people with fantastic ideas and giant leaps of creativity from becoming recognized, published, paid authors.

Now that I've indulged myself in writing a blog, time to go do that next 1000 words!


Gillian Layne said...

Writer's attitude--excellent!

Thank God for revisions.

Jennifer Ashley said...

Gillian: Yes, if I had to turn in my rough draft, I'd be in deep trouble! I enjoy revising--good thing!!

Bonnie Vanak said...

Great blog, Jenn. Good advice. I once read about a reporter who had an interesting technique for writing on deadline. He'd drink a liter of Diet Coke, belt himself into the chair and not allow himself to get up and use the restroom until he was finished writing.

Me, ah, don't think so.

I'm struggling now with writing the next book due in, oh say, a few weeks. I'm back at the day job and write at night. And the dog being sick is sucking up a lot of time, between her meds and needs and trying to find stuff she'll eat. It takes up to an hour to feed her. I also don't write linear, otherwise I'd never make progress. So last night I was up late, determined to write. I was writing part of a love scene and it was really flowing and it was good, and right as the heroine is clutching the hero's hair and screaming and she's about to... you know...

The dog is standing at the door, needing to go outside, again.

Talk about interrupting the moment, lol. It took me a while to get back to that scene. But at least I was able to finish. Man, I hate leaving my characters suspended... in the moment. I don't think they like it, either. :-)

Tempest Knight said...

Great post! Excellent advice! Especially the first one. Sometimes we forget it's okay to screw up. After all, everything can be fixed later in editing.

Leigh Russell said...

Thank you for the advice. I always write the exciting scenes first and then fill in the intervening scenes as needed. It's like picking the icing off a cake I suppose! I agree with Bob Baker - "You can't have writer's block, you just can't. So if I am stuck, I just write something. Then you can at least do something with it."