Write not Wrong

September 19, 2012

I read a bit of advice that got me thinking today. In a blog post full of writing advice as part of Harlequin’s yearly writing workshop/contest, So You Think You Can Write, Author Ann Lethbridge writes: One of the things I love about writing fiction is that I can never be wrong. Yes, there is always room for improvement of craft, but the final decisions are mine.

I’d forgotten that. I’ve been hung up on the right way to write a story, second guessing every word, every plot point. Is it okay to do this? Is it okay to do that? All that questioning slows my writing down and sucks the joy from the process.

Today, when I ask myself if it’s okay to do this or that, the answer is going to be a resounding absolutely. That doesn’t mean it won’t change later, that I won’t find a different way to advance the plot or convey a message. Rather, like my illustrious CP recently pointed out: There are a million ways to tell a story, and one or the other isn’t necessarily better or worse (maybe more saleable, but not better or worse).

I’m thankful for writers who share their advice. Those words of wisdom often pull me from the edge of writer’s block and rescue me from the land of “oh my God, you’re doing it wrong!”

My new mantra:

There’s no right in write. 🙂

Elley

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***As part of our birthday week celebration, we’re picking our favorite posts of the last year. This is Elley’s favorite. It originally appeared on the blog on July 8, 2011.

The other day, my CP sent along a chapter attached to a familiar-sounding email.  She wrote how she hated the chapter, and she added that she’d hit a dead end, was staring at blank pages and generally felt disillusioned with her writing. I knew before I even read the chapter that it wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought. I knew because I do this sort of thing too.

If not once a month, at least once a manuscript, I send off an email declaring, “I suck. The WIP sucks. I’m prepared for you to dump my unworthy ass—or at least shower me with disgust.” That has yet to happen. Instead, she calls me crazy…and I’m not offended, because she’s right.

Aren’t we all crazy? I mean we admit to having people wandering around in our heads telling us what to write. They argue with us. They pout. And then they do or say something so marvelous that they have us plowing through family members and leaping furniture in order to get to pen and paper or laptop to jot down the moment of brilliance. Considering all that, I’m okay with crazy. What I’m not okay with is a perfectly good writer getting depressed enough to stop writing.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 (sort-of-serious, hopefully humorous) tips for overcoming the I Suck Funk.

10. Read a really sucky book. (Use Amazon or Goodreads to find a horrifically low-ranking title.) As you read, loudly declare, “I can do better than this.”

9. Read a completed manuscript that you enjoyed writing. As you read, jot down your favorite lines on Post-it notes (aka Sean Kowalski-style—Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep) and stick them around your writing area…no, your entire house…to remind yourself of your writing prowess.

8. Let your CP know you’re in a bad way. (Don’t have a CP? Enlist the help of a trusted friend or your mother—if she can handle what you write – or your spouse—if he wouldn’t rather poke his eyes out than read about people falling in love.) Be bold. Ask for her (or him) to read something you’ve written and comment on what’s good—at least five things they liked. Tell her (or him) to keep her (or his) mouth shut about the negatives. This isn’t a critique. It’s a lie-if-you-have-to, build-the-bitch-back-up read through. There’s already enough negativity rolling around in your head.

7. Spend inordinate amounts of time working on your blog, website, Twitter and Facebook. Soon your eyes will burn, your ass will hurt and your head will feel so stuffy you’ll have to walk away from the laptop and engage in real life for a few days. There’s nothing like real life to push you back into the imaginary world in your head.

6. Quit writing. Seriously. Throw your hands up in the air, and declare, “I’m done. I’ve wasted how many years of my life? I suck. Nobody will ever pay money to read what I write.” And turn the laptop off. Better yet, put it away…on the top of a closet shelf. Close the door. Spit on it. Now—and this is the important part—sit down at the dining table and make a list of all the things you can do since you’re no longer wasting your time writing, things like: laundry, cleaning house, lawn care, planning a family reunion, dental appointments, pap smears. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Nah. Go get the laptop. Kiss it. Hug it. Because even sucky writing is better than washing dishes.

5.  Read or watch something seriously depressing about dreams unrealized, lives cut short. Want a bigger impact? Take a quiet walk through a nearby graveyard and imagine all the people who were laid to rest before they were able to see their dreams come true. You may send yourself spiraling into the pit of despair, or you may run home—tears and all—to throw open your laptop and write like there’s no tomorrow, because maybe there’s not. There are no guarantees. Spend the time you have doing what you love.

4. Look at your kids if you have them. (If you don’t, look at someone else’s kids and pretend. Just don’t touch them, or you might get hauled off by the police.) Children learn to live life through observation. What do you want them to observe from you? The posture of a dejected quitter or a determined, (fairly) unshakable writer, who faces down the dark spots and pushes into the light?

3. Drink. Wine. Lots. Then write…just for fun. And email the results to me.

2. Eat. Sweets. Lots. Then when you’ve gained too much weight to sit comfortably in your desk chair and your blood pressure goes so high you must spend hours a day lying on your left side, you can quit writing, knowing it was an external conflict that drove you away from writing rather than an internal conflict that pretty much made you a heroine who’s too stupid to live (TSTL).

1. For crying out loud, just write.  Give yourself permission to write suckish stuff sometimes. Before every suck-filled writing session repeat after me: “I will write for thirty minutes as fast as I can. I will not let doubt slow me down. If it sucks, then it sucks. But like a clogged drain, I’m going to flush the crap that blocks the flow, and I’m going to write, because sucky or not, I…AM…A…WRITER.”

One Track Mind

February 20, 2012

Sometimes I get stuck. I don’t just mean writer’s block, to me it’s more akin to brain block. There’s something in my brain sapping all my energy, thoughts, and drive. Very little else can get done because of this block. This block can come in many forms, from many different sides of the brain. For instance, right now all lobbying for space in my brain is my current WIP, submissions I should be hearing back on soon, and this whole being eight months pregnant thing.

When I have three big blocks in my brain like that, I have a hard time balancing. My house is a mess right now. I’m having trouble sleeping (which isn’t all brain, some of it is sharing a bed with a toddler and some of it is being large and uncomfortable). I don’t want to cook dinner. I just want to go hide in a hole somewhere until these blocks are gone.

But, most of them aren’t going away. At least not anytime soon. I know I need to learn to work through these times. I need to find a way to balance keeping the house at least respectably clean, feeding my family, writing, and being present for my family. From observation, I imagine that a lot of writers feel this way. A lot of writers search for that elusive balance.

So, my question is… Has anyone found that balance? A trick to turn off your mind when it’s trying to run on too many tracks? Or are we all in this brain block boat constantly trying to figure it all out?

Nicole

When Is it Okay to Quit?

January 24, 2012

For the past 5 months every writing project I’ve worked on is either a rewrite or an edit. In 2011, of the 5 novels I finished, only one was a brand new project.

My current WIP is not only a rewrite (at this point a multiple rewrite), but it’s also part of a series. A series I planned 8 years ago. These people and their story (though that’s changed somewhat) have been taking up space in my brain for eight years. You’d think I’d want to finally get it out.

But… Everything has begun to feel a little stagnant, boring, redundant. I yearn to start something new and fresh and anything I haven’t done before.

The question becomes, is that okay? I spent many years as a writer never finishing anything, so leaving anything unfinished at this point makes me nervous, but at the same time when I sit down to write right now… I’m not excited. I don’t look forward to it. Rarely do I find myself daydreaming about my characters. I stare at a screen and wonder why I thought this whole writing thing was ever a good idea.

I’ve been feeling this way for a while now. Even before I started my current project. Maybe it’s symptomatic of something larger. Maybe it’s just the place I am in my life–I’ve got a lot going on. Maybe it really is the project and I need to move on.

I’m struggling with the “right” answer here, and am constantly reminded there are no right answers except maybe in math and trivia. This is neither, and no choice is set in stone. Still, this is my conundrum. Where I’m stuck.

When it comes to writing, what are the things that trip you up? That stop you in your tracks and make you wonder which step is next? And do you move on from it? I’d love to know.

Nicole

I forgot something that I know I knew not too long ago: Story building is constant. There can be no “off” switch. When a writer is in the throes of a story, the details come fast and furious or slow and sporadic, but they come at any time in anyplace, and a writer has to be ready.

Being ready means keeping notebooks nearby or tapping random sentences into a cell phone. Ideas can be jotted on the back of receipts or even on hands and arms. When the words come, they have to come out. But what happens when the words stop coming?

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? I mean I’ve been known to leap from the shower and rush the hall soaking wet for something to write with and on (lipstick and a mirror will do), so the idea of the words stopping seems farfetched. But stop they did, and I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my penchant for schedules.

Recently, I took on a non-fiction writing job that has required a consistent amount of my time. I wasn’t looking for work, but the opportunity is with someone I respect immensely and wish to remain engaged with. I also thought the job would help me achieve balance, because I was sliding off into Writer’s Solitary Confinement. By blocking off time for non-fiction, fiction, errands and chores, and finally my family, I figured to find harmony. What I found was the story building “off” switch.

In the beginning, I pushed the fiction ideas out of my head. “Not now. Wait a couple hours, and I’ll get to you.” Before long, the ideas stopped coming. I’d sit at the computer during fiction writing time, wasting an hour or two trying to get “back on track,” because I couldn’t get the story, the rhythm or the flow. “Where is this going? What comes next?” My progress was abysmal.

Thursday and Friday of last week, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to know what happened to my easy, joyous fiction writing. I spent those days BIC (butt in chair) and made amazing progress. The ideas flowed, and when they did—even away from the computer—I didn’t stop them. I didn’t ask them to wait or come back later, because I was terrified they might leave again.

I’m going to do my best to prevent another departure, declaring daydreaming and living inside my head critical to my health, happiness and the stories I am building. With society’s romantic notion of poets and novelists, it’s easy to forget that writing isn’t pretty. It’s filled with doubt, loneliness, manic moments of extreme joy and confidence, jealousy, quiet, frustration, anger, obsession and love. But we shouldn’t try to stop ourselves from feeling those things, because the emotion makes us better writers. And we can’t contain our imaginings or shield them from the “normal” parts of our life, because our creativity is what makes us beautiful and brilliant.

Shine on. Write on. There are stories to be told.

When romance author Leanne Banks came to the May meeting of OCCRWA, she gave us some really great tips for brainstorming to end writer’s block. Number seven on the list has kick-started a couple of my writing sessions.

“When you don’t know what to do next, throw a splash of red on the page. Be random. Go off on a tangent.”

I love this tip. Sometimes doing this will move my story in a direction that I didn’t expect. Sometimes it adds dimension to a character or scene. Sometimes it ends up in the trash bin, but if it gets me writing again it doesn’t matter.

Leanne’s 56th book was released in May, so clearly she knows what works. Next time you find yourself blocked, try throwing a splash of red on the page and see what happens.

Yes, you read the title right. Yes, I’m sometimes afraid of writing. There are lots of reasons why. What if I don’t know what to write? What if what I write sucks? What if what I write is good but in an entirely different direction than what I’d planned and now I’m faced with intensive rewrites or scrapping the WIP and starting anew? What if it hurts too much to write this scene? What if it doesn’t hurt enough? What if these words take me nowhere? Worse yet, what if these words take the reader nowhere? What if they take me somewhere I never wanted to be?

For me, writer’s block isn’t about not knowing what to write—it’s about being scared. When I’m away from writing for longer than a couple days, doubt creeps in. I lose my rhythm. I no longer hear the story in my head. And I start to procrastinate writing sessions, filling my day with gardening, shopping, decorating, shopping, reading, shopping, eating, shopping…

Yesterday was the first day since the first week of July that I wrote anything substantial. Of course, it took me to the last possible second to force myself into my desk chair. By then I’d already weeded, spread mulch and even planted four plants (a first for me), showered, took a trip to Lowes, stopped by CVS, dropped by the violin shop with my daughter’s violin, and shuttled my kids to McDonalds for snack-sized McFlurries. Tired and ready to pass on writing again, a little voice whispered, “But you promised.”

I looked at my son sitting beside me and then to my daughter in the backseat, but it wasn’t one of them. (Their mouths were full of McFlurry.) It was me—pathetic, neglected, little old me—and I didn’t have the heart to say no this time.

So I gripped the steering wheel, nodded proudly and announced to my kids, “I’m going to write a thousand words when we get home.”

My daughter said something like, “Wow! That will take you forever.”

My son replied, “No, it won’t. Mom types like a speed demon.”

And so I thought about writing 1000 words and typing “like a speed demon” the whole way home. By the time I sat at the laptop I’d done the math a few times. One thousand words five days a week times four weeks times three months equals sixty thousand words. I can do that. (When I’m in the zone, 5,000 words a day is no problem.)

But slow and steady wins the race, right? Yes, I know that’s a cliche. And yes, I know there’s not an actual race, but there is a finish line (submission, publication), and I’m not getting any closer staring at a screen hoping for sparkling dustings of fearless inspiration.

One thousand words a day isn’t much for a speed demon. 😉 And that’s exactly what I intend to be, because when I type fast and let the words pour out of me without thought, that’s when I’m the happiest. I forget this when life weighs me down and slows my writing enough to allow my internal editor to stand in a corner of my mind with my internal critic where they taunt every word I write. It’s hard to be happy when you’re under attack from your own psyche.

But guess what? The internal editor and internal critic are afraid of the speed demon. They must be, because when I’m typing like an SOB, those two are nowhere to be found. *Blows on the barrel of an Old West pistol*

In the end, I wrote over two thousand words yesterday. I wrote fast and furious, and I loved every minute of it. Today I’m going to do the same.

Who’s scared? Not me.

How about you? I hope you’re pounding those keys with a vengeance.