Thursday, May 16, 2013

When The Words Flow More Like "Whine" Than "Wine"...

Undoubtedly, there are few things that compare with the natural euphoric high that is being in the "zone" when you're writing. The words are flowing, the dialogue is snappy, the plot twists make you bite your own nails while you're writing, you're head over heels in love with your main characters and you've mentally started writing the acknowledgements of the book in your head because you just know this is THE ONE.

And then....it happens. Life gets in the way. There's errands, and dishes and school concerts and book reports and all sorts of life dramas that make you pull your focus. You take a little break. Maybe a day. Maybe a week. Maybe a year. You go back and reread those words, and suddenly, your book has so many holes it could be mistaken for an old piece of swiss cheese. And those characters? You can't stand them. They are far too predictable, their dilemmas unrealistic, and maybe they are even downright unlikable. What seemed charming now seems contrived.

Back to square one.

Maybe you rework what you've got, try and discover in round two what the real story is. Maybe you put it aside and work on something else entirely. Maybe you get fifteen pages down the road on that new thing and then realize you don;t know where this is going and start something else. Or you pull out an old project and try with all the urgency of an EMT to pump life back into its lungs.

And sometimes...despite your best efforts...ya got nothing.

The truth is, when your mind is firing on all cylinders and nothing is hitting, sometimes the best thing you can do is regroup. Just because you stop writing momentarily, it does not mean you are no longer a writer. Often, people who are not writers themselves do not really understand the creative process. They think it's really not that hard to tell a story, so what's the big deal to sit down and pump out 200+ pages. Creativity is not something you can just flip on and off like a light switch. Some days, the ideas are never-ending, and when you have one of those days, I hope you are near a pad and a pen. But others...well, others not so much. Some days the muse is out for lunch with her girlfriends, and even doing the laundry looks more inviting than sitting down with that blinking cursor on a blank page. Some days the whole process is overwhelming and intimidating, and you feel like you will never churn out a single new idea. Here are my suggestions of several ways to deal with THOSE days in the hopes that you will soon reel in that muse and keep the ball rolling:

STOP READING PUBLISHER'S MARKETPLACE
Yes, I said it. One of the worst things you can do when you are feeling in a writing lull and trying to recapture your mojo is read about the latest sales. This will probably only serve to make you feel more frustrated by the process. While I think it's good to be on top if the market, you do not want sales to be a false indicator of what you should be writing and make you feel pressured to write it. Also, seeing a story sell that is similar to something you are writing or want to write may serve to sabotage you from continuing with the project. The odds are: that story is completely different and you will have your own unique spin on things. There are a gajillion books out there that may have similar storylines - it's what YOUR take is on it that makes it stand out as a fresh take. Don't be distracted.

GO TO A WRITING WORKSHOP, OR AT LEAST HAVE COFFEE WITH SOME WRITER FRIENDS
Even if you are between projects and feel like you have nothing new to contribute, keep in the game by surrounding yourself with people who love to write. Their passion is infectious, guaranteed, and may serve to help jump-start your creativity and remind you that you really do have what it takes. Conferences are the best because the odds are you will meet tons of people that have traveled many different roads to get where they are and some of them may surprise you in how long their journey has taken. It may infuse in you just the right amount of hope to help you keep moving forward. This is rarely an overnight success story. You will find that for most writers, it can take years. To think you will be the exception is certainly wonderful, as long as you're not disappointed if you turn out to be like the majority of us.

TAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA VACATION
Confession: the real reason I spend so much time on Facebook has nothing to do with people. Honestly, I have developed a procrastination addiction to Solitaire Blitz and Candy Crush Saga like nobody's business. It's a great release for me. What stresses me out is when I start to read everyone's statuses. I'm friends with lots of writers on Facebook and Twitter, as I'm sure many of you are as well. Most days, I'm happy to see their statuses, learn about their new projects and happily give a "like" to their latest moment of sharing their success. But some days it's like rubbing salt in a wound. I know you know what I'm talking about. On those "pity party of one" days, the best thing to do is stay away from social media, or at least temporarily hide the feeds of the people who you know it will be difficult to read at that time. You are not "de-friending" them; you are taking care of yourself. When you are in a better space, you can put everything back to normal, but some days reading a steady stream of everyone else's good news when you are longing for some yourself isn't healthy or helpful.

READ LIKE A MADWOMAN (OR MADMAN)
If you can't be writing, spend your time reading within the genre in which you like to write. Nothing is more inspiring than reading really great quality writing, or a story with a similar theme to the one you hope to tell and see how another author handles it. As I have said in the past, you can also learn from really bad writing. And one of the greatest gifts of all? When you can read multiple books by one author you may particularly like and see with your own eyes that some are better than others. Even published authors can be inconsistent. Case in point: there is a YA author that I absolutely LOVE and I have devoured all her books. I was beyond excited for her latest offering, which honestly? I found kinda "meh". Great story on the flap, but the characters were pretty one dimensional, the story was too light and way too predictable, and all in all it was a disappointment. But it was wonderful because it showed me she's human, and that even though we may write several really great books, we are allowed to write ones that aren't so great too. And it will happen. But at the end of the day, it's all good because we're still writing.

BE GOOD TO YOURSELF
When the words don't come, we may get upset with ourselves. We feel like we've stalled out or failed somehow. There is no clock here. No race. Take care of your body and in turn you will take care of your brain. Taking time to meditate and de-stress, to eat well instead of pure crap, to take walks and think about ideas, to treat the in-between days as remembering the real priorities - enjoying your life, your family, etc. Because without your health, all else suffers, and when we feel like we are falling short of our personal goals, the stress level inevitably skyrockets. In the quiet moments, the words will come. They may even come during the chaotic ones, but know that eventually...they WILL come.

If you are like me, writing has never been a choice. It's just what you do, who you are since as far back as you can remember. Don't let the pressure to get published, the need to deliver "what sells", or the competition of your peers making sales while you are still waiting for your big break let that self-doubt settle in the cracks and dash your mojo. It will come back. Have faith it will come back. If you are that distracted by other things, then what you write would probably not be your best work anyhow, and perhaps it is life's way of making you temporarily shift your focus. But just as you need to breathe and eat, so you will also need to write again. It's just what we do.