On February 29, 2012, Maddi wrote, I’m having some trouble getting “inspired.” I have my plot worked out, I’m just having problems with the in-between stuff like character development and other small events. I’m not even sure if I can make it into a good quality piece of writing. I’ve been turning to Legend of Zelda fanfiction. It works, but I want to produce something that is my own idea. Lately my spelling has been really off, even though I’m a pretty good speller. Any ideas?
Then this week TsuneEmbers wrote, I’ve been having way too much trouble w/ my own writing lately, as in it won’t come out and actually get anywhere. This makes me sad since I love writing stuff. I think I kinda lost my drive there, when I realized that one of my ideas was way too complicated, and not working at all. =/ I tried simplifying it out to a more workable form, but it still doesn’t actually feel like it can work yet.
I am toying with another idea of mine though, but of course, my usual plotting problems bit that one, so I’m currently stuck with not writing anything. I have a few major characters in my head already, and a vague idea of what I want to happen to them, but that’s about it. The vague idea could be considered a plot in a sense, I guess, but it doesn’t give me any idea over where to actually start the story. Not to mention that the word plot tends to make me scared every time someone mentions it, because I’m really more of a character person, and I don’t get this plotting thing as well.
Any advice? This whole thing has just been frustrating me here for a while now.
Creative work, writing in particular, is peculiar. We writers love to write. We feel complete when we’re doing it. And sometimes – sometimes often – many of us, including me, hate it. At these times I’d rather go to the dentist than write.
I feel most understood in the company of other writers, because almost all of us struggle with the same demon. An enviable few relax into writing. If you’re among them, count yourself lucky.
I have a theory about why writing, or any creative expression, is so hard. When we create we confront ourselves but not directly. If the confrontation were direct, we’d have an easier time. After all, we do difficult things all the time, take on new challenges, carry out unpleasant chores, speak hard truths. But when it comes to fiction, we’re confronting ourselves indirectly. We’re making something out of nothing, and what if we come up empty? What if we disappoint ourselves?
It’s scary. I wrote about this in Writing Magic, that when I’m writing a first draft and inventing my story I feel as if I’m locked in an iron cell without doors or windows or furniture. After a while a little moisture condenses on a wall, which I scrape off, and that’s an idea. I use it and wait for more condensation, the next idea.
How pleasurable can it be to inhabit a cell like that, to have to depend on our mind to come up with the moment-by-moment of a story but not to be able to force it to produce? No wonder we get frustrated. No wonder we occasionally despair.
The solutions the writers I know employ are mechanical. Some write at a certain time. The hour arrives, they sit at their desks and hope that routine will prime the muse’s pump. Some free write before they enter the “real” manuscript. Some edit the work of the previous day before they pen or type a new word. Some start before coffee, some only after their blood is fifty percent caffeine; some eat their way through an entire book (carrots and celery, to be sure).
My method is to keep track on paper of the time I spend writing. My goal is at least two-and-a-quarter hours of writing a day, so I write down my start times and stop times. I may write for twenty-three minutes and stop to answer the phone. Before I pick up the receiver, I note the time.
Often I do reread a little of my work from the day before but generally not much. And I don’t do the free writing or eating, and I’m not a coffee drinker. But I do rely on notes. When I can write nothing else I can write notes, which are sometimes unappealingly full of self pity. The nice thing about them, though, is that they don’t have to be carefully crafted. There’s no threat, no disappointment in notes.
My other assist is the knowledge that I’m a writer. Writing is my obligation, my duty, and I’m dutiful (my curse, just like Ella’s!). I’m not talking now about earning my living, because I felt this way during the nine years it took me to get published.
The point is that mechanics, not inspiration, helps us soldier on, and the soldiering on eventually earns us inspiration. Habit – I can’t emphasize this enough – keeps us going. Those of you who participate in NaNoWriMo may understand. For the month of November, writing is your job, and you do it no matter what – whether or not you make your word count at the end.
Forgiveness also helps. Sometimes I don’t make my time goal, and I forgive myself, because heaping coals on my head does no good. The coals burn! And they make getting started the next day even harder.
I don’t mean it’s all joyless. In the writing, in getting something right, in surprising myself, there’s sharp pleasure, which, underneath everything, keeps us going.
Please notice I haven’t said a word about quality. We talk about craft constantly here, but the global term, good, rarely comes up. I try to keep that word and it’s opposite, bad, out of my thinking. In my stories I work at characters, dialogue, action, setting, expression, all that, but I avoid as much as I can asking if what I’m doing is good or bad. Leave that to the critics.
So my advice is:
1. Establish writing habits, whatever they are, a particular time to write, a number of pages that have to be written, a time goal. If you choose my method, the time goal, write it down as you go. Don’t let it be vague.
2. Know that you are a writer and your obligation, possibly your calling, is to write. Writing is your fallback position.
3. Forgive yourself if (probably when) you fall short.
4. As much as you can, avoid judging your work. When you find yourself doing it, shift your thoughts elsewhere. Remind yourself that you’re really good at setting the table or walking quickly, and confine your judging to that.
Maybe I went into a rant here, and there are specifics in both Maddi’s and TsuneEmbers’s questions that I didn’t address, so I’ll continue next week. In the meanwhile, here are some prompts, which come from the summer writing workshop, which Agnes from the blog has been attending:
∙ Hope is the daughter, or Harold is the son, of the king’s highest advisor in the Kingdom of Kestor. She (or he) has been warned that there is a traitor who is plotting against the throne. She’s been invited to tea at the palace of the king’s youngest brother. She has reason to suspect that one of the other guests is the traitor. Write the tea and make the reader suspect several guests by showing them through Hope’s or Harold’s eyes.
∙ Now write the tea from the point of view of the character who is actually the traitor.
∙ Now make the traitor a good character.
∙ Use all of this in a story or a novel or a seven-book series.
Have fun, and save what you write!