Decisions, Decisions

The more I make a decision to do something, the easier it is to make in the future. If I decide to go for a walk, it’s easier for me to decide to go for a walk the next day. Some people talk about this in terms of building habits, but I prefer to think of it as building muscle. The more consistent you are with your workout, the better your muscles will respond.

I’m focusing on the things that are important, and building those decision-muscles. Yoga, exercise, eating well, going to bed on time, and, of course, writing. The more I make the decision to do those important things, the easier it becomes to say no to the things that don’t matter.

Sleep is Over-rated… but Necessary

It’s so hard to stop writing on those nights when the words are flowing and everything seems to be coming together almost effortlessly. Too many of those nights in a row can actually become a problem. There are things I need to take care of to keep writing. My home, my family, my health. Sleep is fundamental to support those important things.

At least sleep often comes with dreams, which are a wonderful source of ideas. And sometimes, problems that won’t sort themselves out during the waking hours will unravel easily while falling asleep or waking up.

When the creative nights cause me to burn midnight oil, I don’t let myself indulge in too many in a row. I remind myself that the flow will return, and things will make much more sense if the words are coming from a rested writer.

Reading from the Shelved Pieces

My current process is to write a rough draft as quickly as possible, edit it immediately until it says what I think I want it to say, then put it on the shelf for at least a few months (if possible). At that point, I have enough distance to edit it mercilessly, then polish it up and get it ready to send out.

It is such a delight when I take something off the shelf and find that it doesn’t need much in the way of editing. It’s rare, but it does happen. And an even better treat is when I read something I wrote, and set it down with a satisfied sigh, thinking, “What a great story!”

It’s hard to admit to thinking that, but really, if I don’t think it’s a great story, how could I finish writing it in the first place? Writing takes staying power, and trying to force it doesn’t work for me. I have to genuinely love the characters, enjoy the world, and be eager to see how the plot plays out. If any of those pieces are missing, the story will fall flat, and no reader, not even me, will enjoy it.

Write What You Know

When I was young, I was lucky enough to go to a few special classes that dealt with writing. Some advice threaded through all of them. I’m sure you’ve heard the classics: “Show, don’t tell,” and “Write what you know.”

“Show, don’t tell,” absolutely makes sense. “Write what you know”… Well, that one I take with a grain of salt.

I’m constantly using my imagination to come up with, “What if?” I write about werewolves and vampires. I write about aliens and spaceships. To my knowledge, none of my friends are werewolves or aliens or alien werewolves. No vampires, either. I did watch the first Space Shuttle launch in Florida with my own eyes, though, and now that I think of it, I absolutely must write a blog post about that experience (yay, spaceships!). I have to use my imagination to come up with people, locations, and plot twists that make my stories come to life.

That doesn’t mean I can’t draw on reality from time to time.

I was raised in part in Florida, where I set Wandering Soul and the two books that come after it. Three of my years in that interesting state were spent in a brand-new housing development that was surrounded on two sides by “countryside.” The thing about the countryside in Florida? It’s mostly a swamp.

If you hopped over the fence in our back yard (which I did on a daily basis) and turned around, you couldn’t see the fence. It was covered in sphagnum moss, thick gray tendrils curling over every inch of wood. Your feet would sink into the sand that made up the ground, and you’d find yourself surrounded by palms and cactus and spikey, fan-shaped plants whose names I don’t know.

We saw all kinds of interesting flora and fauna. Sometimes in the back yard, sometimes much, much closer. I’ve woken up to the sting of a dozen fire ants because I dared to eat a snack in my bed (to this day, I have a hard rule – NO FOOD IN THE BEDROOMS!!!). I’ve scared off an Eastern Diamondback Rattler in the yard that was about to get into it with the meanest cat you’ve ever met (she mauled me after I saved her). We found scorpions on the stoop, the patio, even in the dishwasher once.

At the time, these were adrenaline-firing, absolutely unpleasant, and downright scary incidents. Now, they’re writing fodder. I can take these events and plug in key elements to make my stories hit home. Did you know that a scorpion’s silhouette through lace can look like a beetle until it unfurls its pincers and tail? That dread in the pit of whatever poor character gets that one, that’s real. The key is to take what you know and use it to make what you imagine into something that feels real, compelling, possible. I don’t just want my readers to enjoy my works, I want them to walk away thinking, “What if?” as well.

“Write what you know” absolutely has it’s place. But it should inform our writing, not limit it.