Writing about Writing

Writing about the writing process is more difficult than writing stories. I never have a dearth of ideas when it comes to stories. I have the opposite problem when blogging. I know the pieces will be very short, so it’s easy to sit down to write them. But when I face that blank screen, my mind echoes a similar emptiness.

The act of writing changes so quickly, it would be impossible for me to document a consistent writing practice. Sometimes I jump from scene to scene, writing whatever is most present in my mind. Other times, I go through a story chronologically, letting each moment unfold and flow into the next. The process depends on the piece and what it needs to be created.

When you’re writing a story, you need to keep track of each moment and the characters’ reactions to those moments. Blogging is much more “in the now.” So I will keep writing what I’m thinking about at the moment, watching how things change over time, then cycling back. And I’ll keep hoping that what I write here helps others with their own creativity.

Fear of Authenticity

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about my writing and I came to a horrifying realization. I was no longer having fun. The change was slow and insidious. I had stories I enjoyed, ideas I liked, and characters I loved. But the balance was off. I was focusing too heavily on some aspects of the story to make it fit into a specific sub-genre. In the editing stage, maybe I could get away with some of that, but not while creating a rough draft, when my muse wants free rein to do whatever she pleases. And she was not pleased. It took that conversation for me to hear what my writing-heart had been telling me for weeks. “This is not the right story.”

I put this to you fellow writers. The next time you pause in the middle of writing a sentence, pay attention to what your mind is saying. If your block is coupled with thoughts like, “I don’t like this,” or “This isn’t fun,” those are some serious red flags. This doesn’t apply to those incredibly intense scenes that turn us inside-out. I’m talking about the basic scenes that make up the bulk of your story. If you don’t like what you’re writing, why are you spending time with it? Do you really think your readers are going to like it any more than you do? As writers, our emotions come through in the works we create. If we aren’t having fun or wanting something desperately for the characters in our story, our readers won’t be, either.

Then there are those times when we’re blocked by self-doubt. The words flowing out of our fingers and the scenes coming up in our minds are too raw, too intense, too authentic. The emotion we’re creating is so deep, we shy away from it. Those are the green flag moments, when you need to rein in your critic and keep riding through the story, getting it down as fast as you can, outrunning the doubts at your heels. My shield is this: I can always edit it out later, or tone it down, or whatever I think it will need. And most often? It doesn’t need to be cut or tamed. Those wild creative times are when my writing is at its best, and more often than not, when I’m at my best as a person.

When things become too real, too authentic, it can be frightening. What we’ve created seems to have a life unto itself. But those are the moments, the scenes, the characters that are most powerful. Those are the stories we need to tell.

“In Time”

I’ve often heard the expression that things come in their own time. I’m not always the most patient of people. Lady Wafflenose (my inner critic) takes this to the next level. She has a schedule, and she expects my creativity to reach maximum velocity at specific intervals and make stops at all the right stations precisely on time. A few days ago, I realized I (she) was beating myself up over the fact that my new project, a 20,000 word sci-fi romance novella, wasn’t completely mapped out and I hadn’t figured out all the scenes for the story yet and all the characters and their motivations. The idea had come to me less than 48 hours before.

What. The. Hell.

Creativity doesn’t run on a schedule. Thinking as hard as I possibly can in an effort to squeeze ideas out of my brain is not productive. And berating myself for the fact that ideas aren’t coming to me faster only makes things worse. The best I can hope for is to set up a routine of writing every day and give myself experiences that support, nurture, and foster creativity. A walk in a park, a trip to a museum, watching clouds slide across a blue spring sky, laughing with friends.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do the work. Of course I do the work. Writing is work. Amazing, fun, frustrating, and magical work. The only control I can exert over time is how much I spend in the chair, hands on the keyboard or paper and pencil. And that time is the most important of all. The more I let my brain, my body, my soul know that this is the work I need to be doing, the more ideas will bubble to the surface. That time in the chair smooths the way for ideas to come for the current project and all that will come after. When my creativity knows that it’s welcome in my life, that I’m making room for it, then the ideas will come more freely. And in the meantime, I can practice developing my patience as well.

Why Write

When I’m looking at a blank page, my inner critic likes to remind me that I haven’t published yet, and there’s every chance no one will ever see the words I’m about to put on the page. Writing is hard work, especially when I’m going through the entire process of finishing a novel, editing it, polishing it, and getting it ready for the world. And then begins the process of researching publishers to find a match for the piece, and there’s the daily work of always always always learning, reading, studying, practicing, all to improve my craft.

Why not just daydream and enjoy the stories myself?

And then I think about those moments when I’ve shared my work with someone who really got it. Someone who said, “Yes! This.” And that singular feeling of connecting with another human being drives me to keep going, to keep putting word after word on the page. It’s all the more terrifying for all the people out there who will say, “No. Not this.” But without trying, without sending out these flares of self-expression, I’ll miss those connections that make life so worthwhile.