When I sat down to plan out my topics for this month, I had to think long and hard about how to finish. There are so many posts I could write about things that inspire me. I’ve barely touched the surface this month – focusing on a few hard hitter such as Pinterest and old childhood heroes – but there is so much more: writing buddies, social media, tv, film, radio, Nanowrimo, the great outdoors,
cat videos to name but a few. But in the end I decided to end on a different note. Because here’s the kicker. Just because you are buzzing with inspiration doesn’t mean it’s a straight forward path to creative genius.
I am lucky to have quite a few writer friends who I love discussing our work with. One in particular (who I won’t name because she’ll kill me – complete closet case), we can spend hours (metaphorically) walking around each other’s worlds, playing out whole plots that started the evening as just a writing prompt idea or a photograph or a song. We will get so excited and so damn inspired. We will part ways all pumped up and ready to put those words down on paper. But when either of us go to open a new document, suddenly its gone. It is like someone has poured cold water over my head and, while all that inspiration is still live and crackling inside my brain, my fingers don’t know what to do with it and so the document gets shut and another evening gets wasted on Netflix “research” and pinning until my fingers bleed.
And this is a habit I want to change. No. Scratch that. This is a habit I have to change if I want to achieve my goals, my dreams and that mystical “the end” moment. And it’s a habit I think I share with the great majority of my peers.
So I thought I’d end on a bit of a reflective note. See if I can work out what causing the block and moreover, coming up with some survival tips to clear the faucet and get that inspiration flowing straight onto the page.
What’s the problem?
So… not going to lie, I spent at least half an hour staring at this page musing a simple enough question. If I am
b) have all these vibrant characters in my head;
c) have the beginnings of a wonderful world; and
d) even have a rough old story line;
Then what is stopping me from turning all that good stuff into a novel? In the end, after I scratched out all the lame excuses (I’m too busy to take on a novel, I’m too focused on a different project right now and I don’t want to confuse my brain, It’s a great story but I’m the wrong writer etc…) I ended up with a shortlist. From that, I whittled it down to two words.
We put an extraordinary amount of both of these things on our shoulders as writers. Particularly those of us that are choosing to carve out our own path into the industry. Most of us have the same end game. We want to be authors. We want to be able to give up the day job. We want to walk into a bookshop and see our name on the spine. We want writing to be our career. And that is a hell of a lot of pressure for a few 100,000 words to carry.
My best work happened when I was distracted from this goal. My afore-mentioned unnamed friend, for example, produces their best work during exam season because her brain is so focused on the revision, her fingers just projectile vomit her emotions on the page and when she looks back at it once the storm has passed, she’s often surprised to find a pretty decent story there. My best work happens when I’m either under a lot of stress in a different part of my life (and so writing is actually a place of escape and lack of pressure) and NaNoWriMo. Cue more soul-searching and I came to a simple enough conclusion. I write best, and easiest, when “good” isn’t the target. When I can turn my brain off in that respect. NaNoWriMo, the aim is to finish. Come hell or high water. Even if every word is a single syllable, 50,000 of them still feels like a gold medal at the Olympics. I’m not focusing on the quality of my writing, just on getting that content down there. It other words, the pressures of perfect were lifted. I could just write. I could just take the images in my head and throw them at the page with no care for artistry or perfection, and sure, some of it is unrescuable but some of it is pretty good. Both my major projects started as NaNoWriMo sprint writes.
Lesson One: Just write stories.
Easier said than done. I should know. What I mean by this is there is a distinct difference between writing a story and writing a novel. Writing a novel is about 10% writing and 90% stress. It’s worrying about readerships. It’s being obsessed with themed metaphors and pacing. It’s chapter breaks and “what if everyone hates my lead character”. It is a commercial activity because that is the end game with a novel. To sell it and/or have other people read it. Telling a story is what we did back at primary school when our teacher asked us what we did over summer and we invented an entire holiday to Disney World (or maybe that’s just me). It’s just words. It’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s bottled passion. It’s messy and chaotic and sometimes nonsensical. And it is fearless. There is no craft. No rules. The only endgame is getting to those magic words “the end”. Instead of having that one project that is going to be the bestseller your whole future hinges on that just never seems to get past chapter three, have five or six stories on the go. Chances are you’ll finish a whole lot more of them and play the odds and one of them will turn into the novel you are looking for in the first place.
Lesson Two: To Plot or not To Plot, That is the Question.
I dedicated a whole post to this a while ago but it’s an important factor in producing word count from ideas. Know what kind of writer you are. Are you a seat of the pants, eyes in a blindfold, living on the edge type who starts with a title and a rough idea of sort of where you’d like it to go and just type? Or are you a meticulous planner who comes out in hives at the idea of committing anything to paper until you have the whole series mapped out? Neither one is wrong. Personally, I’m in group A. My view on plotting is summed up very well by Mr Potter.
Overthinking is a killer for me. I literally get bored with my story before I even start writing it. I need to be surprised by my characters and my story. I love going on that journey with them. And I think that’s why the above mentioned conversations sometimes backfire because I go too deep. Suddenly, I’ve already told the story. I’ve already shared it. I’ve already got my kick out of that. What do I need to waste three years of hair pulling (if I’m lucky) on writing it all down? It’s not the right way to look at it but I can’t help how my brain works. And I’m sure the inverse is true of my planning compatriots.
Lesson Three: Don’t Fall In Love Too Early
Good advice, if you ask me, in all parts of ones life but in this case, I mean in respect to the story. For me, this is the biggest generator of fear. “I love this story. What if I’m not good enough to do it justice?” Those two sentences, in my experience, are the biggest killer of potential stories. The story feels too complex. Or the world feels too big. Or the messages are too important to screw up. Whatever it is, it’s a wall I hit all too often. I have a two prong approach for beating this block.
a) I try not to fall in love with the stories too early on. When an idea comes to me, I start scribbling quickly. Even if it’s a rough-as-guts opening, it’s a start. It’s a commitment before I can scare myself off. That way, as I fall in love with the world and characters, it isn’t a hindrance but an extra shot of caffeine to pump me into writing the story so I can share it.
b) My new mantra for the year…
This is my safety net. It’s my “it’s okay if it’s awful now. It’s only uphill from here. Things can only get better” and all those good clichés.
Lesson Four: Give Your Will Power a Helping Hand.
AKA Have a plan and stick to it. For my blog (starting this month), it’s my editorial calendar that keeps me on target and reminds me I have no choice but to draft my latest entry despite it being half eleven and I’m cold, sick and have a headache. For my books, I use new years resolutions. They are promises I make to myself. Targets I want to keep. I commit to paper what I want to achieve and lock them away in a drawer to open on December 31st to either celebrate my achievements or… well… we don’t talk about the other option. It’s a tradition I started (to much scepticism from friends and family) last year and guess what? For the first time, come NYE, I’d actually achieved the things I wanted to. This year, I’ve promised myself to complete another NaNoWriMo, send my book to an agent (done), finish the sequel (ahh!) and get myself blogging properly and regularly (work in progress). Tracking your progress is a great way to be much more aware of time and making sure you make some to get done what you want to get done.
So that’s the end of inspiration month. I hope it’s got you as fired up as it has me. As always, stay in touch and let me know how your projects are getting on. Can you believe next week is March already??? Though that means exciting things for me… Here’s a clue to next month’s theme. A certain TV show is coming back next month and I’ve VERY excited for happily ever after 🙂