Today is a bonus episode of Loose Leaf. Thank you Matthew F for listening and taking the time to write and ask questions. Today, I'm going to answer a couple of them. I hope readers as well as writers will find this topic interesting.
Matthew asked several questions revolving around what it's like to sit down and write. You know, the mental process a writer goes through to put words on the page as well as how to see the progress without getting discouraged.
The answer to this may look different for every writer. In fact, it looks different for me depending on the day. The key is to know going in that it's okay to try different things until you figure out what works best to help you write. I'll share a few examples from my ten years of writing experience to show you how different the process can be from day to day.
Let's start with the dream scenario. It does happy on occasion. We'll call it…
1. Writing with the Muse
This is when the scene, chapter, or character are speaking, no screaming in your head. You sit down and all you have to do is listen and write. Your fingers fly over the keyboard and the words pile up faster than you can say, “once upon a time.”
This is how my first Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, in 2008 went for me. I still have days like this, but writing has become more of a job than the free flying joy of that time. You may wonder why I do it if it's not like this every time, but that will be a topic for a different podcast.
2. Working the Habit
This is when you get into the routine. You've trained your brain to know that when you sit in a certain place, at a certain time, writing WILL happen. This is the goal. Prolific writers have achieved this. The words can come as easily as when you write with the muse because your muse knows to show up and help you out.
We'll talk about how to get to this point in a few minutes.
While working the habit can be easy, it doesn't always go that way. Sometimes the words come, but they trickle in. Maybe your thoughts wander and you find yourself browsing the internet without knowing how you got there. You have to remind yourself to get to work.
Sometimes habit is enough, sometimes it's not. There are lots of reasons why you may not be able to write. We'll get to those when we talk about creating habits.
3. Bleeding on the Page
You know that scene from Order of the Phoenix when Harry Potter has detention with Umbridge and he has to write 'I will not tell lies' with the cursed pen? The pen draws blood from Harry as the ink to write the words, leaving marks on him as well. There are times when writing feels like this. Much of Fade Into Me and The Hand of Atua felt like this. Perhaps it was because those story ideas meant so much to me that I was scared of writing them. Sometimes its because we don't know enough about the story or characters. Or maybe it's because we know too much and don't want our imaginary friends to suffer. This is why I think I'm struggling with Demon Rising at the moment.
Here's what I learned from the bleeding on the page kind of writing—It can be some of your very best. It forces you to dig deeper, feel more than you might when the words flow with little thought.
Okay, the truth is that my writing time is often a jumble of all three of these scenarios. Especially if I've given in and not written anything for several days in a row. Cough or months cough
I often have to sit and bleed while I'm retraining my brain to work the habit. Once I'm finally in the habit, my muse will carry me through some amazing writing sprints.
How do we create this habit? You have to figure out what your habit will look like, but I can give some examples of how I did it.
Years ago, my habit was as simple as keeping a notebook in my van or purse so I could snatch a few minutes of writing any chance I had. This meant the carpool line or the dentist office. Often, these were fifteen minutes sprints, but as a mom of four young kids, this was all I had. As they grew and eventually all entered school, the habit or routine changed. When I took a full time job, the habit became my thirty minute lunch break. That was brutal, but it made quitting and getting more time to write all the more exciting. My writing habit will continue to change as my life does.
Okay, I'm a list maker. It's part of my brand of OCD. I'm into controlling my schedule and knowing what to expect. I've often said it's weird that planning is so important to me, but I'm a discovery writer. That simply means I don't outline every plot point before sitting to write.
Anyway, I frequently sit and list my personal, family, and writing goals. Then I fit them into a loose schedule. I used to be more specific, such as write from 12:00 to 2:00, but I've learned over the years that a little flexibility actually helps me not get as discouraged when life interferes with my plan. This is a coping mechanism I've learned to head off meltdowns when plans and schedules get changed.
Here is my current habit. You should note it's currently undergoing some tweaking since COVID-19 has all of my family at home all day. Since I haven't really settled into a new routine that works, I'm sharing the pre-corona version.
• Get kids off to school
• get out to exercise—usually a walk or jog
• breakfast and clean the kitchen
• straighten the living room then sit at my writing spot
I also have a routine once I sit at my computer. It calms me and signals to my brain that we are getting ready to write.
• Check my email
• check Facebook and Instagram
• check Amazon book report (I actually use datasprout) to see sales, pages read on KU, etc
• if I'm running ads, I check the current spend amount compared to earnings and adjust accordingly
• if it's time to send a newsletter, I work on that
• open my online thesaurus
• open my manuscript on Scrivener and scan the scene before the spot where I'll start writing
I have to turn my phone ringer off. I can't listen to music while I write. And I usually sit in one of two places—my desk or my sunroom. I've also found it beneficial to sit for about an hour and then get up and move. I don't set a timer, but my body tends to get restless or achy if I sit longer than an hour. Plus, getting up and moving helps get the blood flowing again and gives your eyes a rest from staring at the screen.
On a good day I can jump in and write. However, most of the time I get easily distracted by my dogs, whatever is going on outside my window, the desire to pick up my phone because a text came through, and at least a hundred other things. The trick is making yourself become more disciplined. And like any endeavor, it takes consistent practice.
Lately, I've been having trouble focusing on one story. I currently have seven books in my head with four of them started and the other three outlined. You might think that sounds great. It's not. Not a single one of those story ideas is louder than the others. That's usually how I decided where to put my writing time. Right now I'm writing on a different story every day, sometimes a couple on one day. Who knows what kind of revising and editing I'm going to need at the end.
It also means I'm crawling forward on multiple stories but it feels like I'm not making any real progress.
I'm habitually bleeding on the page. I guess it's better than nothing. When things are hard like they are at the moment, I have a few things I constantly remind myself.
1. 500 to 1000 words a day scattered over multiple manuscripts is better than no words. In fact, I add up all the word count for the day and add the to my calendar. At the end of the month I can tally the total word count and see progress.
2. Keep working the habit until my muse shows up and tells me which story to work full-time on.
3. Do your best today and tomorrow will be easier.
And when everything fall apart
4. The world won't end if I don't write today.
That's right. Sometimes you need to take a week or a month off. Live your life. Experience emotions and new things. Do something else creative to help ease the pressure you feel to write. Then try again.
And always remember, not every step of the writing process can be seen and measured.
Simply closing your eyes and envisioning how a scene might play out is part of this process. Going for a walk and trying to see your world the way one of your characters would is part of the process. Hearing a song and you drive around town and realizing your character is embodied in the words is part of the process.
I have to remember all these things when it's hard to type words onto the page. Especially when outside forces are beating me down as well. But, this podcast is getting quite long. We can save the discussion about how writer insecurities mount up and then crush us for another day.
The next podcast will be Behind the Story of Fade Into Me, my YA modern-day fairy tale with a scifi twist. If you'd like access to these podcasts before the general public, condsider supporting me on Patreon at patreon.com/charitybradford_riverford. You'll get early access to the podcasts as well as free reading. Help me reach my subscriber goals and we'll have exclusive giveaways as well. The link is in the notes.
Finally, if you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle on a future Loose Leaf episode, let me know. Comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, until next time.