JUST SHOW UP
This tip means what it says. Just Show Up. I just show up at my working project once a day, and I don’t even have to write. Showing up involves writing notes, brainstorming, reading over what I’ve written, research, thinking, OR writing, but not necessarily. It means keeping alive “the waking dream” of my story or novel or essay or nonfiction piece, and it does mean every single day. My waking dream, which is the collaboration of the conscious with the unconscious, is important to activate and reactivate. Otherwise my ideas, not to mention my interest and desire, can disappear like a cloud. Of course too many days of just showing up and not actually writing is a sign that something else is going on for me. But when my writing is going reasonably well, every now and then I find that I still can’t access my two pages for the day. But I still Show Up.
One of the best antidotes to the solitary, sometimes lonely existence of the writer is contact with other writers. Often this isn’t easy, as writers are probably introverts who love their solitude and are immersed in their work. Distractions often stop the flow. However, I believe it’s important to connect with others for stimulation and inspiration, and to discover, once again, that they are experiencing the same frustrations you are.
So I advocate JOINING: and by this I mean the old-fashioned physical connection of a real writing group, informal or professional organization–NOT online. My lifeline is my beloved Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (see the link on my Home page). Other genres have their own professional organizations. Critique groups are important for the connection, as much as for the advice.
Connection with like-minded people is a good way to tackle writer’s block, often a condition of loneliness, depression and ruminations.
TIME OR SPACE?
This post is not about having enough time to write, or having a space of one’s own. Rather it is about how I prefer to assign myself the writing task for the day. A certain amount of hours at the desk, or a certain number of pages to be written? The latter assignment is what works for me, (specifically, a minimum of 3 typewritten pages) and frankly, I find it liberating. It allows me the flexibility of completing my pages at any point during the day, and is incredibly do-able. For me, conceptualizing my task as a matter of “space” and not “time” alleviates anxiety. It especially works during the rough draft stage, when the story is so amorphous. And I give myself permission to write badly. Sometimes the writing is awful, something it’s better than I’d thought it would be. But whatever the quality, it’s always helpful. Perhaps it’s something to keep for a future chapter, or an addition to a previous one. Often concepts and plot turns appear unexpectedly on the page, to be refined at another session.
This tip is yet another variation on that all -important theme: Just Write.
Often beginning one’s first, rough draft is very difficult. There are so many decisions to be made! First person or third person? What is the setting? What is the conflict? Present tense or past tense? Omniscient narrator? Single or multiple viewpoints? Once I learned to accept this aspect of the rough draft, I was able to take false starts in stride. I think false starts are almost necessary, as I experiment with the voice and tone and other aspects of a particular story. When some of the more important decisions are made, and I “feel” almost instinctly that I’ve made some good decisions, the entryway to the story is unlocked.
Irony of ironies: I haven’t posted a Writer’s Block Tip in 5 months! But no, I wouldn’t say I was blog-blocked. I’ve got lots of ideas. And I can’t say I’ve been blocked with my creative writing, either.
I think I made a semi-conscious decision to withdraw a bit from too much extra communication–blog, email, Facebook, Twitter, even the phone. This may have had something to do with my dad’s death in October. But it also may have something to do with a need to focus. On my next project. My family. Nature.Our adopted little stray cat.
In retrospect, I think this has been a good thing for me. So, tip #64: try taking an offline vacation, and focus on your priorities at this time in your journey.
WHERE THE ANSWERS ARE
I am not blocked with regards to my anti-block blog, but deeply into a new project, furiously applying any and all writing tips to that end. But I’d like to share a tip I just relearned; I seem to need to relearn it for each story I attempt.
I read an interview with Phillip Roth in which he commented on the fact that he didn’t reveal the identity of the narrator until the middle of his novel, NEMESIS. In fact, he himself hadn’t realized the narrator’s identity until that moment.
‘ “It just dawned on me as I was writing along,” Roth explains. “The book educates you about the book.” ‘
The book educates you about the book.
For those of us who are unable to write story outlines until after the book is complete (!) the process of writing the book itself slowly provides the answers. After a while, but only while messing around in that awful first draft, characters become better understood and plot choices present themselves. I am always amazed at how blank my mind is about my story, until I’m actually writing the darn thing.
The book educates you about the book. So, once again, just begin. And continue to continue.
I could probably end my Anti-Writer’s Block Blog in (180-62) 118 days if I simply wrote a tip a day from BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Everything you want to know about writing, both emotionally and craft-wise, is in that book. But as I write these “tips”, you have to realize they represent what I myself am learning and relearning, what I Need to Remember, as I tackle my own project. So lifting tips from Anne wouldn’t really get anyone anywhere, would it?
So now I will proceed to lift an important tip from her, and throw it out there at ya.
I am at a moderately beginning stage of my novel, where it is so helpful to remember her concept of “short assignments” during my daily writing stints, rather than thinking of the whole giant Thing itself. So I write little paragraphs here and there describing things I need to know about: a scene of this or that. A description of part of the setting. A character’s introspective take on something. Lamott suggests trying to imagine fitting your assignment into a one-inch picture frame. Just get something SMALL AND SHORT down. Each day.
Very often those assignments morph into gold, brilliantly shining on part of the path I need to take, especially in later drafts. The main point: get it down.
Many people are stymied by the feeling that they “have no time.”
I myself need to feel that the day is timeless, that “I have all the time in the world” in order to relax into my writing. Both of these conditions are false, of course. On the one hand, there is always lots of time. On the other hand, that time is exceedingly limited. One solution to this seeming contradiction is to find a time in your day that is inviolable and possible, and to assign yourself a specific, and possible, amount of work. Knowing that your little daily space of time is always, always there for you helps to engender that feeling of limitless time.
Here is how J. Anderson Coats creates her wonderful, multi-starred YA historical fiction, most recently, THE WICKED AND THE JUST:
“Like a lot of writers, I have other commitments outside of writing.
I solve the “where to find the time to write” problem this way:
* Get up every day at five in the morning
* Review plot in my head while showering
* Sit down at the computer by 5:30
* Read the last page or so that I wrote the day before
* Take five minutes to physically sketch out briefly (often in
bullet-point format) in a notebook what I’ll be writing in the
* Write for about an hour and a half before my day job. My goal is two
pages a day. It’s achievable; when I surpass it, it’s good for morale
and when I don’t, I feel productive.”
The following sentence is a FACT– ok, based on my own experience:
My moods have no correlation at all with the quality of my production.
Therefore, my bad mood is no excuse not to write, unless, of course, a crisis would be averted by NOT writing. This is usually not the case. And what’s more, the bad mood is often related to writing, or failure, or some imaginary catastrophic event related to work or achievement.
Oddly enough, the bad mood dissipates once I begin my morning writing ritual, even though the fear of writing caused the bad mood in the first place.
Solution: Try, as best you can, to ignore the moods, and just write your way through them…
Mantras are good. These are helpful phrases I repeat to myself before and during my writing sessions. One of the most powerful is one I learned from Alice Sebold in a speech she gave soon after her terrific book The Lovely Bones was published. Tell yourself, she said, “You have all the time in the world.” I often feel defeated by time, thinking I have to finish something quickly in order to “produce”. This mantra calms me down, slows me down, and helps me enjoy the process. Stay tuned for others…