Saturday, February 03, 2018

Good Habits and the Voices in Your Head

 The Slow Start

I have begun my year as I do most years, with the intent of writing at least one page per day in my current work in progress.  I was sidetracked for about a week when everything at home went sideways because of a basement flood (which we and our more expensive things survived), but overall I have managed to maintain my goal.  I had taken a long break after finishing FIRE because I was burnt out, and I needed to recharge or, as we writers put it, "refill the well."  It took a lot of refilling, more than a year of writing listlessly and not regularly.  Like a muscle too taxed with overwork, my "writing brain" was worn out and in need of a rest.  No amount of pretty stationery or writing goodies could coerce me to get words out.

Then, 2018 rolled over.  I knew it was time to get back on the proverbial horse.

I won't lie.  At first, it sucked.  Writing one paragraph was an effort.  I tend to edit as I go, so that what I put on the page is as clean as I can get it in my head before I type it out.  I have never been able to shut off that internal editor.  My personal best is only thirteen pages or so in one day.  I have learned that in about half an hour I can get out one page of "pretty good" work.  (That's one page, formatted, for those of you who wonder, about 250 words, and "pretty good" means it's mostly clean work that has already had its first pass of edits.)  Some days it's less effort than others, but if I have managed that much for a day, I call it a win.

You First

Over time, this PITA page a day that (to me) was just crummy writing started to become better writing again.  It became less work.  Any writer will tell you, we live with hundreds and maybe thousands of imaginary people in our heads, who have conversations and interactions with one another.  Many of these imagined scenes become fodder for our books, and nothing is more frustrating than when your imaginary people stop talking.  That's what happened to me for more than a year.  NONE of my characters would talk on their own.  I had to make up stuff I thought they might say and do, rather than have that lightning strike of inspiration appear in my head without provocation.  And I really, REALLY missed that lightning strike, because it's the joy that keeps every writer going in the hope that it happens again.

Then something funny happened.  My characters seemed to start trusting me again, as if *I* had abandoned them and they were sulking somewhere in my head.  After a couple of weeks of daily at-the-keyboard effort on my part, they started talking to me spontaneously, instead of me dragging the dialogue and actions out of them.  In fact, the main character essentially told me, "Look, I see you've painted yourself into a corner with this plot thread, so I'm gonna help you fix it.  Here's how," and the scene rewrote itself in my head.

Hallelujah.  Lightning strike.  I was so happy to have that happen for the first time in many, many months. You can call it pre-writing, or plotting, or whatever you like, but for me, the best work happens when my characters are "talking" to me.  They were just waiting for me to do some work first.

Staying on Track

No one can tell you how to do your best writing.  Whether you're a plotter or pantser, storyboarder or Scrivener fan, you know how best to get those words out of yourself.  The common thread is to make what works best for you a habit.  Then, it's not as much work; it's just something you do.  You can always go back and edit the words, as long as you have words to edit.  Just keep at it.

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