Chasing Inspiration

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Every Little Bit Counts

I belong to an email loop for my writer's group called Club 100. It sounds really elite doesn't it? Brings up visions of authors who have written 100+ books, right?

Trust me, it's nothing as glamorous as that. And if it were, I definitely wouldn't be on the list. I've written exactly 6 manuscripts and none of them are published. Or apparently publishable in their current incarnations. Which is fine. I've learned a lot from writing these books and I wouldn't trade the lessons of experience for anything.

Club 100 is a motivational email loop. The original goal of the group was for everyone to write 100 words a day. There is some solid rationale behind this goal. First, you are writing every day. The only way to finish a manuscript is to write. There are no short cuts. You must write that book in order for it to exist.

By writing daily you are building a habit. It's hard to sit in that chair and stare and the page or computer screen until intelligent words spill forth. But the more you write, and the more consistent you are with time and place, the easier it is to sit down and immediately shift from the worries of the day job, family, money, etc. to the story. This is an important lesson and one that took me years to learn. Now that I write daily I find I waste little time on trying to put myself in the story. Amazing!

By making a goal of 100 words you are taking what may be 400 plus pages and breaking it down into less intimidating numbers. As with any large project, a person can be overwhelmed when they focus on that end number. Then the negative self-talk and doubt creeps in. "400 pages? I can't write 400 pages! What the hell was I thinking? That's it, I'm packing up my toys and going home."

That type of self-talk is what keeps a lot of people from finishing. And without that finished manuscript, there is no chance of becoming a published author. Ever. But, if your daily goal is 100 words, and you consider that 100 words is less than one manuscript page, suddenly that book becomes a lot of little, bite sized goals that don't look so scary.

Here's the coolest thing about being part of Club 100. I started out with a 100-words-a-day goal and in the last 6 months I've been able to write 3 pages in the same hour that it used to take me to write 100 words! I'm hoping that over the next few months I'll be able to increase that to 5+ pages.

If you're an aspiring author of anything - journal article, non-fiction book on the zeitgeist of morality and higher education, or commercial fiction - this methodology of building the writing habit and breaking down the whole of your manuscript into small, daily goals will take you far.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Going After It with a Club

 I was thinking about the quotation at the top of my blog today. Jack London was a smart man. Right up there with Nora Roberts.

In an interview for Borders bookstores, Nora was quoted as saying there isn't a muse, that a writer can't sit and wait for the muse to be channeled. Writing isn't effortless. My personal experience certainly mirrors this sentiment. The days where I have waited for the muse to come knocking are the days nothing gets added to the page. Those are the days I find excuses to clean the oven, fiddle with the mending, reconcile the cheque book. Those are the days I do anything but get down to the business of writing.

Jack London said you can't wait for inspiration. I don't know if he meant those flashes of the perfect scene or the vibrant and oh so right setting. I don't know if he meant that niggle at the base of your skull when something you see, hear or smell triggers an emotion or moment in the plot. I imagine he doesn't mean those serendipitous moments that come to us all. What I imagine he means is that we can't wait for that lightening bold that says, "Here I am! This is what you are to write next. And it will be brilliant!"

Writing is hard work. All creativity is work. Joyous, torturous, wonderful work. But work nonetheless.At least it is for me. I won't be so arrogant as to speak for anyone else.

I love writing. I love birthing a story, nurturing it from a small, embryonic idea to a full blown plot with character arcs, story arcs, subplots, twists, turns and resolutions. That seed of an idea becomes a child and then a gangly adolescent, more mature, filling out but also awkward and full of grease. Finally, after what feels like years, the story becomes an adult and able to move out of the house to flourish or fall all on its own. This all takes work. A story, no matter how it may flow from the soul, is not born miraculously in complete and final form.

Ideas don't either. And if I were to sit and wait for that perfect idea I would always remain an untried, unpublished and ineffective writer. I would aspire, but never achieve.

Jill Barnett once stated that some of her books were born out of a desire to learn something about the craft of writing. She learned her craft by experience. Not by waiting for inspiration. Like Jack, Nora and Jill, I don't want to wait for fickle Lady Muse. I want to write. I want to refine my craft and bare open my soul. I want to go after inspiration with a club!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

It's been hard to stay focused on the writing these last few weeks. Which is making me grumpy. Really grumpy. I have about three stories floating around my head and I want to put them all on paper, but I get confused with which details belong to which story.

So I tried a technique I learned from my writing coach. I sat my characters down and one by one I started asking them about themselves. Very Gestalt of me, yes? Actually, it felt more Freudian but that's a conversation for another time.

As I asked these characters about themselves, I tried to ask them about the people in their lives and about what brought them to their story. Slowly I compiled a list of characters, some of their pertinent history along with some extraneous details I wasn't sure were going to make it into the story, but helped me to get to know these people just the same.

Then I started a mind map with all the characters, a color for which story thread they are involved in (romance plot, suspense plot, secondary relationship plot, etc) and began to detail through color and symbol which story they belonged to. In doing so, I have also mapped out the beginnings of a turning point diagram. Who would have thought this could have been so doable? Certainly not me.

I'm still grumpy. I still don't have much time for writing. I do feel better about getting some of those ideas out of my head and on paper. My brain feels less cluttered and I can get back to Jason and Mallory. 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

15 Minutes

 Why is it that whenever I try to organize my home office, I seem to create more of a mess? I've been tasked with clearing out the office so we can move on to the next phase of our renovations. But I'm procrastinating. I don't know if it's because I can;t stand the thought of having to uproot all my books and set up in a temporary space for the next couple of months or if I really just have too much crap and I'm at a loss at how to deal with it.

I didn't use to be this bad. There was a time in the not so distant past that there was never a stray paper in the house and everything had a place of it's own. Since we started renovations six years agoI haven't been able to find my stride. The house is in this limbo state and has been since we bought it. Most things don't have a permanent home so things have piled up and chaos has finally become my good friend. This is one friendship I really want to let go.

So in an effort to get this monkey off my back, I'm going back to a method that worked for me in the past. 15 minutes.

The theory is that when things become chaotic, or when faced with a task you do not want to do, you set a timer for 15 minutes and work hard for those 15 minutes on a specific task and then you stop. You can do15 minutes a day, 15 minutes every hour, 15 minutes every half hour. Whatever works for you. Just remember to take a break from that task and do something you enjoy. That's the reward for the 15 minutes of work.

Funny thing, this works when I'm not in the mood to write. I sit my butt in my chair, set the timer and start writing. Eventually, I'm past my 15 minutes and my fingers are fighting to keep up with the scenes in my head. That's my reward. I get such a high from being able to finish a scene, a chapter, an entire book. No other accomplishment compares. Though I'm hoping getting my home into fighting form and keeping it that way comes in a close second. I'll keep you posted.