Recharging Your Creative Batteries and Other Stories

I think I’ve said it once or twice before, but it’s worth repeating: writing a novel is hard work.  It isn’t physically demanding, of course, and non-novelists will probably never understand, but there are moments when extracting words from imagination is excruciating.  I have learned, even in a week, many things about the writing process, or more specifically my writing process.  Most of these things are probably wrong, and I will likely end up recanting most of them by the end of the month, if not by the time I finish the first draft.

None of the things that I’ve figured out this week relate to grammar or plot or characters or setting at all. In fact, they have little to do with the story itself.  What I’ve learned about is writing, and what it takes to make writing happen, and happen often enough and long enough that you wind up with results, and those results are increasing production and a story that is inevitably going… somewhere.

First, try to write something before you do anything else in the morning.  It doesn’t have to be much.  You can probably rap off a hundred words or so before your brain figures out what’s going on.  You don’t even need coffee to get that far.  The reason why this helps me is because the thing I struggle with the most with writing every day is getting started.  If I rattle off a paragraph or two before my brain is awake enough to object, then I’ve got myself started, without much effort.

This one’s going to get me in trouble.  Write in short bursts, 20-30 minutes at a time, maybe 45 minutes or an hour if you can stand it, but then stop.  Get up, get a drink of coffee, and go to the bathroom.  Check your Facebook (keep it short) , troll a few web forums, or catch the last half of The Office.  I thought, early on, that I would be able to (and needed to) set aside large blocks of time for writing. That was a failure on my part, not of time management, but of understanding creative energy.

There may be people out there who can be continuously creative for hours and hours on end.  If you are one of those people, then you have probably already published a book and you can safely ignore this message.  If you are not though, then you need to realize something: the creative side of your brain needs time to recharge after use, and if you’re not used to using it, just like any other muscle, you’re going to need a fair amount of rest in between.

I assume (I could be wrong) that as I write more and more, that those times that I can be creative will increase in length, but for now, I am successfully writing a novel in 15, 20, and 30 minute word sprints that are scattered throughout my day.

Finally, and this is the one that gets most people during NaNoWriMo or just novel writing in general. Write first. Finish writing. Then, reward yourself with other things.  Most aspiring novelists stay in the aspiring stage for the simple reason that they don’t write.  We don’t write because there are other things we use to fill that time, and at the end of the day, we’re too tired to write or think about writing.

While you’re writing a novel, though (if you’re serious about it) other activities just have to take second place (excepting maybe your job).  But, if you develop a habit if using those other activities to reward yourself for reaching writing goals, you might find, as I have, that you write more, sooner, and still end up having time to enjoy social activities, games, and other things.  You might also find that you actually enjoy writing so much you’d rather just keep doing that than the other things you had planned.

Twenty-five days left for NaNoWriMo, but remember folks, the first draft is only the beginning.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Patrick Nathan on November 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I find that breaks are absolutely necessary. I used to be of the opinion that I couldn’t write without a four hour block of time in the afternoon uninterrupted and cut off from the world. As a consequence my writing habits were to go several weeks without writing, binge on 5,000 words, and then collapse exhausted and unwilling to do anything for another few weeks.

    When I started Rebellious Bird in January I tried a new approach. I tried to write every day, even if it was only a few hundred words. It kept my brain in the right place. It kept me in the story. It kept my writing consistent (for the most part–until I got much better at putting together a sentence toward the end of my first draft). Breaks are an essential part of this process if it’s to be successful. What works for me is 45-60 minutes of writing followed by a 15-20 minute break. Sometimes I get distracted and my break runs longer, but I still get a lot done. I’ve been working since 9:00 this morning with several breaks and so far I have six revised chapters to show for it.

    The fear you have of starting to write for the day will never go away. At least it hasn’t for me yet. Every day when I sit down I’m nervous, I’m apprehensive, I instantly want to procrastinate and spend my time reading articles online instead. It just takes a little bit of discipline, though, to make you realize that you were much better off taking that plunge.

    Here’s my article on the subject, from the days of my first draft: The Novelist’s Deflowering: Every Day, a Plunge

    Reply

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