Monday, August 12, 2013

Revisiting the Elementary: Why Relearning What You Know Can Be a Good Thing

I’m so rarely inspired by myself. I have to seek it elsewhere if I want to be inspired—and yes, there is that golden truth that writers should never sit around waiting to be inspired because you are more likely to be inspired as you write; however, sometimes you just need to read a motivational book, just because. This was one of those times for me.

I’m having doubts about The Book. The kind of doubts where all the letters of the word are capitalized and it plagues me; then I moon about, the characters throw up their hands and go, “Fine, you’re right! We all suck! We’re leaving!” and you lay in bed at night wondering why you ever thought to call yourself a writer if you’re not writing anything. I’ll read passages from the book, even the parts that used to amuse me or I thought were “good” and I literally hate them. If these were the passages in a contest, I’d be the judge that wrote back, “Please take up another hobby that requires less of your brain because you’re over-exerting yourself.” Never mind the fact that I have judged before and I would never say anything that awful to a stranger so it seems a bit dramatic to say it to myself.

Anyway, that’s where I am.

Usually I’ll have Terri reassure me I’m okay. Because she works on a sliding scale and is usually free with this sort of commentary, but she has to write and doesn’t have the 24/7 availability to reassure me every moment of the day when it’s clear I’m not listening. Understandably she went to work with more reasonable people: those in her book, and said I’d figure it out.

So I sulked some more. Then I painted because the sulking was very bad and I thought, at least the painting helps when I have to go back to work the next day. And I seriously need a creative outlet to combat the day job. Something that reassures me that I am not my day job. I trolled on Amazon for craft books, but couldn’t bring myself to buy them because I already have about a billion and none of those have helped, so why would this one?

What I needed was an exorcist apparently.

Anyway, so at the library I found a book I had been looking at on Amazon that I couldn’t bring myself to buy because it seemed too elementary. You’ve Got a Book In You, it said. Well, I know that. I’ve been able to write a book, thanks, I just haven’t been able to write this one. Or the cowboy one. Or—never mind, maybe I didn’t know how to write a book. I took the book home and opened it up.

Writing is easy and fun, she said.

Oh, for the love of God, she sounds like Terri. But I kept reading despite my misgivings. And indeed I imagined she and Terri would be great friends. It was exactly the type of psychology book on writing I was looking for. How to get out of your own way, discard perfectionism, embrace the messiness of creativity, and just write damnit. She was fun and readable and she does make writing sound like a blast. It would be exactly the kind of book I’d recommend to any new writer who didn’t think they could write a whole book…or an old writer who’s lost the mojo and just doesn’t remember.

I’m waiting for a chapter on how to stop being so sphinctered and—wait, actually I think she basically says that every chapter. She’s really a delight. And not pretentious or mean. So if your normal CP is a bit fed up with trying to reassure you every 10 minutes that you’ll be fine, pick up this book. You’ll be inspired to write again in no time, and if your book or a fun scene isn’t exciting you to write, sometimes you just need an outside influence to remind you how fun it is and get your heart engaged again writing that troublesome scene.

When you’re feeling crappy about your writing, what do you do to help turn the mojo around? Do you write on a scene you really wanted? Do you find someone inspiring to say something in a new way to relight you? Do you watch that Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk for the 100th time? What types of things do you do to motivate you back to the Zone?


Maureen said...

Go to Vegas and buy a lavender wig. Then plan a change of identity and disappearing.

Not sure that is very inspirational, but it is a plan...

Marnee Bailey said...

I've done different things at different times to alleviate the crappiness.

At one point I just wallowed. Earlier on. With my first couple projects. In the middle, I just stopped and stared at it and let myself ponder all the ways I sucked. Not super productive, but it is a method. Then, I'd get all stubborn about it and power out the end. Never fail, it wasn't AS bad as I thought it would be. Neither of those projects sold, though, for different reasons. So... *shrugs*

The next project I finished, the one I wrote while pregnant and then struggling with postpartum depression, had a different process. I stopped at different times but not so much because of the project but because of me and things going on in my head. When I finally started feeling good, I felt so much better that I just finished in a sort of giddy rush.

Again, probably not helpful to anyone else in developing a process of how to get through the crappiness.

I do think, though, that these last two things--the one I didn't finish in the fall/spring and the one I just wrote and finished--gave me the biggest insights on the crappy middle.

Honestly, I think when things are right with a book, it's a lot easier to write it. Whether it's me in the place to write that story or it's the story and its elements being "right." Both are needed, I think, to get in the groove.

I also realize that feeling cruddy about the story is bound to happen for me. It's happened enough now--getting stuck in the middle or at the black moment--that I expect it. Instead of panicking, I remind myself that I'm "there" and I reread to find where I derailed off into Sucksville. For me, learning that I'm going to feel crummy sometimes has been a big part of learning my process, the roller coaster ride of it all. Feeling bad about the book makes those times when I feel good about it so much better.

Marnee Bailey said...

PS. It appears I'm uber-wordy today. :) I was on vacation last week. I'm feeling rejuvenated.

MsHellion said...

Mo, always reinventing yourself is always a great idea--and you never know!

MsHellion said...

So a vacation is what you recommend, Marn? *LOL* But yes, expecting lulls and not condemning them or assuming they're occurring because of some flaw in you or your writing (i.e. not taking it personally!) helps you get back on track.

This writer's advice quite a bit is: RELAX. *LOL* I need to have someone saying that a lot. RELAX.

Terri Osburn said...

That purple wig is awesome. I totally want one.

Perhaps you could give us the name of the person who wrote this book. Or are you keeping that a secret? LOL!

I do appreciate that you associate me with a book that inspired you in any way. That's flattering, if misguided. :)

The most stuck I've been lately was when I needed to get this current WIP going. It's the third in the series, I knew who the characters were, and I knew the heroine's backstory that kept her tied in knots. Otherwise, I had nothing. Took hours of brainstorming with the three of you (Mo, Hellie, and Marn) but I finally found a plot.

Other than that, I have no idea. I know I have to write, publishers tend to take those contract deadlines seriously, so part of it is not having a choice. But ultimately, I trust the characters. For instance, I was writing along yesterday and the heroine decided it was time to spill her guts to the hero. Tell him all the ugly secrets.

I had no idea we were ever going to tell him before the end, but she seemed determined, so I let her have her way. It's quite possible the readers will think, "WHAT???" when she's been so hush hush until now, but I suppose I can fix that later. Maybe.

Okay, perhaps my answer is blind faith?

MsHellion said...

By the way, Dad's got a treatment appt today and I'll be offline most of the day. Talk amongst yourselves...or better yet, write and prove me wrong about mojos. :) Happy Monday, guys!

MsHellion said...

Terri, trusting the characters is great advice. Harder to do when I've alienated my characters and they stop talking to me and I criticize everything they do and say. :)

And the author is Elizabeth Sims. And I didn't include the name because I seem to be the only one who likes craft books. *LOL*

Marnee Bailey said...

I think I was trying to say RELAX. I got wordy. LOL!! I do recommend vacation for everyone. No matter the problem, vacation in the solution.

Maureen said...

I wonder how incognito I could be in that wig...

Maureen said...

BTW, went to Amazon and bought the book, downloaded it to the kindle on my iphone... I'm desperate. I don't really want to live on the road in a lavender wig.

I'll do it if I have to, but I'd rather pick myself up some other way.

Janga said...

I love the pic in the lavender wig, Maureen. And I didn't see a different you, just a jauntier, more carefree version.

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird always moves me back to writing, sometimes with a burst of fiery enthusiasm and sometimes with a determined prod that I try to push against, but always back to ms.

Two bits of advice from her that work for me:

“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”

“Don't look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

P. Kirby said...

I stay the hell away from books on writing, which is probably not the answer you want.

Mostly, I read or watch something that really makes me happy, a favorite film or TV show with crackin' dialogue. I'm finding that if my current read isn't stimulating my brain, my writing suffers accordingly. Yeah, unlike a lot of you, I have to read to write -- feeds the muse. But some things are low nutrition like iceberg lettuce. Like the stuff I'm reading now.

Prolly time to DNF a few books, because I'm in writing/reading slump.

Terri Osburn said...

Janga, that book speaks to so many people. Of the craft related books I have, I've read more of that one than the others.

Pat, I don't actually read craft books either. I have a bunch, most unopened. I have to do to learn, but that's just me. If I'm really stuck on something, I find a book that's really well written and pay close attention to how the author did certain things. Jodi Thomas is one of the best for this. My brain can latch onto her writing and analyze it, which isn't something I do easily.

Maureen said...

I find the best thing about craft books are the table of contents. And the intros. And maybe the bibliography. I seldom actually read past that.

Tho I did read Bird by Bird.

MsHellion said...

Janga, BIRD BY BIRD is on my book shelf too, but that's not a surprise, I'm sure because Anne Lamott is like a goddess and I already admitted to owning nearly every writing craft book out there.

LOVE the puppy reference. Exactly...I'd be a lot nicer to a puppy than I have ever been to my brain...or writing. :)

MsHellion said...

Pat, that's really one of the best ways to learn--reading books you love and figuring out how they do it and what you want to do that they do right and make it yours. :) Whatever keeps you writing--that's the best solution, I say.

MsHellion said...

Mo, admittedly I skim the table of contents because I can usually tell what the book will be about. *LOL* The tips are summarized THERE...and I don't have to read 300 pages to get the gist. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

Wait, Mo, you bought YOU'VE GOT A BOOK IN YOU, really? Awww. I think you'll like it. She's very low key. Very fun. She's just inspirational. If Terri's too busy to tell you to get a grip, this book does basically the same thing.

MsHellion said...

Marn, I would *LOVE* a vacation. *sighs*