On Writing, Ranée

Here It Goes Again

In a previous post, I wrote about how I’d made a complete mess of the story that I was working on with my disorganized, haphazard approach to writing. Well, as it happens, I wasn’t just plagued by my chaotic storytelling; in RPG parlance, I not only got too caught up in creating my characters’ backstory but also got distracted by a silly side quest.

It’s taken me over a year and a half to realize what this story is actually about—not what it started out as or what I intended for it to be—but what it truly is. It didn’t really hit me until I wrote my book pitch for Paper Cuts a couple of weeks ago. When I did that, I realized that the book I was pitching wasn’t the book I was writing. So what do you do when you find yourself faced with such a realization? Well, after cursing yourself (a lot) and vacillating between pressing on and giving up, first you reevaluate and then you take action—reboot.

During meditation yesterday, I asked my guides if I should continue with this book and they said yes. I’m not gonna lie; I wasn’t fully on board with that right away. So, I spent much of yesterday evening reevaluating this project, including talking through my dilemma with my husband. He asked me what I liked about what I’d written so far and that helped me to get to the heart of the matter, to see where the real story lay. If you find yourself lost, then I highly recommend you take a moment to analyze what you’ve got and, if necessary, ask a trusted soul to help you with this process. Most likely, there’s something that’s worth salvaging, but, often, we are too close to our work to see it objectively. Once you determine what those salvageable pieces are, do some further examination to see how they do or could fit together. That, fellow ink-slingers, is your real story.

The story that you’re actually writing may not be the one that you set out to tell. If you find that’s the case, then the next step is to decide whether or not you’re OK with that. For me, realizing that the story I thought I was writing wasn’t the one that I wanted to write was like finally breaking the surface, lungs burning, and gulping in fresh air; I’d been under water for far too long. I feel a huge sense of relief just accepting that the story I told myself I wanted to write wasn’t what I was really interested in writing and I’ve decided to continue with it. If, however, you’re not OK with a realization like that, then it’s probably best that you put your project aside. DO NOT TRASH IT! While present you might be 100% positive that you never want look at it again let alone try to fix it, a future you may feel quite differently some day and could approach it with a fresh perspective, so, trust me, just put those pages somewhere out of sight for now and move on.

If you choose what I feel could be the harder path and decide to press on, well, then you’ve got some work to do in terms of regrouping. You can keep everything you’ve written so far together in the same place (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and just continue on with the new aim in mind or you can start fresh with the pieces you’ve decided are the keepers, tucking the others away to keep for future use. In the name of clearing the chaos, I’ve decided to do the latter. I’m also beginning some focused journaling to help me gain further clarity (huge thanks to one of my best girlfriends for this timely gift!). Some ways to get reorganized include creating a new outline and/or mind map with the true story in mind, engaging in some focused freewriting to flesh out plot points, and taking a little break before diving into your project again.

In addition to regrouping, I’m giving myself a deadline. My goal is to spend the remainder of winter working on this draft and, if come spring, I find that figuring out the real story hasn’t made any difference and I’m still struggling, I will move on. Deadlines are always a good idea.

In any case, if you find yourself in a similar position, I hope that you won’t despair (at least, not for too long), but that you’ll carry on and take another stab at it.

On Writing, Ranée

Disorder

Creativity requires a certain amount of disorder—a good kind of chaos, if you will, and I fully admit to being a bit Scarlet-Witchy (OK, more than a bit). However, in this post, I’m talking about the bad kind of disorder, the sort that comes from a lack of clarity and has nothing to do with creative spirit.

I’ve spent some time this week migrating content that I’ve written for my current story from my notebooks into Scrivener and, in the process, I’ve come to an important realization—I should not be writing when I’m depressed or stressed out unless I’m just writing about how I’m feeling. I haven’t got much of substance to show for the months when I’ve been trying to write while feeling bad; the little that I do have is a jumbled mess. All of the more organized threads that flow into actual chapters were written prior to depression and anxiety setting in. It is exceptionally difficult for me to maintain a decent level of concentration and to organize myself when I am depressed or anxious; that’s always been true. The difference now is, I’m aware of it. I know now that this was the real reason I could never finish a book let alone really get one started—my emotional struggles caused me to lose focus to the point that I just couldn’t get it together.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that I need to follow my own advice and when nothing good is coming or I’m just not feeling like working on a particular project, then I need to write something else, whether that something is journaling, writing a blog post, or working on another creative project. With regard to the latter, I’ve been forcing myself to stick with one creative writing project at a time out of fear I’ll never finish anything if I don’t make myself plow through, but I’ve realized that, by doing this, I’ve been hampering my own creativity (and as I noted above, the real problem for all those years was depression, not my tendency toward chaos-witchiness). I hate doing the same thing all the time; I get extremely bored and end up feeling constrained. I certainly need some structure to keep me on track, but instead of forcing myself to push on when my heart’s not really in it, I should instead embrace my own dynamic nature, be flexible, and work on whatever project I feel like on a given day (employ an organized chaos, so to speak). My hope is that by changing things up, I’ll avoid stagnating and will instead keep the embers of my creative fire burning.

Along the same lines, while my story ideas tend to be nonlinear, with scenes/flashes coming at random, I need to write in chapters. If I have a scene in my head, then I will write it but I also need to write what goes around or with it, connecting the dots. This will save me having to go back and fill in loads of blanks later and will help to keep me organized. I mean, even when Wanda was completely disrupting people’s lives, she still provided a substantial amount of structure. The least I can do is turn random scenes into full-fledged chapters (the fact that I have already done it is proof I can do it again).

So this will be my new process once I’ve moved over the stuff I’ve got in my notebooks. Maybe I’ll even consider going back to writing on the computer. Ha! Sorry, but computer writing for creative projects is reserved for revising . . . unless I find a good electronic approximation for a pen and notebook that can be transferred straight into the computer and integrate with Scrivener, but that’s another topic for another day.

On Writing

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

Anxiety and focus issues are some serious super creeps known to plague writers. If you’re haunted by such ghouls, then you may find yourself spending a lot of time staring at the horror that is a blank page or screen or over-preparing for the battle instead of heeding the call to action (i.e., getting caught up in things like researching, outlining, or character sketches instead of writing the actual story). You might sit down to write and have every intention of doing so, but some nasty little troll has other ideas and you end up chasing it in an endless time loop of distractions like checking social media, texting a friend, surfing the web, or drawing pictures that have nothing to do with your writing project. If any of that sounds familiar, then I empathize, fellow ink-slinger, because, unfortunately, I know all too well what’s it like to battle those Big Bads. Here are a few tips I’ve collated from my own experience in the fight.

Break It Up

If you struggle to stay focused (and I wouldn’t be shocked if the majority of people do given that the average attention span is a matter of seconds), then try building in more shorter writing intervals with breaks in between instead of fewer extended sessions.  If your goal is to write a certain number of words or pages per day, you certainly don’t have to write them all in one go.  Breaks will allow your brain to hit the reset button and hopefully you’ll be able to approach a project with renewed focus. If your brain is rested, it can also come up with fresh ideas.

Go Dark

If you’ve been staring at a blank page or screen, then try going dark. Turn off the computer screen and type away, even if you’re just banging out a string of nonsense letters, or close your eyes, pick up your pen, and do some automatic writing (ie, writing whatever comes into your mind). This is a fantastic way of unlocking your subconscious mind and letting it roam free as well as experimenting with letting go period. I realize that for someone with anxiety, that may sound terrifying; you need structure, you have to have a plan! There’s nothing wrong with an outline or plan, but you have to allow at least some room for flexibility because the creative process is by its very nature free-flowing. Start by trying just a few minutes of being like water; see how it goes. You might be surprised by what comes up when you do. I’ve found that this tactic often leads to some of my best ideas/work.

Daydream

If you’re losing interest in what you’re working on, then instead of forcing yourself to plow away at it, why not embrace the boredom? Boredom actually sparks creativity, so go ahead: imagine a place or that you’re some other person and let your mind wander, do a “what if?” exercise, or write in your journal. Sometimes distraction can actually be a good thing.

Get Reacquainted With Your Muse

Maybe you’re stuck for ideas because you’ve lost sight of your purpose. What was it that inspired you to write this project in the first place? Thinking about that, reminding yourself how you feel about that person/place/thing and why you wanted to write about it might be just the thing to spark renewed interest.

Work on Something Else

If you’re stuck sorting things out with a particular project or have lost interest, then work on something else for a while. It’s OK to take a break (as long as it’s not permanent or you don’t completely trash what you’ve been working on). Working on something different will get your creativity going again and might just help you figure out where to pick up the thread with your other project.

These are just a few ideas to try if you get stuck. Ultimately, you’ll need to explore what’s driving your anxiety or focus issues in the first place. What’s the root cause? Once you figure that out, you have a responsibility to yourself to take the necessary steps to manage it. If you can’t do that on your own, that’s OK; Buffy was the Slayer and she had a Watcher (well, two at one point) and the Scooby Gang helping her fight the Big Bad every week. We’re not superheroes, so we’ll likely need a lot more back-up to win the fight.