Monthly Archives: June 2012

When the Going Gets Tough….

Bother.

It’s hard to write about not following your own advice, isn’t it?

In the last post, I made very true remarks about the importance and necessity of daily writing.  Slogging ahead.  No matter what.  Right?

Well…I got off my routine.  I realized that my July 4 deadline for Lords of Askalon was incompatible with producing a quality product.  Could I get it written?  Yes.  Would it be worth much? Probably not.  Leaving myself no time to work it over, to edit, to mull, to contemplate, to tweak…not good.  I think this really hit me when Brandon Sanderson tweeted that he planned 9 revisions for his new book.  Nine.  And he’s Brandon Sanderson.  And I wasn’t going to give myself time for one?

So there’s the reason for the new release date.  But on to the inevitable, awful consequence of this decision: I stopped writing.  I got caught up in other things.  Meaningful and necessary things, to be sure, but not writing things.  I let myself get caught, too, by the self-criticism monster that paralyzes all it touches.

The horror.

Today, for example, when I opened up my manuscript and got ready to write, I caught sight of the last scene I had written.  I promptly closed the window and wrote a journal entry instead.

One could make the argument that any writing is better than no writing, and I think there’s something to that.  But I don’t particularly have writer’s block…my huge and beautiful butcher-paper outline of this novel is pinned to the wall right beside me.  I know where I need to go, what I need to write.  But that last scene is so…flat.  Ugh.

Having a clear plot outline isn’t the same as having a strong sense of the characters, of their purpose, of the dynamics that guide their interaction.

Before I can come back to the story, I need to establish those things clearly for myself.  And work out nagging details like timeline issues.  For me, simply pushing through won’t do the job.  Will that method get the plot written?  Yes, probably.  But it will be as lifeless and sketchy as the outline on my wall.

So sometimes, when the going gets tough and your narrative feels flat, it pays to take a step back and consider a few things about the deeper structure of your story in general, and the characters inhabiting your world in particular.  Ask yourself:

  • Do you really know your characters?
  • What are their personal conflicts? (A character’s personal conflict is not necessarily the overarching conflict of the book.)
  • What drives your characters in their interactions with other major/minor characters?
  • How do these interactions meaningfully reveal their character arc?
  • How does each character arc intersect with the plot?  What events need to happen for that character to develop?

Once you find the answers to these questions and have a clear sense of each character’s purpose and role, you’ll see the life flowing back into your bloodless plot structure.

So…I’m off to reacquaint myself with my characters.  How will you move your story forward today?

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The Daily Grind

I’ve been working diligently on The Lords of Askalon this past week, and I’ve learned something that I suppose I should have learned a long time ago…or perhaps I’d just forgotten it since my frantic dissertation writing days.

There’s just no replacement for honest hard work when it comes to writing.

I’ve called this post “the daily grind” for a couple of reasons:

  1. Sometimes writing is a grind.  It doesn’t come easily.  Every word has to be squeezed out, like giving blood when you’re dehydrated.  But daily is the operative word: it doesn’t matter whether it’s easy or not.  It must be done.  Must.  Daily.
  2. I don’t know about you, but the phrase “daily grind” also conjures up the lovely image, experience, and smell of freshly ground and brewed coffee.  And so take this meaning away as well: the daily grind of writing may be hard, but there’s reward at the end of it.  A completed page…ten pages…a chapter.  A step that much closer to your goal.  And that is a sweet thing indeed.

How can you make your daily grind resemble #2 more than #1?  Here are a few of my favorite tricks to force motivation and enthusiasm when you’re running on writerly fumes.

Assemble an awesome writing mix of music.  I am seriously contemplating putting together a “soundtrack” for The Lords of Askalon – songs that inspire me to work on this story, right now.  Just like every movie has its own score and soundtrack, every novel does too.  Find music that inspires you.  (I’ll have to explore this idea further!)

Set a time of day when writing rules.  For me, this has to be the littles’ afternoon nap time, and my older kids are (thankfully) enthusiastically supportive of my escape to the office – partly because they want me to hurry up and finish the book so they can read it.  No matter when it is, make sure that your backside is in front of the computer at the designated time and write.  Do your best to eliminate distractions (read: social media or that search for writing music) and crank out as much as you can.

Don’t worry about quality control right now (or, don’t listen to your gut).  Unless you’re in the finishing stages of your project and editing is your new daily grind, just write and worry about smoothing things out later.  It can be hard, especially when your gut tells you that this isn’t your best work.  But I’ve found that sometimes my gut does a great job of killing my writing enthusiasm and dragging me down into the maelstrom of self-criticism and self-pity.  Tell your gut to take a hike, and listen to your music instead.

Find a writing buddy and set some goals together.  I am so thankful all the time to have J. Leigh Bralick for my writing buddy – she keeps me on track, and we inspire each other to work harder and write better.  If you don’t have a SisterMuse or writing buddy already, check out Camp NaNoWriMo (the summer version of the official NaNoWriMo in November), which is going on right now.  If that’s not what you need, there are many online boards devoted to writing.  Local writers’ groups are also an option, if you prefer warm bodies and live conversation to messaging and virtual comradeship.  When you putter out, call or message your buddies and let them help you get up and running again.

Bottom line: Writers write. We don’t just talk about writing or whine about writing or dream about writing (though we may do this too).  If you want to be a writer, then write!

(This post is also up on my personal author website – head over to skvalenzuela.com and check it out!)