Monday, June 13, 2011

HOW TO KEEP WRITING: PART 2. Tricks, Chocolate, and Being Stuck

Here's a categorical statement: Time spent not writing IS writing time.  This Zen-ish conundrum speaks to some core truths about creativity:

Remember being kind to yourself? (More on Chocolate below!) Consider: Would it detract from a vacation to find a book to read on the plane?  If you don't resent preparing an itinerary for a trip, why beat yourself for "not writing" if you spend time editing, doing research, reading for inspiration, or mulling over your characters' conflicts?
writing is putting one word in  front of another
The creative brain thrives on detours. Once I endured days of frustration because I had the time and inclination to write a short story, but no ideas.  It was like constipation, only worse. Then I happened to watch The Darjeeling Limited.  I think the movie's off-center dialogue jogged the non-linear part of my brain.  An idea for a story came to me in the theater, and it had nothing to do with the movie (except that 2 main characters are Indian). It was an emotional connection.

There's hard science behind this anecdote. Livia Blackburne is a brain scientist and Young Adult fiction writer.  In a 2010 guest post for Problobber  on brain function and creativity, Livia briefly explains their science.  Her Brainy Writer's Blog is inspiring because of how she unpacks the creative process.

When you're stuck, change gears.  Let go of your current direction.

1. Walk away from the work.  Let go of the urge to "fix" it.  Concentrate on physical tasks; clean out that awful closet.  Changing focus may feel dreadful.  You may think you'll never write again. This only proves that you care too much ever to quit. Or take micro-breaks. Look away from your work environment (out the window, at pictures on the wall). Don't try to accomplish anything. Just observe. There's more going on in your field of vision than first appears.

2. Catch yourself slant: Keep notebook and pencil around; catch yourself at unguarded times: On waking first thing in the morning, or when you emerge from a completely non-writing task. Write down whatever comes to mind regarding any potential solution to your writing problem.  Don't censor.  Keep this up for a week or two.  See what emerges.

3.  Have the courage to trust yourself.   

4. Read out of your genre. If you're intimidated by poetry/science writing or avoid biography,
dive into them.  Try reading out loud. Confuse your habitual mind with new information.  Marisel Vera, in a post on She Writes, describes how painful criticism of her "workmanlike prose" led to a practice of reading poetry that deepened her language and understanding of her characters...and led to the publication of her first novel, If I Bring You Roses.  Kudos to Marisel!
Marisel Vera's First Novel

5. Chocolate!  Reward yourself after a period of work with a meaningful treat.  Don't worry about whether you met your original writing goal. Did you put in the time?

What do YOU find helpful when you're stuck?


Anonymous said...

Having someone read what I've written that I trust and getting their feedback

HelenQP said...

That is golden, Jen! Thanks for your comment. Hope writing's going well. And if not, cut yourself a break...

Patty said...

I can attest to the sound advice here. I do a number of these things myself, pigging out on chocolate chief among them. And the advice about carrying a notebook so that you're ready for inspiration that hits you when you least expect it is great. I find that that's usually when inspiration does hit me--it finds me, I don't find it when I go hunting for it. Thanks for sharing!

HelenQP said...

I hope you don't lose the notebook! That's an issue with me...I bet you're pretty organized.

Livia said...

Thank you for the shoutout! I appreciate it.

HelenQP said...

you're welcome!

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

I purpose myself to keep writing. Lack of inspiration is no excuse for not writing. I might change what project I'm working on, but I keep working. Can you imagine a surgeon who walks into the operating room and says, "I don't feel inspired today. Maybe tomorrow." LOL

HelenQP said...

Yes! We have to be very nuts and bolts about the work. Sometimes I feel inspired and the result isn't so good. I was just FEELING good about the emotion around the act of writing. And sometimes the writing session feels awkward and clunky and the result is actually quite fine. Good point.

Nick Holt said...

Helen you work so very hard.

Great to happen upon Darjeeling Limited, I sawr it twoice. Two days ago, on on on On Demand, found movie "Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." (Please see it!) It is pretty long, bogs in middle, but 1st 3rd and 3rd 3rd will give you a few stories, I can say with certainty as a non-writer.

I'm gonna go with JenGor and say that feedback from (similar taste known from experience) is good way to get hints on quality of output. By getting outside your own inconsistent structures and unpredictable emotions, to access someone else's ludicrous structures, current rule list, and flailing e-motions, you have good chance of getting some perspective.

Wayne Shorter, the luminous jazz saxophonist, said, "It takes courage to be happy." It seems it is always too poignant all the time.

HelenQP said...

I LOVE that quotation--"it takes courage to be happy." Writing can be so frustrating, and it's easy to lose the spontaneity and joy, and it's a challenge to keep the lightness going. I think I misspelled 'spontaneity.'

Yes, perspectives are skewed. but someone else's skewed perspective has the advantage of being fresh.