Three Ways to Keep At It

Starting a story is daunting and many of us who write struggle to find enough hours in the week to go deep into a narrative. As I embark on a new novel, three quick ways I use to keep me in the game felt like ones I should share.pencil-918449_1920

  1. Find Your Passion, or Embrace the Pain. I know, sounds like a massively tall order, but you need fuel for the journey. If it’s not something you think about constantly, then I wouldn’t pursue it. Whether it’s a cool idea that keeps flooding your brain, a meltdown you’re having about politics, or a personal situation that keeps you up at night, it is the perfect source to keep you writing. Motivation. My test is this: if I can talk with friends or family about it, I can probably write about it, too. I am good at turning obsessions, anger, revenge, distress into a scene in a novel.
  2. Keep Paper Everywhere. I could also say, Keep the Phone Nearby and Use Your Notes app, but the moment I tap my phone, notifications from Facebook/Tumblr/Messages flood my view and I am off down a rabbit hole before I realize it. Blank sheets of paper have inspired me since childhood. Seeing blank space gets me jazzed to fill it. So when an idea strikes at an inconvenient time, like when I’m driving or tumbling into bed, I have the blank sheet nearby giving my brain a little jolt to Jot it down, jot it down! before I forget. Because I will. I always do!
  3. Gather Up These Notes and Head to the Computer. If I do one thing, it’s get rid of one of those notes in the pile every day. I tap in something, somewhere. It could be in one of three documents I start: the Character Profiles (a stream-of-consciousness study of each major player in my story–thank you, Elizabeth George, for that tip), the Synopsis (my outline following Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat principles and beats of a story), or the Manuscript (first draft). The idea gets dumped somewhere so it’s not lost. So even if I don’t write a full scene or even a paragraph today, I have done Something. And believing you have accomplished Something lets me move forward with some confidence in unmapped territory.

This is how we do it. Idea by Idea, piece of paper by piece of paper, line by line.

Do You Love it? You Know You Looooooove it….

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In high school my friends and I made fun of a girl with a molasses Southern accent and very few thoughts rattling around in her head, or so it seemed. Perhaps we felt superior because she would hold forth in the bathroom with a can of hairspray and a pound of make-up, cooing at her equally air-headed-acting BFF (only we didn’t call ’em BFFs or besties then). “Do you love it?” she’d coo. “You know you loooooove it.”

I never learned the meaning of those words, but I recall feeling a heck of a lot smarter. Never in my nerd history would I speak such fluff. It’s probably no surprise this girl was popular, very popular. She was easy on the eyes and ears. And always nice to me.

Of course none of us should ever feel superior: that’s the kindergarten lesson we all were supposed to get. I find that every lesson unlearned comes back to haunt or at the very least tease me. Because now, wouldn’tcha know, I ask myself this very question every day:

Do you love it, Lyn? You know you love it.

Writing? I love it so very much, and even when it’s not going well, I get kind of crazy when I don’t make time for it.

My husband called me out on my irritability recently. “When you don’t get writing time, you get really grumpy,” he observed. Then he pointed out all the choices I’ve been making that take me away from writing–some of which I don’t have to make, he said.

With age comes wisdom and the confidence to trust your wiser choices. If you love something, give it your best attention and the best part of your day. In a recent blog post, author Hope Clark recommends that we “Eat Dessert First” and note where we give our best energy in our days.

Today I worked somewhere in the vicinity of page 57 of the new version, the overhaul of HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT. How much further I thought I’d be by now. But I do every day what Doris Betts recommended–start a few pages back before where I left off, and get back into the rhythm and the flow of my prose. I go over things painstakingly, lovingly, and slowly. That’s the only way this is going to get done–with the TLC you give a growing child.

There’s one other point to this–the why behind me loving it. Sure, writing is my vocation, it’s in my genes, but I love it because I get to choose what I write and how I write. For years, I told my students what, when, and how to write. Some of them still thank me for it, but here’s the rub: the only way our kids are going to looooove it is when they have more choice.

Professional writers get to choose, and they choose often. The journalist racing after that scoop; the marketer choosing the best diction to get the buyer following a call to action; the grant writer culling facts and pitching a mission so funders will come calling with funds: no matter what the writing prompt, most professionals get a big say in the what and how of their writing. If not, they have choice to leave that gig. Even when writing for a client, your talent and expertise always have a say, because you’re the boss of the words.

How can teachers make more room for choice in the English classroom? I believe our opportunities to do so increase with the recent advent of the Common Core Standards. But that’s a post for another day.

And how can writers make more time to do what they love? Find when you’re at your best each day and make that 15, 25, or 50 minutes to give writing your all.

Note I didn’t say a full hour. I’m realistic about this love affair. Time must be snatched when it can. If you love it, really love it, you know you can make something of the very few minutes. There’s as much choice there, making the most of every moment, as anything else.

Writing Prompts:

  • What do you love most about writing? What gives you the biggest thrill? Make a date with yourself to find this joy, either today or tomorrow–but no more postponement than that!
  • Do you get nasty when you don’t write? After apologizing to whomever you mistreated, write a manifesto, directed at yourself, claiming your writing time.
  • Go read something that gives you joy, and have scribbling paper close by. Steal a favorite line to start your next poem or story.
  • Because you love it so much, your writing must get the attention it deserves. If you don’t have a writing partner or group or a contest to enter or any other impetus or deadline, do something about the situation, now. Write some goals and frame them with something artistic. Make these goals visible and prominent.
  • If you are a writing teacher, make a commitment to providing student choice in writing prompts. Go design some.