Monday, November 4, 2013

Superstitions, Myths and Crazy Makers: What’s Stopping You?

As writers unite this month and plunge into National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the whole reason why this month exists: because too often, creative people get in the way of their own creation. They overthink and under-do, and nothing gets completed.

Myths and Mental Monsters

A case in point: a young writer recently contacted me about a story he was working on, wanting my opinion on an issue troubling him. He felt that the story should be told from a girl’s point of view . . . but he was a guy. And he didn’t know if people would take that the wrong way—a boy writing a girl’s point of view.

This seems like a concern that might reasonably plague a teenager, but I’ve also encountered the reverse among some adult female writers who write stories with teen boy protagonists. In most cases, they went on to write the book despite their concerns, and to publish those books, but the fear of negative feedback due to their gender was an early and in some cases ongoing concern.

In my own career, there’s a hint of this worry too—I write historical YA as Jennifer McGowan, but will shortly have another series under another name that is contemporary New Adult romance—and a bit steamy. I have already been asked if my college years were on the wild side. (Answer: a resounding No) and I know other writers get that question a lot in various forms (“so, um, I read your book and… do you need to talk to a therapist?”). It sounds silly, but it happens, and worry over reader perceptions, whether real or imagined, can absolutely slow down your writing process.

The Superstitious Writer

And then there’s the idea of what could be called “the precious perfect”—the idea that if you could only find the right process, place and time of day to write, plus the perfect beverage, the right tools, and the proper ambiance . . . your book would just pour out of you. And, conversely, if you can’t have that exact right moment: your doomed. The story will never get written, the words will never flow.

Now, I’m not saying that rituals don't count and that location doesn't help. I am a morning writer by preference. I use a laptop to write by choice and habit. And I prefer to draft on my couch, all things being equal. However, the reality is that none of these things are REQUIRED for me to write. They just make it a little more efficient or easier.

Putting the Cray in Creativity

Finally, there is the very real, honest-to-God craziness that writers sometimes encounter on the way to writing a book. The friends and family who stifle your story ideas and derail your writing time (intentionally or otherwise). The demands of job and schedule that seem to expand in proportion to how close your deadlines are. The proliferation of “oo bright shiny” distractions that want to lure you away from the sometimes-messy, sometimes not-very-fun world of your book.  As a writer, you’ll find yourself doing the damnedest things to avoid writing… up to and including cleaning out your gutters for the first time in a year (this totally happened yesterday).

So—how do you combat all of this? The only thing I have found that actually works is this:

Just write.

Trick yourself if you have to—engage in writing sprints, set a timer, turn off the Internet, create the oasis of calm or energy that you most enjoy—but start writing. Just ten minutes, if that’s all you have, but get started. Whether you’re on your couch or in a coffee shop or on a train or locked in your bathroom . . . open your laptop or your notebook, and begin. Write one word, and then another, and then a few more. And who knows? At the end of the month, you, too, may have a 50,000 story draft completed!

What about you? What stalls out your writing process—and what do you do to keep yourself on track? 


Pintip said...

Great post, Jennifer! I find that the mental doubt monster, in some form, is the most evil and effective derailer of writing. I also like your suggestion of tricking yourself. I do this all the time! "Just a few words...I can write a hundred words, right? A paragraph, a sentence. Easy peasey..."

CareyCorp said...

Great post, Jenn! OK, going back to my deadline now.

Jennifer McGowan said...

Pintip and Carey, thank you for posting! And yes, I find that "tricking" myself just to get started is key to getting anything done. :)

Melissa Landers said...

Have you guys tried "Write or Die"? From what I understand, it's a program that deletes your words if you don't type fast enough. I'm not sure if that would result in getting my butt in gear, or in me furiously spewing a bunch of crap that needs rewriting later.

Kimberly said...

Usually I am on board with NaNo, and I love watching that little graph get higher and higher. I love trying to beat my word count from the day before.
This year, I'm severely lacking any motivation or excitement. I need the "BANG HEAD HERE" treatment.
Several times a day...