Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Keeping the Ball Rolling

First, the usual stuff! Heartstrikers 3 is still out and the reviews are great!! Thank you so so SO much if you've read and reviewed my book! Reviews, good or bad, are one of the best things you can give to an author. Thank you all for yours!

(And if you've read the book and haven't reviewed it yet, I'd love it if you'd leave your two cents on Amazon. Even a single sentence helps. Thank you a ton!)

Now, blog time!

Writing Wednesday: Keeping the Ball Rolling

I've talked a lot on this blog about what to do when the writing is going badly. I've talked about what to do when you think your writing sucks, how to pump yourself up when you're not writing as much as you think you should, how to shut up your inner editor, how to shut up everyone else and just write. Lots of troubleshooting! 

But what about the other side of the coin? What do you do when the writing is going really well? How do you keep that going?

The writing is never ending.

Good writing days can feel like perfect summer afternoons. They appear seemingly out of nowhere, are fantastically amazing, and then they're gone, and you're right back to normal. I always thought this was just part of the mercurial nature of writing. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down, and sometimes you're in the middle, but no matter what happens, the writing has to get done.

This was my writing philosophy for years, and just from what I've read on other writing blogs, I'm pretty sure it's a lot of other writers' too. But after I discovered the incredible results that come from being more analytical about my writing, I've been a lot less accepting of the idea that things just "happen" in writing. After all, if bad writing days happen for a reason, like if your plot is broken or you're forcing yourself to write in the wrong direction, then good writing days must happen for a reason as well.

Sometimes it's really obvious. When I'm rolling on the climax of a book and everything that's going to happen is already right there in my head, that's pretty much a guaranteed good writing day streak. Or if I'm finally getting to write a scene I've been waiting to write FOREVER. That's a good day! 

Now, obviously, you can try to generate more of these situations by making sure you're always excited about what you're writing. I do this so much, it's one of the three tricks I used to go from 2,000 words a day to 10,000. But being while excited about what you're writing is pretty much the base for all good writing days, it's not the be-all-end-all one shot solution.

In a perfect world, just being excited about what you're writing would be enough to guarantee great, productive, happy writing days every time. But, no spoiler, this isn't a perfect world. You can be over the moon about what you're going to write today and still have a shitty writing day for a whole host of other reasons that have nothing to do with your story. 

This is grossly unfair. If I do the work of setting up a phenomenal story, I should be rewarded with words pouring from my fingertips, dammit! But, as we all know, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, that's because the planning wasn't actually as phenomenal as I thought, but just as often, the book itself is fine. I'm the one the one with the problem. Maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm hungry, maybe I'm in a bad mood over stuff that has nothing to do with writing. 

There's a whole world of reasons out there that can stomp on even the best writing days, and part of the challenge of writing professionally--which is to say, writing well every day--is learning to sail over these toughs and peaks with an even keel. We have to figure out how to keep the ball rolling on the good writing days even when we're not having great days ourselves, so (since no Rachel Aaron blog post would be complete without a list) let's talk about how to do that!

How to Get and Keep Good Writing Days

0. Know and be excited about what you're writing today.
We all understand this by now, right? Writing is WAY EASIER when you know what you're doing and you're pumped to be doing it. If you're not excited about your writing, no one else will be, so get this done first and you're 90% of the way there.

Now, let's get to the new information!

1. Leave the outside world outside.
I talked about this in my Turtle Method post, but it bears mentioning again. We carry a lot of baggage around with us as adults. Maybe you hate your job, maybe you're fighting with your significant other. Maybe you're sad or anxious or lonely (if so, HUUUUG!). 

Life is messy.
Life is full of detritus that falls into the pools of our best intentions, clogging and blocking them. A huge part of being creative on a regular basis is learning to clear this emotional muck away so we can focus on the work at hand. 

For me personally, I do this by treating my books as an escape. When my life is rough and I'm feeling down, I can always escape into my own worlds where I am god and everything is mine to play with. Sure, everything else might be falling apart at the seams, but here in my book, I know exactly how the story goes, and I focus on losing myself in that wonderland.

But this is just one way to cope. I write hugely dramatic fantasy full of dragons, so it's easy for me to put on my book blinders and get lost. But if your books aren't the sort that can easily close the door on the real world, you can always try other methods of separation. Meditation is a good one, as is writing in a specific location that makes you feel safe and protected. 

Anything that lets you draw a line between your creative time/space and the rest of the world will work. The idea here is to separate your writing emotions from the storm of the outside world. That way, even if your life has gone to shit, your writing days can still be happy and productive because it exists in a separate bubble. But it's up to you to draw the line. If you're constantly letting negative emotions seep into your creative time, you're poisoning your own well, and that's no way to write.

2. Don't skip days.
Writing is all about momentum. The more you write, the deeper your head is in your story, problems are easier to solve, and characters feel more like real people. This is the sweet zone when the whole book is there in your head and you're just getting it down, but unless you get super lucky, you can't get here without a running start. 

We've talked about guarding your writing time before, but this is never more important than it is when the writing is going really well. If you are on a roll with your book, then you should be fighting harder than ever to work on that sucker every single day. You might be tempted to write on it every hour you can, but that can backfire. Burn out is a real thing. Still, you do want to write every day, and you should be thinking about your book even when you're not able to write so that your head stays in the zone. 

The idea here is to keep yourself in that roll where the words are flowing. If you let yourself stop and fall out, you might not be able to get back in. Even if you are super excited about your book and you've got everything written down, holding all of that in your head takes continual effort. If you take a vacation or do something else that takes your headspace away from your book, that information is going to be lost. It's just the way human brains work. We can only hold so much. (Trav actually had a great post on the science of this!)

All of this is why, when I find myself on a roll, maintaining that momentum becomes my #1 priority. I'm not saying you should cancel your vacation to focus on your book because your writing will suck if you don't sacrifice, but you should try to maintain that momentum if at all possible. Even if you can't write, just thinking and talking about your story with other people can keep you in the zone. So try to stay there if you can. Your book will thank you!

3. If you have a great day, build on it.
Everything up until now has been focused on engineering good writing days, but sometimes the stars align and you have an amazing day. Maybe you had a break through, maybe a scene you were looking forward to turned out even more amazing than you'd hoped, maybe a character did something unexpectedly awesome. There's a million ways writing can go gangbusters, but when the lightning does strike, you need to be ready to bottle it.

Gotta catch 'em all!

When you have a really great writing day, it's tempting to relax and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. But just like in storytelling, this kind of break kills tension and urgency, and that's the last thing we want. This is why, when I have a really good day, I always finish by looking ahead to the next one to see how much farther I can carry it. 

Sometimes this means planning out the scene I'm going to write tomorrow. Sometimes I go back and make notes for the changes that will be cascading through the manuscript in light of this new awesome development. Sometimes I just make notes about all the cool shit that's going to happen! 

Whatever I do, though, I do it in an attempt to hold onto that amazing feeling of flying that comes with really good writing days. I ask myself "why was today so great? What did I found out?" and then I use the answers to try and make it happen again. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. You can't bottle lightning every time. But I've found that just the act of looking at what made a day good can take me miles into discovering what makes the book itself good, and that's always a great (and not always obvious) understanding to gain.

However things end up, you always always always want to focus on keeping that momentum. It's a universal truth that writing begets writing. The more you work on your novel, the deeper you'll get into your characters and your world, and the easier the writing will become. But this digging takes time and attention. 

If you're constantly wandering away from your world and people, you'll never be anything but a tourist in your own creation. You might still get it done, but nowhere near as quickly or as happily (and maybe not as well) as you would have if you'd gone all in, because writing truly is about momentum. The more you build, the faster you go until the story feels real, and you're flying through your own words. This is the very best writing, and I really hope you can all get there.

Thank you as always for reading my post! I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please follow me on the social media of your choice (TwitterFacebook,TumblrGoogle+) if you're not already to never miss a post. I'll be back next week with more writing shop talk, until then, I'm going back to my dragons! Yay Heartstrikers 4!

Happy writing!
- Rachel


Sam said...

Are there going to be any more business posts?

L.C. McGehee said...

Thank you for this post, Rachel. :)

Letting those storms in the outside world interfere with getting writing done is something I've always struggled with. But when writing is one of the things that you really enjoy and that makes you feel you're accomplishing something that's truly important to you, not writing when the chips are down only makes you feel worse!

And in addition to missing the joy and pride that comes from diving into my fictional worlds and becoming submerged in that magical process of capturing them in words, I feel very guilty when I don't write every day (especially since I've had a big backlog of story ideas and partly written projects ever since I was a kid), and of course that really doesn't help when other things aren't going well either.

So it's nice to see these encouraging suggestions and ideas for ways to think about it differently that may help with both staying out of that negative cycle and maintaining that all-important momentum. :)

Travis Bach said...

@Sam there will be. Between the end of summer (read summer day camps) and the start of 1st grade, I have been parenting like crazy. There's been no time or energy in my life for blogging.

Things will calm down though and I will resume with the business posts.

Travis Bach said...

@Sam there will be. Between the end of summer (read summer day camps) and the start of 1st grade, I have been parenting like crazy. There's been no time or energy in my life for blogging.

Things will calm down though and I will resume with the business posts.

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