by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2013
Over the years I’ve discovered that I write the best when I’m in either a really high mood, or the absolute abyss. Am I bi-polar? No. Does my mood vary like this on a daily basis? The short answer to that one is no. Most of the time I’m chugging right along in that combination of happy about some things/worried about other things/gonna kick somebody’s ass about that one thing. This means I’m thinking about too many different things at once, which makes it hard to get my energy together in that mental space called the “creative trance.”
Am I advocating jacking up your mood or getting really depressed? Of course not. For centuries writers have tried doing that by artificial means, and while some of them produced some lasting pieces of really memorable writing, many of them destroyed their talent, their minds, and their lives.
(Yes, there’s a fine line between creativity and mental imbalance. Sometimes they go hand in hand. We’ll talk about that another time.)
There are some things you can do to get yourself in the mood for writing that are not dangerous to your physical or mental well-being. Music is the first example that springs to mind. When I was writing my very first novel, a fantasy novel where I alternated chapters between the two main characters, during the writing of the one character’s chapters I blasted “The Best of Berlin” over and over again. When I was writing a section of SHIP OF DREAMS where Alexandre contemplates all the losses in his back story that made him turn pirate, I kept playing U2’s “With or Without You.” And for those days when I’m feeling sluggish and don’t want to apply myself, I crank up Pat Benatar and in minutes I’m so wired I can’t type fast enough.
In one of my earlier posts I mentioned chocolate. Oh yeah. Please see What Fuels My Writing for my thoughts on chocolate as the writer’s friend.
What does it for you? What puts you in the mood to write the sad standing-by-the-casket scenes? What gets you all happy and jazzed so you can write that intense chase scene? What helps you shut out all the tedious little daily distractions so you can be fully present in your writing mind? Think about it. Keep a mood journal. There’s nothing like tracking habitual data in an empirical format that will show you patterns you didn’t know existed. This could help you pinpoint your best times of day, noise levels, quality of light, all these details. Figure out the environmental factors that support your creativity and productivity so you can recreate them at will!
Wannabes think, “Oh, I have to be in the mood to create.” Serious writers and artists figure out how to put themselves in that mood and make the most of it.
by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013
Many people do not understand those of us who choose to make our living through some form of art. Such people measure our success by how much money we do or do not make. They’ve got it backward. Sure, monetary success is great, but those of us who have suffered through the creative process and really understand the toll it takes know how to see things the right way around.
We don’t get paid for our art. We pay for the privilege of creating it.
Dancers sweat. Actors may start out as part of the stage crew while they work their way up to starring roles. Sculptors and potters and people who work in “found art” do exactly that: physical labor, over and over again, until what they’re creating matches the vision in their minds.
What about writers? We pay attention. Think about that. John Philpot Curran said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I say eternal vigilance is also the price of inspiration. Writers keep their eyes and ears open and their notebooks handy. We write down whatever image, scrap of conversation, or burst of intuitive plotting that pops into mind. Then we begin the complex process of growing a complete story or novel from those little seeds.
People talk about the writer’s Muse. She demands payment in attention, observation, vigilance. The Muse doesn’t just drop an idea on our desks all gift-wrapped and pretty. She often points the way toward someone or something that could be useful to us. She’s like a consultant, and consultants don’t come cheap.
Keep alert for all the beauties and dangers and oddities and funny moments and sorrows of the world. Paying attention is the start of how we writers pay our dues.
by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2013
“Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. As a rule, saboteurs try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.”
Psssst! Here’s one of the dirty little secrets of being a writer. There are people who don’t want us to succeed. Among them we can count the least likely suspects, our very own selves. Now why on earth would we get in our own way? Simple. It’s really hard to go on writing book after book after book. A lot of perfectly reasonable obstacles can get in the way, especially if we have work, kids, school, or other serious commitments such as being the caregiver for another family member. On a day to day basis, the little tasks that demand our attention can also gang up on us. When we allow these little tasks to get in the way of our writing, they become avoidance behaviors. We want to get today’s writing done, yet we rush off to fold laundry, answer the phone, groom the pet, trim our toenails, etc. This is self-defeating behavior. Career-derailing behavior. Self-sabotage.
Now let’s look at the people in our lives who might have some motivation for spiking our writing ambitions.
- The “Good Intentions” crowd. These people think we’re chasing a hopeless dream, wasting productive time, setting ourselves up for the pain of rejection and disappointment. They think they know what’s better for us than we do. They don’t understand why we write and there’s not much point in trying to explain it to them.
- The Jealous Wannabes. We’ve all met them. They talk a lot about writing, but they don’t do much of it. Or they do write, but they refuse to listen to any input that suggests weaknesses in their writing style, plot structure, etc. They claim they know What It Means To Be A Writer no matter how unrealistic or self-defeating that idea might be.
- The Know-It-Alls. They hide behind a mask of information, but what they’re really doing is playing oneupsmanship games. No matter how much writing we do, the Know-It-Alls will quote some authority on how we should be doing either more or less at this or that pace. No matter how much success we achieve, the Know-It-Alls talk about the career patterns of Big Name writers. Notice the consistent behavior here. All Know-It-Alls do is talk, and that talk is designed to undermine our confidence, motivation, and momentum.
- The Dream Killers. These are hostile jerks who get their jollies from trashing somebody else’s hopes and dreams. They can put on the masks of the above three types, or they can be quite direct with their insults and mockery. Either way, they’re toxic and we need to avoid them.
How do we protect ourselves against such sabotage, especially when it comes from family or co-workers? Just smile. Smile, say thank you for their interest, and go on writing. Know these people for what they are. Their efforts at sabotage are all about their problems and have nothing to do with us or our writing.
It’s hard, I know, but there’s nothing sweeter than announcing to these people the sale of a short story or a novel. Living well really is the best revenge.
by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2013
So you wanna write a novel. Fifty thousand to one hundred thousand words. Two hundred to four hundred pages. That’s a serious mental marathon. How do you train for it? How do you build up the stamina, the will power, the sheer endurance to live through every single day it’s going to take you to get to that final draft? That final, polished, perfect manuscript?
Don’t worry about it. Don’t even waste energy asking the questions.
The roughdraft is exactly that. The rough, messy, incomplete, scribbled-on first version of your story. This is where you let yourself go wild. Push it as hard and as far as you can. Throw in anything and everything that sounds good at the moment you’re writing. You’re riding that wild stallion called Creativity. Keep a light hand on the reins and just go where it takes you.
You’ve got the idea. You’ve got the plot, or at least part of it. You’ve got characters. Most of all, you’ve got the excitement. That’s where you start. Writing isn’t a linear process, not for most of the writers I know. You don’t just go from Page One straight through to The End. Start where the passion is, where you see and feel and hear the story coming alive.
I once had a little note stuck to the side of my keyboard. On it I’d copied a quotation: “You have to write SOMETHING before you can write something GOOD.” Give yourself permission to be that kindergartener discovering fingerpaints. Feel free to color outside the lines. You’re creating something new! That’s an organic process. Just like all the messes we made when we were little kids, we can go back and clean it up later, right?
Enjoy the ride.