Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Write Club: Tips for Writing

Hey y'all.  So when it comes to writing, there's lots of pitfalls to producing wordcount.  Possibly the most difficult obstacle is just doing it -- sitting there at your computer and forcing words into the page.  There are so many excuses we have for not writing: chores, school, work, obligations, family...the list goes on.  And many of those excuses are genuinely good ones, so we stop feeling bad, mostly, when we don't write.  Or we get mad at other people for interfering with our writing time, but let's not go there.

One of the things I've found when I write well is that I find myself in a...well, a sort of "hypnotic" state.  I'm focused in on the work, not thinking of anything else but what I'm about to put on the page. It's like my mind is sending words on a conveyor belt to the factory that is my fingers.  I can't say if anyone else gets into this trance-like mode, but it feels assumable that those who are in the mood to write can really focus and put other things out of their minds.

There are ways to trigger this focused state, but it's not something you'll be inclined to feel.  There will be those days when you're too emotional (sad or angry, doesn't matter), and feel that you can't dig into what you're writing because of what's happened earlier in the day.  Or you're just plain feeling lazy.

So what can you do to achieve focus?  That usually depends on the individual.  However, I've accumulated a few tips that should help you channel your creativity properly.  See if they work for you, why not?

1. Force yourself to write

Yes.  You can write.  Yes, you can entertain people.  Yes, you can write one thousand words in a sitting.  It's really not that hard. There are many reasons for self-doubt.  Sometimes it's as complicated as depression, other times it's as simple as boredom.  It could even be a lack of inspiration.  Those are all excuses.

I experienced this recently.  I'm working on a story I hope to publish, but was stuck for inspiration. The protagonist of the story is a calm, rational person that doesn't overreact emotionally when exposed to stressful situations.  She's also not an expert of any kind whose knowledge allows them to "logic" themselves out of their own problems.  She's just a really calm person, so I was having a horrible time trying to think up ways to make the story more exciting.  But I told God I was going to write 2,000 words of this story before bed, just to make sure I'd do it.  I ended up staying up until...oh, 2:30ish in the morning, but once the Infected Mushroom was playing and I was there, forcing myself to put words on the page, the inspiration came.

Sitting there, and trying to think of any sensible words to put down was hard at first, but in making myself go on, I put myself in a place receptive to figuring out how to solve issues with my story. It's like running -- there's always a second wind, and when you push yourself beyond what you think you can do, you learn what your real possibilities are.

Also -

2. Play a really good band/song you like.

Bad moods ruin writing sessions.  The opposite is also true.  If you're having a good time listening to a great song, your good mood will translate into your writing activity, and you'll put a lot of energy into your work, and it won't feel like work at all.

3. Stop writing and think.

Yes, I know that this is the opposite as my first point.  Thing is, lack of inspiration can hit you no matter what situation you're in.  It's possible you've been avoiding writing because you don't feel inspired.  Point number one is a better solution.  If, however, you have been writing for some time but feel like your writing has become stale, you need to stop and think.  Go take a walk, do dishes, lift weights, go to work (depending on your job), clean, or just do anything that entails physical activity but only minimal mental activity.

When your body is busy at a menial task, your mind will get bored and start to wander off.  Focus your mental boredom into the story you want to tell, and you'll suddenly feel inspired.  You know how you'll try to fall asleep but suddenly feel inspired for your story?  It's the same principle.  When your mind has nothing to do, it will relax enough to focus on inspiring tasks.

Focus on plotting your story or figuring out your characters.  By creating "bullet points" in your mind of who your character is and what they're going to face in their world, you'll have ammo for when you do sit down and write.

Or, if you're lacking in inspiration because you're burnt out, you can just take a break.  Maybe take a nap.

4. Copy/paste all of your non-used writing into a dump file.

There are segments of your story that you're going to change your mind on.  If you've gotten past that initial stage of learning about writing, you'll know when your first try is just plain not going to work, or if that passage, while nice, is not the direction you've decided to take the plot.

Take all of these segments and copy/paste them into a file.  It helps to label each one, but you don't have to.  This can become a resource pack to you later.  It may remind you of old plot details, hold onto those segments you feel you've written really well despite not being able to use, or just plain remind you why you started on the story in the first place.

Sometimes I put something in the dump file, but then change my mind again and put it back in the story.  It's really handy to be able to do that.

5. Don't waste your creativity on planning.

Don't get me wrong.  Planning has its place.  Thing is, there is such a thing as too much planning for a story.  If you're excited to write, you need to channel that excitement into adding wordcount to your story.  You do not need to waste it on writing character backstories, world histories, or the plot points you want to put in the sequels of your story, which you've suddenly decided is a trilogy.

Thinking ahead or about the background is going to happen, whether you want it to or not. Sometimes it's a great motivator. But if you find yourself writing out five pages of the history how your nation came into being, then you're wasting inspiration.  Write the story itself while your inspiration still burns.

When the first excitement of your story passes, then write the notes.  Those notes can motivate you to write, so long as you spend more time writing your story than you do planning.

6. Create a certain place where your mind triggers you to write.

It used to be that every time I went into Advance Auto Parts, I would think of being part of a conspiracy of guys who were buying parts and supplies for their space ship.  Every time I went there, I would think of this, and when I left, I would forget about it.  Obviously, Advance Auto Parts was a psychological trigger.

Whenever you get into a certain area, certain things may occur to you.  For example, if there is a place where something important happened to you, you'll always remember that even if you return. There's no reason why a place can't be a trigger for inspiration or a specific activity as well.

To turn a place into a trigger, set it aside in your mind -- take a place where you know you can write (which will vary per person), and when you get there, just write.  If you want to do something else, leave this area first.  Only write in this area, so when you get there, that will be the activity your mind wants to do.

This method works best when you have a specific story attached to a place.  For example, if a coffee shop you went into last week reminds you of, for example, a chance meeting between two fated characters, then write out what happens to them every time you go to the coffee shop.

But let's say you don't have the means/money/time to go to some outside place to write.  Maybe you have a room in your house or a desk in your room that you want to write at.  Well, when you sit in such a place, don't let yourself do anything but write while you're there.

However, there are potential downsides to only having one spot for writing.  While it may be a place you can concentrate and your family knows to leave you alone while you're there, if it's the only place you write at, you may find yourself avoiding that place so that you don't have to write.  This depends on the individual, so you might not have this problem.  You know yourself; if you're more on the slacker side, either force yourself to go to your place and write, or find more than one place to write so that you can make sure your wordcount can go up.  While it's good to have a trigger, it's more important to build up your wordcount.

Still, if you allow yourself to have a trigger -- or one happens to you more or less without you noticing -- then try and write while in the place that triggers your inspiration.  Or at least just enjoy the fact that even a seemingly boring place can wake your imagination.

That's it for today, y'all.  We'll come back later for Write Club another time, and hopefully go deeper into what makes a story good.  See you next time!

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