Monday, January 23, 2012

How To Write When You Don't Have The Desire/Nerve/Energy

It's not uncommon for me to get questions from people who want to be writers.  They pop into my inbox every once and a while asking basic questions.  I usually link them to a blog post I have already written on the subject, or give them a quick answer if it's a simple question.

But the one question I have been getting a lot of late is probably the one I hate answering the most.  The reason why is because the answer is very simple and not one the person asking the question wanted to hear.

So what is this question?

Usually the email looks something like this:

"I want to be a writer and I have some really great ideas.  But I start writing and then I lose interest/get bored/lose energy/can't make myself write.  How do you deal with this? How do you keep interested in your idea?  How do you keep writing?"

The truth of the matter is you have to make yourself write.  You just have to keep going.  You can't give up.  You have to push through the hard parts.  Even when your energy is down and your interest in the story is waning, you have to just write.

To be a have to write!

Everyone wants the secret formula to success in all aspects of life.  Why else would there be so many self-help books?  Yet, the reality in most cases from weight loss to career advancement is that to be successful you have to work hard.

How marathons start...
I am not a runner, but I have watched marathons during the Olympics (the only time I watch sports).  I always find it interesting how everyone takes off like a shot, trying to get ahead of the pack, then as the pace evens out, the runners usually start to try to conserve their energy while maintaining (or gaining) a lead.  It's always rough watching these people strain to reach the end as the rigors of the run start to wear them down.  There is always a part in the race where they are drenched in sweat, pouring bottled water over their bodies and into their mouths with their faces tense with concentration and you wonder how any of them are going to finish.  Then, the finish line nears and you see runners start to pick up their pace as they rush toward the end.  I'm always surprised when people who looked on the verge of collapse suddenly sprint the last part of the race and through the finish line.

How marathons end...
I'm sure every runner in that marathon wonders at one point if they are going to be able to finish.  A few people never make it past the finish line.  But each and every runner knows the only way they're going to make it is if they push through all the pain to the very end. No one is going to carry them.

Marathons always start with a ton of people...but end as only one person crosses the line.

Well, writing is a lot like that.  You start off with a burst of inspiration and energy.  The idea is fresh and fantastic and you're madly in love with the entire concept.  You rush along at a steady clip then the pace starts evening out.  Slowly, your steam starts to peter out.  There is always a point where you are  trudging along, pushing through the hardest part of the book because you have come too far and you want to get to the end.  It is sheer determination and willpower that power you through.  Then you see that the end is in sight, you get that second rush of energy and sprint to the end of the book.

The problem with most people who want to be writers is that the minute their steam dissipates, they drop out of the race and go back to the beginning to start a different race.  I have seen this happen so many times with very talented writers.  They fall in love with an idea and take off like a shot, but once their interest wanes, they shove the half-written story away and start on another.  They never go all the way to the end.  So many people have told me they have partially written stories stashed away all over their hard drives or tucked into a trunk.  And they always ask me how I finish my novels.  How do I do it?

Again, the answer is I write.  I write when I lose my energy.  I write when I feel I have no inspiration.  I write when I'm tired.  I write when I don't want to.  I write because I want to get to the end of the story.

Here are a few ways I get myself to write even when I don't feel it.

1.  I create a spot for myself where I am comfortable and can be free of most interruptions.  In my case it is my home office, but for others it may be their bedroom, coffee shop, park bench, etc.

2.  I commit to writing X amount of words per day when on a project.  Now, if you're struggling, you may want to set it to a low number like 250 to 500. Mine is between 3,000 and 5,000.

3.  Don't self-edit when writing a first draft.  In other words, don't go back and keep tweaking what you already wrote.  Move forward.  Only read back if you think you've lost a thread.  Too many writers fuss with making the first part perfect before they have written the middle and the end.

4. When I have writer's block it's usually because I dropped a thread in the story.  I'll read back over what I wrote until I find what I missed.  I do NOT self-edit during this time.

5.  Commit to writing for X amount of time every day.  Pick a time and keep to it.  Don't falter.  Tell everyone to leave you alone during this time.  Threaten them if you have to!

6.  Writing sprints help a lot of people.  Set your timer for 5 minutes, and write non-stop the entire time.  Just type. Just go. Don't over think it. Just write.  Take a small break, set the timer, go again.

7.  Listen to music that inspires you and makes you think about your story.  Each one of my novels has different "theme" music that set the mood.

8.  Make character sheets or a database for your novel. Include the characters' vital info and maybe a photo or drawing that resembles them.  If you have some sort of idea of a plot, write that out in a short summary.  Keep it close.  (NOTE:  I use the free program yWriter to build a character database and to write the first draft of my novels).

And finally...just write.  Just do it.  I find that even when I don't want to write, once I get past a certain post, the dam opens and the words pour out.

If you want to reach the finish line, you're going to have to push through.  It isn't easy to be a writer. And one of the hardest parts is finishing the book.

Good luck!

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