Enthusiasm Refill

The festive holiday season fills us with excitement, hope, cheer, enthusiasm, optimism. For several months we have something to look forward to. For many of us it is the excitement to see family and friends we haven't seen is a long time, for others it's seeing what Père Noël left for us under the Christmas tree, and for still others, like me, it's the anticipation of watching loved ones open presents we chose and wrapped just for them.

Inevitably after the holiday season there is a period of blahs, the unavoidable doldrums as we look ahead to what can't help to be mundane pursuits after the bright tinsel and blinking lights of such a heart-warming and lighthearted time. The lingering hangover from New Years Eve doesn't help.

Santa WritesHere's a perfect way to reignite your enthusiasm: write. Whenever I write, even when I have to force myself to sit down and put fingertips to keys, whenever I allow myself to be transported into the world I'm creating in my own stories, my spirits are always lifted, my heart lightened, my mind liberated.

It's safe to say the time-constraints of the season have necessitated that many (most?) of us have had to neglect our writing, even if only for a couple of weeks or so. This is the perfect time to get back to it. It's therapeutic, it's fun, and it's productive.

And it will keep at bay the post-holiday blahs.

Starting at Word One…

Every writer has to begin at the beginning.

I know this sounds like a cliche, but it's not. Think about it. Every. Writer. Dickens, Tolkien, Charlotte Bronte, Stephen King, Nora Roberts - even Mr. Shakespeare himself. All of them were at one point unskilled, unknown, and unpublished. I'm willing to bet that at some point in their lives, each one of these well known authors felt like what they were writing was going nowhere.

Sometimes, the beginning feels like the void before creation, or the Big Bang, or however the universe came into being. The prospect of creating something in the middle of that vast emptiness is mind boggling. Add in the extra dimension of trying to publish whatever we manage to create and knowing we'll need to fight to bring it to the attention of readers and it's a wonder every single one of us isn't rocking in a corner somewhere, clad in a straightjacket and gibbering at the moon.

Somewhere along the line, every writer you've ever heard of caught a lucky break. But here's the thing--in order to catch that lucky break, they had to be ready. Which means they wrote things without knowing whether those things would ever be read. They practiced. They persevered. In a sense, they made their own luck.

Perhaps you have heard of a little book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? The author, Douglas Adams, didn't actually set out to write a book. He wrote a screen play. And this is what he had to say about the night it first aired:

"The first episode went out on BBC Radio 4 at 10:30 P.M. on Wednesday, March 8, 1978, in a huge blaze of no publicity at all. Bats heard it. The odd dog barked.

After a couple of weeks a letter or two trickled in." ~Douglas Adams

Douglas freaking Adams, you guys. Words he wrote, characters he created, are now catch phrases that are part of casual conversation. There is even a Towel Day every year. And yet, he too experienced that terrible silence so many of us fear when we're launching a book.

Stephen King threw Carrie into the trash can. His wife pulled it out and talked him into submitting it.

You get the picture. If you feel like you're spinning your wheels with your writing and going nowhere, write anyway. If you're in the desert of bleakness at the middle of a novel and have lost all hope of ever writing anything good, write anyway.

Writers are not good judges of their own work. You never know when your lucky break will come, or which book you've written might suddenly strike a chord with readers and take you to the top of a list.

Write even if none of these things happen, if you never catch a lucky break.

Write because you're a writer, damn it, and that's what you were put into this world to do.

 

Like A Boss: Making Writer’s Block Work for You

Today, we’re going to talk about Writer’s Block, and how thinking like the Boss will master even the worst case.

Before you hold up your hands in a ‘ward off the Evil Eye’ sign in my direction, hear me out. It’s not as bad as you think. If you change your viewpoint on Writer’s Block, it can be a fantastic opportunity rather than a challenge for you.

We’ve all hit that point where we get stuck. When we look at our work-in-progress with frustration for so long that given the chance, all our heroes will die in a blazing bloodbath and our villains will race round like maniacs crowing their victory. The thought makes us smile. Because the bloodbath lets us take back the power that these annoying characters have taken away, and don’t they know I’m the Boss, and what I say goes…

Oh. Maybe it’s just me? Well, go with me here.

When you get stuck, and you’ve spent several hours (and maybe a long shower) trying to get your characters out of whatever corner you’ve tossed them into, hit ‘Save’ and then Close. The. Document. Why?

You’re going to work on something else.

At any given time, I have more than one work-in-progress going. This is not because I am a masochist. It has several purposes, all of which are positive and help me in my career. (And damn it, I am the Boss.)

The first, and most important, in my eyes, is that it allows you to get your ideas for future projects onto paper. To put some shape and structure to what was initially a random thought. It gives you a chance to do a little plotting, and see if the story idea has legs, if it can last through an entire novel. There are few things worse than getting all invested in a story only to find halfway through that it falls flat on its derriere. Talk about wanting to kill off everyone in a bloodbath.

Additionally, it feels great to let yourself play with an idea that you really like. This is a way to give yourself permission to delve into that New Idea without feeling like you’re cheating on the current work-in-progress. Too often, I think we get stuck on the idea that we MUST finish WIP #1 before even thinking about anything else, and that just isn’t so. Give yourself permission to multitask. It’s what successful Bosses do.

The second is that it calms those of us who work on deadlines. Most of my deadlines are self-imposed, but I put them out there, so I hold myself to them. No matter what route you take to publication, there are always deadlines. The deadline can paralyze you, particularly if you’re stuck. If you are working on more than one thing at a time, you can calm that internal clock that’s saying, ‘Tick tock, need to get it done, tick tock, tick tock.’ You can hit the ‘Snooze’ because you are working, and while it may not be on the one with the closest looming deadline, you’re working. The more you do this, the more you train yourself to realize that working and moving forward will apply to everything you’re working on, even if one project is spinning wheels at the moment. Progress begets progress.

That leads me to the third plus. When I write every day, I have fewer run-ins with Writer’s Block. Why? The more you do something, the more you stretch the muscles used to do it. So the more you write, the easier your brain can slip into that mode, and move you along. If you have a couple of works-in-progress, it doesn’t matter that WIP #1 is driving you mad. You can ignore it and look at WIP #2, for which you had an amazing inspiration for the story arc in the shower today. You keep doing this, and voila! Butt is in chair and you are writing every day. We’ve all heard of BICAW (Butt In Chair And Write). As someone who has moved to writing as my career, the opportunities for distractions that keep you from BICAW are endless. The easier you make it for you to put yourself in that chair, the easier this writing gig will get.

Put some time into your New Idea. Do you have something you want to work on after your current work-in-progress is done? Outline it now. Right. Now. Go open a document and write a basic outline. That’s all you have to do. Because the next time your characters send you to a place where a sharp object seems the only way out, you go to that basic outline, and work on beefing it up. Ignore the characters plucking at your last nerve. Focus on something new.

It will get your butt in the chair, and keep you writing daily. And what’s better than doing something you love every single day? From now on, do not fear Writer’s Block. Embrace it and welcome it in.

Do it like a Boss. Writer’s Block will crumble before you.

 

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Write!

holiday imageSince it’s the holiday season, I thought I would explore that mystical, magical, time-honored literary event known as THE HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER.

You know, that multi-page bit of fluff that shows up this time of year, sent by some high-school cheerleader who only spoke to you once during your senior year. Thirty years later you don’t even recognize the name (but that might be because she’s on her third husband).

That newsletter is followed by others from distant relatives (third cousins twice removed…or aunts who had your cousins removed?) and possibly misdirected mail since you still don’t recognize any of the names or events listed.

Now come on.  Do these people really think you’re going to believe their first born has just been accepted to Harvard’s kindergarten prep school, or husband #3 is a Italian count and they just finished remodeling the family castle, or they’re vacationing this year with Prince William and his family, or the home-based business they started for $69 last month sold to Microsoft for a gazillion dollars?  I mean, they’re safe to say anything since you haven’t seen them in years (if ever!).  It should be a law that newsletters have to be notarized to prove factualness (hmm, I wonder if that’s a real word?). IF I were to write a holiday newsletter, I’d at least be realistic. Maybe something like this:

The Family Newlaughter

     Well, it’s another year gone by. I swear this one was only 265 days, but the calendar disagrees.  I didn’t want all of you to think my life was so boring that nothing of note ever happens and now that our gag order expired, I’m free to write about it. If you hadn’t heard about that little faux pas, just forget I mentioned it. It wasn’t any big deal. We’re not even really sure how that video ended up on YouTube.  People are just so touchy about things like that these days.  But hey, stuff happens, right?

Rick and I are still married (38 whole years – could be true love…or we’re just naturally lazy). The Garage Mahal is nearly done (I think it might officially be an antique before it’s fully functional), although Rick has recently realized you can’t get a 400 pound saw up a winding staircase without factoring in the cost of a hernia operation – so modifications are pending. He’s going green, converting some of his power tools into running off beer and that’s why I keep finding all those cans and bottles in the shop. Who knew!? We did a small remodel on the house, replacing the roof which didn’t leak until AFTER we fixed it.

Our oldest, Jimmy, and his wife, Hannah, have been married a dozen years and we have two great grandkids we really enjoy, with the added bonus of being able to send them home when they get tired and grumpy, or Grandpa feeds them too much sugar. I think Hannah has finally resigned herself to being one of “the family”, but I have noticed she still wears big sunglasses whenever we’re all out in public. I keep telling her it’s not us up there on the Post Office wall – it’s just an uncanny resemblance (I don’t think she believes me).

Our youngest, Ryan, is still in college, and we’re thinking about an intervention so he’ll get his degree and be able to move on before he’s older than the professors. He joined the National Guard after an impressive spiel about how they’d “help him be can be all he can be” and what not, but I think they had him at “explosives.” What guy wouldn’t want to blow things up and get paid to do it? He and Stephanie have been married for two years and are content to raise animals rather than children, although sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference (feel free to interpret that any way you want).

It’s been a while since we’ve taken a vacation because the post office hasn’t come up with a big enough “If It Fits, It Ships” box for both of us. But just in case, if a big COD package shows up on your doorstep, be sure to accept it and open it pretty quickly.  You might want to do that outside though, because things could be a little messy, if ya get my drift.

We’ve been putting a lot of thought into our retirement plans, too, but there are a lot of things to consider, you know? There are literally dozens of those scratch tickets to choose from these days!  Besides, we can’t get find a location to enjoy our “golden years” until we figure out what kind of décor goes with large cardboard refrigerator boxes – maybe shabby chic?

Well, that pretty much brings you up-to-date on the family. Hope you’re all healthy and happy (rich would be good, too, especially if you’ve named any of us in your will), but, hey, two out of three is pretty darn good!

The Benson FamilyChristmas image

And so to all of you, my friends, a Merry Christmas,

Happy New Year, Kwanza, or whatever, and Write On!