By Colleen Oakes
The other day I was trying to explain to someone why I can't write for just two hours. In two hours, I can do a lot of things. I can clean a house, take my toddler to the park, watch a movie. But I can't write. Sure, I can put words on a page, but I know in my heart that they will be tired words, useless words. At the very most, my hope would be to accomplish two pages of barren junk with a pretty good ending.
It took me a long time to realize how I write, and even longer to realize that I need to warm up. At first I regarded having to warm up as a weakness, but later came to the understanding that knowing intimately EXACTLY how I write was a strength. Denying what makes you great as a writer will hurt your career more than it will ever hurt your pride.
So - what exactly is warming up for a writer?
I could use a sports metaphor here, but I'm not going to. To quote Mindy Kaling: "Athletics and sporting are the great non-loves of my life." Instead, let's compare it to vocal music. When a musician prepares to give the world her contribution to the wild beauty of art, she warms up. A Met lead soprano wouldn't dare step on a stage without warming up her instrument. If she did, her performance would be sub-par vocally, but also her nerves would overtake her senses more easily, seeing how she had not run the piece ahead of time. More devastatingly, the joy of the performance would be lowered, for both the singer and the audience. The art would suffer in the end.
So - let's have a frank conversation - are you as a writer struggling because of your lack of warm up?
Do you spend a lot of time staring a blank screen, grasping at lose concepts?
Do you struggle with finding the right word for complicated sentences?
Are you spending massive time distracted by the internet or "research?"
Do you spend more time planning your plot than actually writing?
Does your writing tend to be rambling with short bursts of inspiration?
If these apply to you, then I would think about how you warm up your instrument: your pen. Or keyboard. Or blackboard. Or whatever.
First, remember that you are starting on the ground level. You are ramping up to greatness. Let your words RISE, like yeasty bread in the morning. Warm-up writing should be simple, clean and easy. You won't get stuck on a warm-up because it's impossible. Think of it as laying the road that you will later travel on. Write a blog, an entry in a personal journal or a letter, heck, even an email to a friend. What matters is that you are turning on the part of your brain that says "it's time to write." By doing this, you push open your creative doors and prepare to stroll through them. And don't worry about quality -you'll face the hurdles later when you are working on your real writing. Right now is all about enjoyable, brainless writing. Fire up the engines, stoke those inspirational flames and go.
How long should you warm up? I would say that depends on what kind of writer you are. I warm up for about an hour before I begin working on my novels. I have found that my best writing occurs when I have about a five hour writing stretch. Anything less than that is not within my peak writing abilities, and anything more than that starts to get messy and tired - I see it when I edit, every time. "Oh yes, here is where I timed out." Everyone writes different, and so you should be able to tell when you are sufficiently warmed up. Maybe five minutes works for you, maybe two hours of warming up is what you need to have two brilliant hours of word craft. Are the sentences flying fast and furious? Is your brain tingling with great ideas, story concepts? Are your fingers dashing out words like they are moving on their own.
Good. Now you are in the good writing zone. You've warmed up your writing voice and you are ready to share your gift. Step out on the stage and wow us.
Colleen Oakes is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Bestselling Elly in Bloom Series, The Queen of Hearts Saga (Harper Collins 2016) and The Wendy Darling Saga. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son and surrounds herself with the most lovely family and friends imaginable. When not writing or plotting new books, Colleen can be found swimming, traveling, blogging, decluttering or totally immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She currently at work on the final Elly novel and her next YA fantasy series.