Fireworks: Lighting the Fuse

fireworks-01What’s your vision of the writer’s life? Many people think writers live this leisurely life of coffee drinking, cafe-sitting, and book-signing, with occasional bouts of inspiration, followed by furious writing episodes, at the end of which a perfect, popular, and profitable book is born.

That would be lovely! The reality is that most of us (okay, I don’t have the stats to defend the use of “most,” but anecdotally, most of the writers I’ve met) work full time in a non-writer-of-fiction career or are retired from a non-writing-of-fiction career. Attempting to build a writing career while still juggling family commitments (these people want to eat?! seriously?) is a challenge; we’ve written a lot about that here at Mysteristas. More difficult still, is not only finding time to write, but finding time to get into the creative space. Some of us have become efficient at doing do, out of necessity. If you only get an hour to write every day, and that hour comes between meetings or during lunch or between homework and bedtime, you have to find a way to jump right into the WIP.

I lack this skill. Oh, I’ve tried! But, it seems I am not likely to ever be that “produce two complete novels a year” writer. And that’s okay; it’s just not who I am. However, it does mean that it’s taking forever to finish the project I’m working on right now. (You’re waiting for the fireworks, aren’t you? I’m getting there, honest). Last week, I had an epiphany. I was struggling to get into my writing groove, spending too much time watching the clock and lamenting how I was wasting time not writing because I wasn’t in the groove, which meant getting stressed, which is never helpful when one is trying to be creative and. . .are you exhausted yet? I was.

I decided to read my book, and make a list of the holes–you know, those gaps between scenes or chapters that, as a writer, you don’t know are there until you read the WIP from beginning to end. The gaps readers definitely notice if the writer doesn’t fix them. Scrolling to the beginning, I read my first chapter. Made a few notes. Read the next chapter. Made more notes. And, then–fireworks. I knew exactly what to write next, and what to write after that. I was excited again, in my groove, completely inspired.

After spinning my wheels for a good 40 minutes of being stressed and unproductive, that ten minute activity of re-reading the project, that small step, lit the fuse for some pretty cool fireworks. It’s days later and I’m still working through the list I developed during that exercise of re-reading. Soon I’ll add these new pieces in and re-read again, hopefully lighting the fuse on a whole new barrage of sparkly, multicolored fireworks that remind me of just how much fun it is to be a writer.

The annoying thing about this experience is that nearly every “writer’s advice” piece suggests re-reading what you wrote last before you begin writing. While I can’t simply read what I wrote last, I have to read a bit more than that, the basic advice holds true. When I forget to follow the process, I get stuck. And thus, my lesson is this: there are no shortcuts to good writing. The writing process is a process; one has to follow the steps. Is there an app for that?


Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

9 thoughts on “Fireworks: Lighting the Fuse”

  1. Good for you for finding what works for you. I often have to read the last few paragraphs of the most recent scene – but if I go too far back I start tinkering. Depending on where I am (first draft or fifth revision), that can be fatal to my forward momentum. But yes, find your process and stick with it!


  2. Processes are different for each writer that I know, but they ALL say they need to remember to re-read their recent progress. That is definitely something that I need to remember too! Great post, so glad you found the groove again!


  3. Mary, yes–I do have to watch out for the tinkering when I’m reading further back. Realistically, if I write every day, I don’t have to go as far back, too. Estyree, thanks! Theresa, I know. So true!


  4. Pamela, I do the exact same thing: when I’m stuck, I go to the beginning and read for gaps and holes and make a list of what needs to be fixed. Sometimes I find a clue I dropped in that I forgot about. Sometimes I find a character who hasn’t been on page for awhile. But it always helps me break through being stuck!


  5. Yay, Pamela, for finding what worked for you! Every writer’s process is different, and every project is different, too. Sometimes I have to re-read from the beginning, too. Not always. It depends!


  6. Diane, in this last pass, I actually realized a needed to add two characters in order to build some of the plot out! I’m learning to enjoy this process. Sue, you’re so right, the process can vary from project to project (and between people, too). I love that about writing! Almost everything about it is flexible, really.


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