What’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?