My last post was surprisingly well-received. Not that I doubted the strength of my readers, but because I don’t usually go that route. I don’t usually say ‘maybe you shouldn’t be doing this thing.’ So I’d like to thank each and every one of you who heard what I tried to say.
A few people did bring up great points/questions, however, and I want to address those. Rana asked, “What if you’ve finished like five books, but don’t have the inspiration or energy to continue writing? Would you consider that a dry spell or “writing is a hobby + you’re not called to be a writer”? Or should I just wait a bit and see?”
In that vein, Sarah pointed out that Tolkien took years to write The Hobbit, and even slow progress is still progress. I felt this point went hand-in-hand with Rana’s question, so I’ll discuss them together.
There are many different types of writers. There are one-hit wonders; people who write a single classic novel and never write again. There are authors who write in one series all their lives, and never work on anything else. There are writers who, like Professor Tolkien, wrote many hefty books, histories, and translations over a long, arduous length of time.
Here’s the difference between Tolkien, and the writers I discussed in my last post – Tolkien did not get distracted by ‘plot bunnies.’ He didn’t fill out thirty bios for every character in The Silmarillion (an endeavor which would surely have cost him years). He didn’t spend months crooning over his ‘poor charries.’ He wrote, and he wrote well, and he wrote with every intention of finishing what he started. Many of his novels we now have were never truly completed, but not because he got distracted by something else – it’s because they were for personal reference, or because he died before he could finish them. Tolkien was not flighty. He took his time, and he wrote.
If you’ve written five books but find yourself lacking energy and inspiration, there are steps you can take to refresh yourself – or, perhaps, you won’t feel like writing more than five, which is perfectly acceptable. Occasionally, writing is just a phase, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Phases help us grow.
- Take a break. Set a time limit – a week, two weeks, a month. Do not allow yourself to write during this time. You can jot down reminders and notes so you don’t forget them, but you absolutely cannot do any real writing. If you’re in a dry spell because you’re too busy to focus on anything but work, this step probably isn’t for you. However, if your problem is lack of inspiration or writer’s block, this has helped me many times. I begin to itch and paw at the ground. I want to write. I have to write. When the whistle blows I’m off, ready to transfer all the pent-up ideas to the page.
- Do engage in word-wars. These are particularly helpful if you have a large competitive streak (cough) – even if what you write is rushed and you don’t love it, you have written. Sometimes, that’s all it takes for the unwelcome dam to burst and release the creative rush. I highly recommend word-warring with someone who is more prolific than you. I can word-war with most people and win every time, but if I word-war with Arielle or Jenny, I’m usually left eating dust. And I’m irked. And I demand to go again because dagnabbit, this time I will win. (I usually don’t. But it’s good motivation.)
- Read. Often, we go through dry spells because we aren’t reading enough. Watching a good show or movie, or listening to a good musical – these are also necessary and extremely helpful, but reading is different. Absorbing different styles, different phrasing; this is key in developing your own style, in trying out new things. Now you may suffer from Absorbing Man Syndrome (AMS) and use this as an excuse not to read. “I can’t read anything while I write,” you might say, “because then I take on the style of that author, and not mine.” If everything you read is affecting how you write, you probably haven’t developed your own style yet. This will happen over time, and your style will fluctuate, but don’t let it stop you from reading. It’s important.
- Re-examine your schedule. Do you really have no free time? Or do you have free time masquerading in the guise of Netflix or Tumblr? Those are both great things for inspiration, but if you’re using your free time to binge-watch Samurai Champloo (*looks at self*), stop watching and start being productive. If writing is really important to you, carve out a small slice of time to write. Even if it’s just ten minutes, it’s something. [Note: I’m not saying ‘DON’T HAVE ANY FREE TIME! NEVER CHILL!’ Without chill time, my inspiration drains away. Definitely, definitely relax and recharge – but don’t relax and recharge so much that you get nothing done.]
- You may be a writer – but you may not be a novelist. Novelists are only one kind of writer. There are poets, and short story authors, and screenplay writers. There are journalists and novella writers and script writers and musical writers. If you love writing, try expanding. Dabble in poetry, or write a short story. It’s a fun exercise, and it’s productive!
- Be aware of your spiritual life. I often find (I should say ‘always find’) that my spiritual health ties directly into my productivity, and the quality of said productivity.
- Work hard, put in solid effort, and don’t make excuses for yourself.
After all this, I have one more thing to say. How do I know what does not make an author? Because I was there, for a couple years. Because I did all those things I told you not to do. I know how unproductive they are if you have any actual goal in mind, and let me tell you something – you do not have to be an author. If you want to write, then you must write. Whether you have ambitions or not, there’s a good chance stories are part of you, and you have to give them life. This does not make you any less valuable, or any less talented, or any less anything. You can do whatever you set your mind to.
“All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right about face which turns us from failure to success.”
— Dorothea Brande