I’ve been having a hard time settling down to a new project these past few days, which is really annoying since the recent snowpocalypse gave me a LOT of unexpected free time that I now feel that I’ve wasted. I do understand that this is a normal wax and wane for me, that I tend to feel rudderless for a while after finishing a big project. I just finished and submitted the sequel to Unspeakable Words to Dreamspinner Press a few weeks ago and I’ve been floundering ever since. The truth of the matter is I need to get over that mindset and just pick something and start working on it. Even if it is crap. I did just that last night, even though it wasn’t the project I thought I should be working on, at least it was *something*. And something is a step up from nothing.
I once figured out that in order for me to even consider earning enough money as a writer to help pay the bills, I needed to have a new release at least once a quarter. It takes a year from the time of conception, to execution, to submission, to publication, to the end of that quarter before you will see any royalties from that sale. So ideally, I should have a story in the pipeline at all times. Write, submit, release–all while working on the next one. Ambitious, I know. A goal I failed at miserably in 2012-2013. Partly because I was too exhausted to be creative. Working 60+ hours a week doesn’t leave you much time or energy for spinning stories. I would daydream all day long about what I would write when I got home, only to peter out by the time I cleaned up after dinner and answered client emails. That kind of creative black hole is very hard to overcome.
There’s a different kind of writer’s block, however. That’s what I’m going through right now. Instead of dutifully working on my next project in order to meet my 2014 goals for a better life, I’ve been playing around on the internet, wasting time on forums and the like. I bounce from social media site to site, looking to see if anyone has anything new to say. I’ve been re-reading old stories and watching old TV shows instead of exploring new ones. I’ve been waiting for my Muse to get her ass in gear and present me with another story, another set of characters to fall in love with. I was discussing this with my critique group the other day, and Anna Butler had an interesting perspective that I’d like to share. I’m going to quote her directly because I don’t think I can paraphrase this and have it be nearly as good as what she wrote:
And because what we wrote [i.e. fanfiction] came from a place of real and genuine love, and because that fired our creativity, we kind get to think that we should *always* have that same depth of emotion for everything we write and that if we can’t feel the same grand passion, then we’ve failed and what we write will be substandard, And yet, really, if we’re going to make a go of it, we should have more of Stephen King’s philosophy: writing is a job of work. Some parts of our work we are going to like better than others, sometimes we wish we could shift the timetabling around or the sequencing, but mostly we should be approaching this with a slightly more businesslike head and leave the fangirl behind.
Don’t get me wrong – we still have to love our characters and want to help them tell their story, but this is no longer something we do that *only* comes from a place of love and is satisfied with its mere creation and the plaudits of fandom. Now it has to have an outcome that is real and, more than that, is commercial-bottom-line species of real: getting published, supplementing our incomes, getting to the point where it *is* the day job. I think then that we have to look at our writing plans in that slightly different light.
I think Anna’s point here is brilliant. The part about writing being something you treat as a job, that I knew. One of the hard things for me to accept was that making writing a second job for me definitely took a lot of spontaneous joy out of it. I had to work through that myself. I liken it, however, to the difference between your first riding lesson and your 1000th. You’re on a high when you get to ride a real horse for the first time. But unless you want to be walked around an arena on a lead line, you have to push yourself to learn more, to do more. Even if it is only a hobby for you, it is absolutely necessary to learn the fundamentals of horsemanship in order to be safe around them. And if you want to go cross country, you must ride daily in order to be fit enough to handle the horse and the course together.
I thought I really had a handle on that concept, too–that it does get harder when you strive to write better. Anna’s comments about not necessarily loving our original characters with the same depth of passion we give to fandom characters, however, well, that really hit home with me. One more than one occasion, I have felt that because that same squealing fangirl devotion wasn’t there, that somehow my ‘real’ story wasn’t as good as something I’d written for the fun of it. Well, feelings are wonderful things to explore in the course of telling a story, but they have no place in whether or not the story has merit.
One of the things I get frustrated with sometimes is when people refer to their Muse, giving it personality and control over their desire to write. I understand the concept in principle. I usually smile and nod when people mention their Muse and what he/she/it has done or not done lately. But when people start acting as though it is another entity that does their writing for them, that it is a capricious will o’the wisp that comes and goes without direction or control, I get a little annoyed. Mostly with myself. Because you know what? There isn’t any external force that pulls the magic out of you. The magic is within you. And it is up to you to treat it like a grown-up ability and work at it every day if you are serious about it.
If you want to just have fun, by all means write when you feel like it. But the more you write, the more you *will* feel like it. And if writing is what you are meant to do, then the words will flow. Sure, the faucet may be rusty at first. The water may only drip slowly. But the more you work at it, the cleaner and fuller the force of the words will be. I know this at some level, but still, like now, I occasionally find myself staring at the faucet and complaining that the words aren’t flowing. D’uh. You have to turn the handle first.
So I found this blog post by Chuck Wendig extremely timely and motivational: The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing. And I’ll add this to it as well: The Muse is *your* bitch, baby. Remember that.