Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writer's blues

What I've found, when I'm tired, is that my writing default is passive. It's lazy and it's wordy with an inelegance that makes me wince. I'm at that point with the novel. Nothing seems to flow or fit in terms of sentence construction or word choice.

It's all clunky and very grating, wordy and talky, and it just drags.

And that just depresses me. Feeds my lethargy and my writerly bad habits which are never very far from the surface. It's a vicious cycle.

What's your default? Is it good and does it make you a happy writer?

What do you do to kick the writerly blues? Or to kick start your work when your default isn't what you're looking for?


  1. I haven't learned how to kick the writerly blues yet. They come and go at their own will.

    (I found your blog through FictionGroupie's blog and you commented yesterday that you write character driven stories that often stem from all dialogue. I had to laugh because I do the same exact thing! I have notebooks full of dialogue and conversations, sometimes without even tags for who's speaking. Glad to find someone else like me!)

  2. Hmm...well my writing default is to not write, but I guess that doesn't answer the question.

    My default is to re-read what I've written, "fix it", then feel like I've accomplished something. I am serious! What that does, though, is actually remind me of where I was and what I was feeling, especially if I'm somewhat pleased with the stuff I've re-read. It's like a moment of "oh, yeah, THAT happened! I forgot!" From that, sometimes ideas will spring forth. Sometimes I'll just feel smug.

    As far as kick-starting it concerned, it's almost more of an external thing. Lots of times I'll wander out of the house so I can find some space, both physical and mental. Short of that, I put on headphones and play music that I think will represent what I want to say in my piece. Believe it or not, sometimes I can even see the scene set to music, like you might in a music video--or Grey's Anatomy! That gives me a sense of place, or at least, emotion. Sometimes that can kickstart me.

    As far as your novel is concerned, though, I really wouldn't worry as much about inelegance as I would about slogging through it. I call it writing through the pain (as you know). Try to write with a minimum of wincing and I think, ultimately, you'll get there. You can fine tune later.

    Plus you know you've done it before. At least you've got nice, long finished pieces in your rear view mirror.

  3. Hi, Megan.

    Welcome and I'm glad you're here.

    It is nice to know that someone else does things we do. Makes us feel not so alone.

    And I totally get the whole having reams of pages of dialogue with no descriptors or tags.

    That's me, too. :)

    And Eva, I totally get the whole default setting of not writing. But I think you're right about rereading being a trigger for ideas, which is what I'm doing with the novel right now since i wrote a big chunk of it years ago.

    I also like the kick start idea of getting out. Just going into Panera's or Starbucks with a laptop makes me feel like a writer.

    Sometimes that's enough.

    And you're right. Slog through the mess and sooner or later you have something you can actually work with.

  4. What do I do to kick the writerly blues...?

    I ask my Drive-By Taste-Testers to READ my fiction!! for FEEDBACK!!

    that's what I do.

    Because sometimes I just need to hear that my work sucks, drags, bounces too much, is confuzzling, or just simply needs to be finished first before decent comments can be made.

    And other input, too.


    P.S. and if that doesn't work, I cut my nails so I can feel the keys, make a cup of something yummy, and play a card game.

  5. When I'm feeling uninspired and my writing shows it, I pull one of my favorite books or a copy of Glimmer Train off the shelf, open it to a random place and read one to two pages. That often gets the creative juices flowing again.

    I also find it helpful to go back to a previous chapter and revise a paragraph or two. Working on something already written, swapping out weaker verbs and modifiers for stronger ones with higher impact inspires my muse.

    Tomorrow's another day -- I'll bet your writing mojo will be back! Best of luck with it!!

  6. Susan, your work does not suck. But I think you should make me a cup of something yummy before you play your next card game. :)

    Hi, Nicole.

    I think you're right about going back and revising something earlier. I'm doing that now, switching out weaker verbs for stronger ones, tightening up the narrative. I think I'll be happier once more of that is done.

    And thanks for the good wishes. Here's hoping. :)

  7. It's interesting to see the different approaches. My "default" was actually genre-specific; when I wrote science-fiction, I would write about something blowing up, and that would make me happy. Or that would sometimes be a payoff for getting through the mud. If that wouldn't work, like Eva, I'd do something external, like a bike ride or a walk or work in the yard. Right now, none of those will work, so I'm just parceling out the words and hoping some of them are salvageable in the long run. Unfortunately, that's the head space where I feel most insecure, which trips a vicious cycle itself.

    But SJ, I had the best run for a couple of hours during vacation sitting at a coffee house where no one knew me and I had no internet to do research or check email or any other distraction. Not only did I feel "writerly," I felt productive. Amazing what that change in scenery does for personal perspective.

    As for "clunky" and "dragging" ... you do yourself a disservice, girl.

  8. I'm at that point with the novel. Nothing seems to flow or fit in terms of sentence construction or word choice.
    I beg to differ Your Honor… and as soon as I find some adequately blunt object I'll put it to good use to stress the point :P

    Seriously now, reading Eva's reply I saw many of my own reactions, so I guess my advice would be "do something else", get your mind off the transitory blind corner and give yourself some breathing space.
    Writing is just as much inspiration as it is hard work, and sometimes inspiration needs to be coaxed and pampered – you can't force it, you can't order it around, you can't make it sit down and pay attention.

    Once you add to the mixture Susan's great recommendation (get feedback!) you have the perfect formula, or as perfect as it can get. There's nothing like feedback to put you back on course – and you know we're always willing to provide it ;)

  9. If I hit that place where I hate everything I put it away and write something else. I leave it sit on the shelf for as long as I need to. A week, two, maybe a month. When I get back to it, I edit it, right away. I don't even bother trying to pick up where I left off, I just edit and see where it takes me. If it still sucks, I scrap the project. Or I'll keep the pieces I really like and start from there, discarding the crap and usually coming up with a whole new story arc. And if that doesn't work, I'll clean the house like a maniac. Sometimes physical exhaustion is a good thing.

  10. Hi, CW.

    It is interesting to see those approaches differ by genre. Blowing things up seems like a really great way to shake happiness and creativity loose. :)

    A geographic approach, putting yourself in a different place by moving is always good, too.

    And I think you’re right; when nothing is working and you’re just trapped in a space by yourself, and the words come in a trickle or not at all, that is the worst place to be.

    Congrats on your good run; I love coffee houses and diners when you can just zone out and work. Feeling writerly is a large part of the battle for me. That in itself triggers productivity and a sense of satisfaction with what I’m doing.

    I hope you’re able to get out of your bad headspace and get there. I’m sure the words will come.

  11. Hey, Nym.

    You and Eva are a wonderful tag team. :)

    Writing is just as much inspiration as it is hard work, and sometimes inspiration needs to be coaxed and pampered – you can't force it, you can't order it around, you can't make it sit down and pay attention.

    It’s funny that you would say that as I’m currently contemplating the whole muse/work relationship in writing. To paraphrase a great mind, how much in the process is inspiration and how much perspiration?

    Maybe that will be my next post.

    As for that tag team? Add Susan in there and you guys make a great trio. But again, you’re right. Sometimes it does come down to feedback. Everyone at some point needs someone to tell them that what they’re doing has merit. I’ll steal a line from Billy Joel here. “You can’t go the distance with too much resistance.”

    Great line. :)

  12. Hi, PW.

    I hope you’re feeling better about things today. :)

    I think you’ve got something there, about not even trying to pick up where you left off and just going with whatever the editing brings to you.

    I think that’s where I made my mistake. I wasn’t ready or in the right headspace or whatever to begin picking up where I left off. Yeah, I did reread and edit, but I think I still thought I could just pick up and go as if were nothing.

    And I really love your cleaning the house like a maniac approach. I used that with my daughter when she was a baby and wouldn’t be quiet. She loved the sound of the vacuum so I would just strap her into one of those baby carrying things and vacuum the house.

    It had never been so clean. :)

  13. how much in the process is inspiration and how much perspiration?
    Maybe that will be my next post.

    Something momentous will transpire soon, then! ;)
    And I like the idea of the "Tag Team from Hell": we might walk in with the theme of the Walkyries booming from above!

    Seriously now, giving feedback is a joy and a pleasure, first because it means it gives you some forward momentum when you need it, and second because it allows us to peek into your newest endeavor. The Voice of Greed, remember?

    @Piedmont Writer:
    I understand perfectly what you said about using editing as a launching pad to start afresh!
    These 'chats' are revealing so many similarities, it's uncanny - in a good way, of course :)

  14. Nymeria, I find it really funny and awesome that so many of us think along the same lines, as if the 'Universal Mind' were behind us all at the same time.

    Sarah, I do feel so much better today, thank you, and have completed the query. I believe I will post it tomorrow on my blog for all and sundry to read and comment on. So if anyone else wants to come on over, you're more than welcome. I've got coffee but no more chocolate. Sorry.

    And yes, thank the Good Lord for vacuum cleaners.