Monday, August 16, 2010

The Secret


Welcome back, dear readers,

When I was a kid, writing came easy. By the time I hit college, I'd written several full-length novels. As a college student, I finished a 500 page novel during my summer break, in spite of working twelve hour shifts at an answering service. (Did I mention the book was single-spaced?) I believe that book's still rotting in a landfill somewhere.

Enter the working world, otherwise known as Real Life, and things got a whole lot tougher. When I was running my freelance business full-time, I didn't write a word of fiction, except for the serial stories the local paper commissioned me to create. I hated myself for not writing. Even though I was producing hundreds of articles each year, some of them fairly creative, I felt like I was wasting my life. Sure, journalism was great, but I was meant to be a novelist.

I was desperate for a solution. I started a writers group. I scheduled dinners with a friend who was a big fan of my writing, back when I actually wrote something. Nothing helped until I read Stephen King's On Writing and something just clicked. It was time. Eventually, I took out a loan, took some time off from my company, and Finished.The.Damn.Book.

Judging from the writers forums I participate in, the blogs I read, the classes I take, and the conferences I go to, most writers have struggled with a dry spell at one time or another. Some never get out of it, and those who do have difficulty pinpointing what led them to the writing equivalent of nirvana.

It's fitting that this blog is about writing and muay thai, because I have similar feelings about both. If I'm in The Zone--writing like mad and attending kickboxing class regularly--it's all I want to do. I can get fairly obsessive. But once I fall out of the habit, it's extremely difficult to get back into it. I never feel good about myself--or my life--if I'm neglecting either one.

I've never found a foolproof way to kick start my writing after a dry spell, and it's not for lack of trying. Every author's advice is always the same: just do it. "There is no secret," they say. "You just have to force yourself to sit down at that computer, for at least an hour everyday, until it comes back to you."

But you know what? I think I found a secret, after all. At least, it's something that worked for me.

I didn't write on Saturday, opting for Thai food and Scott Pilgrim versus The World instead. On Sunday, I dragged myself to the computer, hoping to make up for lost time, and...didn't feel like writing. Really didn't feel like it. In desperation, I asked The Boy to say something motivating, but I didn't expect anything he said to really work. Not that he isn't amazing and supportive, because he is. I've just never had any "trick" work for this kind of slump before. Like everyone says, there's no secret.

So, after trying a few things that didn't work, The Boy came up with a challenge. If I wrote ten new pages on the novel, I could look forward to a wonderful, relaxing Sunday evening with my favorite junk food (bad, I know, but still an excellent motivator!), foot rubs, and a movie of my choice. Suddenly, working on my book seemed like a fun contest--a contest I could win. With renewed enthusiasm, I started writing. A couple of hours later, I had eleven pages--a total of 3,209 words. I haven't written that much in a single session for years. I was on a roll again, and it didn't end after I enjoyed my reward. This morning, I wrote another six pages (over 1,600 words). I'm on track for finishing the first draft of Dragonfly Summer by the end of this month. Dragonfly Summer will be the first novel I've finished in FIVE years, and that will definitely be an occasion worthy of celebrating!

Even though you may not have The Boy at hand, I'm sure you have someone in your corner who loves your work and who knows you well enough to devise the perfect challenge. Next time you're in the Dead Zone, give it a try. Maybe The Secret will work for you, too.

Have you ever experienced a creative dry spell? What jolted you out of it?

Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like a good idea Holli, but I think I'll replace 'The Boy' with 'The Girl' and foot rub with. . .well, you know!

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  2. Whatever works, James. Whatever works! :)

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  3. I would take the "you know" as part of my reward too... lol.... Hell, I would even give the "you know" ....

    Remember I promised myself I was going to plow off a story (hopefully a short one) before the end of the summer. Maybe I should tell myself that I can't have that new iPhone 4 replacement phone until I do. I'm in a phase where the only person who can reward me is me...

    Wait... that sounds bad.....

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  4. I'm sure you have a friend who can hold something tempting over your head! If not, I can always hook you up with James...you two can exchange "you knows" and be perfectly happy! :)

    Until then, WRITE THE DAMN STORY, Kim! You know you wanna....

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  5. Isn't it wonderful when we get back into that flow again? I'm sure you're right, we all get into those slumps from time to time.

    I just love the title Dragonfly Summer!!

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  6. I know, I know..... I'm waiting for the perfect opening line to pop into my head. I already know what the story is about. but that is a dumb thing for me to wait for given the trend in my writing. Usually on re-write the first thing to GO is my fabulous opening sentence that I waited to pop into my head.

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  7. @ Laura: yes, it is a wonderful feeling! I don't think there's anything better for a writer. Since you're a published author, do you have any tips for breaking a dry spell? And thanks for the kind words about my title. I love it, too, which probably means someone will make me change it.

    @ Kim - may I be so bold as to suggest you try the exercise I posted on Friday? Sometimes, writing anything helps. I once asked Stephen King how I could possibly get inspired to work on my novel when I wrote for a living and also freelanced. His response was "write more". He told me to write stories, more articles, anything, and I rejected his advice. I wanted to work on my NOVEL - what was the point of "wasting my time" writing other stuff? I ended my current dry spell by starting this blog, and I've since learned that the King was right. Sometimes you need to prime the pump before you can get to the good stuff. Good luck!

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  8. Perhaps one of the worse things a writer can do when they are experiencing a dry spell is fret over it. The more pressure we put on ourselves to produce something the more blocked we become. At some point we have to tell ourselves that it will eventually come back because it will. In the mean time, I sometimes find taking a bit of time to read the work of writers we know and admire sometimes helps set that spark afire. Other than that I really don't have any tips for ending a dry spell.As writers, as people, we are far too hard on ourselves. We need to be gentle and understanding and have faith that when the time is right we will write!

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  9. Given the number of blogs I've written this month, I consider that my warm up to going back to fiction. Stephen King was right. And isn't he the guy who finishes an 800 page epic and then immediately the day after moves on to the next idea?? That is what has made him so successful too. I tend to get caught up in continuing to live the recently completed idea as I am still unwilling to let go for months on end and that is what lands me in a dry spell. I am a believer that you have to write what is screaming in your ear the loudest. My BIGGEST fear is starting to write the idea that is screaming the loudest and discovering quickly that it really isn't a viable idea and having to abandon it and having nothing left but an empty well. I've had that happen in a few blog entries I've attempted to start....

    So Laura is right, fretting is the worst thing. I am a master at fretting and fear of the unknown. And it always turns out better than I imagine. I do the same thing with athletics (hence my recent near abandonment of Calgary race and my fear of switching to bike racing in the event that I keep coming in last.) Sometimes being an overacheiver can be crippling in itself.

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  10. @ Laura - boy, are you going to *hate* today's blog post! :D Thank you for your response and tips. They are very kind and all too right. I hope I pass through your little town someday, because I would love to meet you. Your comments are a warm hug.

    @ Kim - you will ALWAYS have another idea. If it turns out your great idea isn't so great, big deal. Another, better one will come along. As Anne Lamott says, give yourself permission to write a "shitty first draft" and you'll be surprised with how much your writing life will change. I've noticed a lot of parallels between athletics and writing as well! :)

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