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Things That Make Me Want to Write

I don't know how it is for the rest of the country, but up here everything has shut down since Thursday. At least my workplace has. The school is essentially at the top of a mountain, and there are steep inclines that make driving dangerous if there's ice on the ground. The problem is exacerbated by official refusal to salt the roads. Around here, the health of squirrels and fish trumps the lives of humans.

So at noon Thursday, when the flurries kicked up, a mass email went out from administration saying, "Flee! Flee for your lives!" I slip-slided home and haven't set foot outside since—because if I tried, my foot would go through two feet of slushy ice. In Indiana this is normal, but in this state people see a few snowflakes and freak out like the sun turned black and the seas turned to blood.

What is a girl with grand aspirations of mass market publication to do when cooped in for an unexpected five-day weekend? Write, of course! At least, that's what I'd like to say. But sometimes, even when you have all the free time in the world, you just can't get into the groove.

Fortunately, I have a few self-motivational tricks up my sleeve when I don't feel like chipping away at my WIP.

1. Build a fire.

I am, when you get right down to it, a superficial person. I care about the decor and cleanliness of a restaurant more than I do the food, I choose which books to read by the art on their covers, and I rank the desirability of houses and cars by how cute they look. In my senior year of high school, I chose my university ostensibly because they have a good academic reputation and offered me scholarships, but it was really because the campus had a lot of trees.

My mood, and what I feel like doing, is strongly influenced by the atmosphere. So if I get a Duraflame log going in my charming little fireplace, and I sit at my authorial-looking desk from Staples with the cat curled up by my feet, next to a bookshelf full of writing/research books and under a whiteboard bearing a multicolored outline of Kagemusha, suddenly I feel like Richard Castle. It's a shame not to write when you're Richard Castle.

2. Read books on writing.

I never get very far into books on writing because, after a page or two, I start applying the concepts to my stories and I must go write them down before I forget.

Note, however, that there are two types of books on writing. Some are about writing, and the others are about being a writer. The ones about actual technique—plotting, style, etc.—are the ones that get the mental juices flowing. The ones about "being a writer" are as useful as reading someone's personal blog. Good for entertainment or commiserating, maybe, but not for working.

On Saturday I wasted a few hours reading a writing book published by the Writers Digest—so I thought it would be about, you know, writing—but it was all about the author's personal trials earning her MFA and finding her voice and dealing with years of rejections before landing an agent who still hasn't sold her mystery novel to a publisher. The only thing she inspired me to do is write that blog post yesterday about hobbyists vs. professionals, and why it doesn't matter one bit, because she spent a whole chapter worrying over it and trying to convince herself and her husband that writing is work because it's hard. Egads.

3. Read good books in general.

Reading good books reminds me how much I love the English language, strange and screwed up as it is. If I read a story that grabs me emotionally or utilizes brilliant techniques I've never seen (or noticed) before, I want to run down to my computer and work on my own novel(s). It's like when I was a kid and saw people playing musical instruments, making wonderful sounds come out of them, I'd clamor, "Me too! Me too! I want to try too!"

Unfortunately, if I accidentally read a bad book, the opposite happens. My thought train jumps off the tracks and heads straight for a cliff.

Great gravy, this is terrible. Somebody published this? Critics gave it positive reviews? You mean people like this drivel? Maybe I don't understand readers as well as I thought. Maybe nobody will want to read my books because they're nothing like this awful one. I hate people. I hate the marketplace. I hate the universe. I'm going to go eat cake and cry.

These thoughts are hardly productive. So if I need a pick-me-up, I have a stash of favorite authors I can go back to and restore my faith in literature and humanity.

3. Talk about my WIPs.

I'm the type to get carried away by an idea and pursue it doggedly until it's realized. If I'm at work, for example, and I have a project to finish, I will get in The Zone and forget to eat, drink, or blink for hours, working until long after dark to get it done. Once I forgot to go home before the campus gates closed and almost got locked in for the night. (Luckily, one was still open. Maybe someone saw that my car was still in the staff lot.)

The Zone is probably not a healthy place for me to be, but sometimes it's where I need to go. Sweetie has picked up that if he prods me to talk about my WIPs, it can get the obsession ball rolling. Sometimes, if I'm pestering him or complaining that I'm bored, he'll say, "So tell me about [Title Here]." And off I go.

4. Do something mindless.

If I'm doing something that requires minimal intellectual investment, like cooking, washing the dishes, or playing around on my balance ball (um, I mean "working out"), my mind will usually wander to stories. Often they're stories I'll never write—ones that are better suited for movies or comics than words, or ones that don't work and probably can't work but I try in my head anyway. But sometimes they're stories I'm writing, and the more I think about them the more I need to write them.

My treadmill time whips me up into a Kagemusha frenzy more than any other activity. Bopping along to bouncy music, imagining my wackiest scenes to a high-energy soundtrack, my brain starts thinking in words.

Like most people, I don't usually think in words. I think in pictures, physical sensations, emotions, and amorphous "ideas," and if I want to communicate, my thoughts need to get passed to the speech/writing part of my brain for processing. But during treadmill time, my brain articulates my thoughts before I've thought them. It's the same phenomenon as those rare miracles during drafting, when you're surprised by the words that appear on the page.

Often treadmill time ends with me hopping off long before my mileage goal and sitting down, sweaty and smelling like week-old dirty laundry, "just to jot a few things down." Then an hour later I realize I've written half a chapter, I'm shivering, and I'm in desperate need of a bath.

5. Research.

Sometimes I'm reluctant to write because I have to work on a certain scene, but I don't know if I can pull it off because I can't fully imagine it, and I don't even know where to start.

In these cases, I research.

I'd been dreading starting chapter 5 of Kagemusha until yesterday. I knew how it would start: my heroine, Rachel, wakes up. (Staggeringly original, I know.) Okay, where does Rachel wake up? What is the room like? What does she hear, feel, see?

Google to the rescue.

I looked up images of bedroom designs. Glamorous bedrooms, sleek modern bedrooms, goofy kids' bedrooms...Let's narrow it to "classy bedrooms." Chandeliers, artsy paintings...Hey, that bedroom with the ficus trees is awesome. But ficus trees are commonplace. Google "tall potted plants." Rubber plants, dragon trees...Bamboo! What if she had a completely "Zen" bedroom, with bamboo and orchids and an indoor fountain? She wakes up to the sound of the fountain, almost knocks the orchids off the end table, she's not comfortable with her new luxurious life....

And before you know it, I'm a quarter of a chapter in.

Some people think research "gets in the way" of writing, but it actually invigorates me with new ideas. People don't make stories up from thin air. We take ideas and experiences and shake them up, put them together, and spit out some original combination. So the more ideas you take in, the better the ones you spit out will be.


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