Writing While On Fire
This photo is from my own, personal signed copy of Pwease Wuv Me! By Mitch O’Connell. This dude is one of my favorite pop artists and you can find more of his work here.
Usually, when you go out with your family to celebrate the first draft of a novel, things don’t end up in tears before your drinks show up.
But such is the world right now. I punch at a novel for about a month and a half, get 82,000 words or so down by getting up early and staying up late and hustling my ass off, and your modest yet sincere celebration is cut short by the world. We were still wearing masks (the only ones in our section, thank you very much!) and got the news that RGB had died and that the last, thinnest of the blue firewalls had vanished before our eyes.
As a progressive sort (apologies to our conservative countrymen, but that’s who I am) that feeling hit me in the guts and if you’re anything like me I’m sure you all know that feeling. First, it’s that toxic mix of anger and disbelief at the situation. Then, after a few minutes of that, the motivation to do anything dissipates. You can almost see the motivation for creative endeavors escape out your mouth in a cloud of vapor. It’s a heavy feeling, a numb feeling. It sucks and I hate it.
The last six months have been no fun for anyone and before moving forward on how to write in this mess (because I found a way!) I want to throw a few terrible stats at you.
-Treated cases of depression have tripled in the last six months. Just think, for a moment, what that means for untreated cases.
-The number of people who have ACTIVELY reported suicidal thoughts during the pandemic is somewhere near one in three Americans.
-The unemployment rate is worse than in “The Great Depression”.
-A record number of Americans feel our country is on “the wrong track”.
What I’m getting at here isn’t political. It’s that the last six months have beaten the living shit out of all of us and the manifestations of that beating are here, big and bold. Some folks take that pressure and use that as motivation, right? We all have that friend who left quarantine buff and with a new higher paying job. That ain’t me and I’m guessing that ain’t you. It’s almost nobody I know but if that is you…great! Read on, if you want, but this advice is not for you.
I’m talking to the person who asks themselves “what’s the point” more than twice a week. I’m talking to the person who knows that weight and feels their motivation leaving them. I’m talking to the person who may want to write a novel, specifically, but that idea feels further away than ever before.
Having cranked out a novel in about 8 weeks, the battle is as much motivation as it is work habits. With that long ass preamble out of the way, here’s what my writing routine, inside and outside of my head, has looked like that allowed me to write in the midst of…all of this.
-Cultivate a bunch of ideas. Physically write them down, even if you don’t know where the story is going to go.
-Start on something. Feel it out. It helps if what you’re writing has a strong beginning, mystery element you need to solve something you’re leading up to that you’re looking forward to writing.
-Give yourself a few weeks to get started. It’s literally the hardest part. Respect that, especially right now. Again, the ABSOLUTE HARDEST PART of what you’re doing is the beginning.
-Don’t set anything aside for more than a few days. Persistence is going to be absolutely key but, in the early stages, make sure 48 hours don’t go by when you’re not writing.
-Once you get to between 15,000 and 20,000 words, it’s time to get serious. Is this good enough to finish because. Be honest. Most authors have dozens of “first chapters” in their lap top. No shame in abandoning something and coming back to it much later.
-If the story is good enough, it’s time to map out your next few weeks. For me, I wrote 1,500 words a day, every day. I never missed. If it was 10 pm (my bedtime, usually) and I wasn’t done, than I stayed up and wrote. If I knew the day was jammed with other activities, I woke up early. If I was sick, I wrote sick. This isn’t a “I’ll make it up tomorrow” sort of arrangement with yourself. This is a commitment. Print out a calendar and write down your word counts. I guarantee you the best part of every day is when you get to cross out that word count goal.
-I have found, for me, the more you write the more momentum you build, both from a story standpoint and a motivation standpoint (remember me saying getting started is the hardest part). Ride that wave. Do a backflip on it. Start enjoying your numbers while not obsessing about them. Obviously, story and character are more important but we’re talking motivation here.
-This is a killer for me – Don’t edit unless you absolutely have to. I have a notebook by my iPad and everything I need to edit as the story builds, I write down in that book.
-Go out to dinner when you’re done. Don’t do it the day RGB dies. It’s a bummer.
I hope any of this was helpful. It worked for me but if it doesn’t work for you that doesn’t mean anything. I’m some asshole on the Internet. What does matter is that you know you’ve got novels (or paintings, or sculpture or whatever) inside you and you have the power, smarts and discipline to get them out and into the world. Your body and your brain are fighting you right now. They’re saying “no, we need to protect ourselves” which is true. But what’s also true is you’re a badass who can get this done. If I can, you can.
Good luck. Stay safe. Take care of yourself and go write something. The world needs it.