First, thanks to Jennifer McFadden for being the inspiration for this post; this one is for her.
I wish I could sit my muse upon my shoulder at my pleasure and have her whisper inspiration in my ear, but I can’t; she’d be knocked senseless within minutes by reality. Sometimes I have to force her up and out of my soul, and I do that by writing whether I feel like it or not.
When I was young (and yes there was a day) and working through my first novel, which was a dreadful mess, I only wrote when I was inspired by my characters or by a plot-line that fascinated me. I never forced myself to sit down and write, nor did I try to keep up any kind of writing schedule. I was quite the bohemian.
And I was never published.
This time around, I took a different attitude and decided I would subject myself to same work ethic with my writing as I do with my job. I would write at specific times in the evening, no excuses, even if it meant that I did nothing more than switch three sentences and a comma.
Never underestimate the amount of self-discipline it takes to be a writer. It is enormous.
I’m glad I built that work ethic and made myself write even on days I didn’t have to, because two weeks ago, my agent sent me edits for my novel. One of those edits included a recommendation for an additional chapter. I imposed a deadline on myself to have those edits back to her in two weeks.
I didn’t have time to wait for my muse to strike. At first, I had no inspiration for the new chapter; I didn’t see a way to write it without giving away plot points I wanted to hold back. However, I remembered my promise to work even when I didn’t feel like it, so I started writing.
I had to brainstorm with myself almost constantly. I put my characters into multiple situations and tried to foresee the possible outcomes. I can’t begin to tell you how many words were jettisoned into that mystical nowhereland by the delete key. However, with sustained effort, the chapter became clear. I’ll know how well that chapter stands when I get Weronika’s next round of edits. I’ve promised myself I’m not going to look at it again until she sends my novel back, so I will have some distance from it, but when it left my hands, I felt good about it.
Sometimes when I’m stuck or uninspired, I start writing for the sake of writing. I don’t worry about 1-3-1 for my chapter or who’s on first or how this plot may look 60,000 words down the line. I just write. I did that recently with Guillermo. I just completely tossed every writing rule in the gutter and started writing the scene the way I saw it unfolding in my mind. A few edits later, with those writing rules in mind, I managed to eke out a short, but lovely, first chapter for In the Garden of Forever. I’m not worried about the length of it for now. I know as I go deeper into the novel and Guillermo reveals more of himself, I’ll find more words for that first chapter.
By forcing myself to write, even when I don’t feel like it, I build on the self-discipline that I will need to get me through those deadlines when I must write. Nowadays I just remind myself that it’s no longer about me. When I signed on as Weronika’s client, I signed into a partnership, and her ability to work depends on my ability to meet deadlines.
That line of thought got me through the synopses. The synopsis for the second novel in my Katharoi series was easy–I already had a clear idea of how I wanted the plot to develop in Dolorosa. The third novel was a complete mystery. Well, not a complete mystery, I knew bad things were going to happen, but I just didn’t know in what order. One night, I sat staring at the computer, my mind an utter blank. I decided to give up and go to bed.
The next morning the solution came to me like an epiphany, and the synopsis was done in no time. Sometimes I need to retreat so I can see the way clearly. Every situation is different.
So what about you? What do you do when you’re uninspired? Do you force your way forward or do you retreat? What is your writing work ethic like? Whatever you do, check out Kat’s hilarious post on How a Writer Avoids Working on a Deadline.