They say a picture can speak a thousand words. For writers, they do more than speak. They motivate, inspire, and most of all, help us bring our story to life. The colors. The emotions. The beauty…All of it adds up to a delectable candy store for a writer’s imagination to gorge upon.
As I work on my short ghost story, or Fallers, or whichever project I’m currently focusing on (one at a time, right? 😉 ), I always put photos of my characters in front of me. That way I can see them as I’m writing them. I can study their smile, their frown, their pain, their hopes, their dreams! It’s all right there,staring back at me. Motivating me. Pushing me. Urging me to dig deeper, understand them better.
I even use book-inspired photos as my computer’s wallpaper. That way I’m constantly reminded about my story even if I’m not sitting there working on it. They keep me in the zone–in my characters’ minds–inside their world. All the time. They’re like oil for my creative cogs, helping me power up the writing machine when it’s time to run.
Better yet, having these photos set as my wallpaper is like having a strict proctor tapping their foot in disapproval whenever I’m slacking off. It’s like the pictures are lecturing me, “Okay missy, that’s enough Project Runway on Hulu. Get back to work!” (Seriously guys, I’m so addicted to that show right now!)
Over the past couple of years, I’ve collected over 1,500 images on my “Book Inspiration” boards on Pinterest. And I’m constantly adding more. Whenever I start a new project or I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll trek over to this picture-licious site and scroll through my vast inventory. And I always find something to use to get the creative juices flowing.
(SideNote: If you’re inspired by images like me, then USE Pinterest! It’s an awesome resource. Plus, it helps keep all of your pictures organized.).
Many times I won’t even be looking for a picture to inspire me, but I’ll stumble upon one that sets off a plot firework inside my brain. And, before I know it, I have a concept for a new story or character.
So how about you? Do you like using pictures to inspire your writing? Do you pin your protagonist’s “face” right in front of you while you write so you can understand them better? What are some of your other forms of inspiration? Music is another big one for me, but that’s a post for another day 😉 .
A couple of years ago, I met up with a friend for coffee to discuss our latest writing projects. This was the gist of our conversation:
Me: “I’m still plugging away on my manuscript. I’m about halfway done and hoping to finish in the next month or so. How about you?”
Friend: “Oh, I’ve got a handful of projects in the works.”
Me: “A handful?”
Friend: “Yeah, I always have a few. I tend to get bored after about 30 minutes and need to switch gears.”
Yeah, I didn’t get his response. Honestly, I still don’t. How can writers work on multiple projects at once? How? To leap out of one world and into another? To burrow into the mind of one protagonist and then dig back out and burrow into a completely different one? To carefully thread one plot and then yank the needle out and start threading another?
How, how how?
I. Don’t. Get. It.
But, maybe you do? Maybe you’re like my friend and you enjoy hopping around from one writing project to the next? If so, then kudos to you. Seriously. I’m in awe of your ability to creatively multi-task, because I just can’t. And, believe me, I’ve tried. In the past few months, I’ve juggled various writing contests, NaNoWriMo, and two children’s books (my nephew’s annual Christmas gifts). And although I’ve successfully completed all of them, I can’t say I’m completely satisfied with them. I feel like each one was written with a touch of A.D.D. I’d find myself sitting at my computer typing away when suddenly my mind would drift off to “that one character from that other story” or “that thing that happened in that scene from that other story”…
Creative multi-tasking…I just can’t do it. I just don’t like it. I suppose in a way I feel like I’m cheating on my characters when I jump from project to project. I can hear each of their indignant voices yelling, “Hey! Where are you going? You’re supposed to be focusing on me!” But how can I when another character from another story is shouting at me to focus on them instead? It’s like I’m standing in a crowded room and everyone is waving at me. And I just don’t know where to look anymore.
“Me, me, me!”
It’s finally gotten to the point where I need to step back, take a breath and return to my creative roots: One project at a time. ONE! So, that means my plan for the next month is to write a short ghost story for an open call submission.
I’m not allowed to think about any other project, not even my unfinished NaNoWriMo manuscript, Fallers–which is by far the loudest and most demanding voice amongst all my projects. But I have to ignore its beckoning calls and waving hands. I have to! Because technically–technically–there’s no deadline for Fallers. There is, however, one for this ghost story (early January). So, obviously, that needs my attention first and foremost. And attention it will get, starting this week!
How about the rest of you? Are you able to handle multiple projects at once? Or are you like me and need to focus on one project at a time?
In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never taken on the mighty writing challenge of NaNoWriMo. But I have dealt with writing deadlines. Some of those deadlines have been enforced by other people (agents, producers, PR reps, etc.), while others have been self-enforced–or rather, self-inflicted. Case and point:
Last spring an agent requested my full manuscript. She ended up passing, but she liked it enough to recommended it to two other agents. So, I eagerly sent them my query letter. Less than ten minutes after I pushed the send button I realized I’d made a fatal mistake. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t like the first half of my book. In fact, I hated it. And I was petrified the two agents I’d just sent my query letters to would hate it as well. So–in a hyperventilating panic–I began chopping and revising my manuscript, all the while watching my inbox, certain one of those agents was going to ruin everything by requesting my now torn up material (such a major faux pas, I know, I know). Even so, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Faster and faster and faster…
Two months later, I had a completely updated book (100,000 words worth).
And zero requests. Zero!
Neither of those two agents ever contacted me. Go figure.
These disappointing and exhausting experiences of mine have taught me some important lessons about writing projects that are herded by deadlines. And I’d like to share some of those lessons with you. Hopefully they can help you during your tumultuous NaNoWriMo journey. (Or whatever deadline-driven trek you might be on.)
Chop out all distractions
I know this sounds obvious, but it’s the most important part of the process. And it’s the hardest. Distractions are addicting (ahem, Candy Crush). Furthermore, most distractions are fun and bring us joy, so why would we want to chop them out of our lives? I don’t know how many times I’ve had to turn down going to the movies with a friend, or shopping with my sister, or visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum with my beloved nephews (trust me, if you saw their “WHOA!” expressions, you’d understand). And all because I needed to stay home and work on my manuscript instead.
And on that note…
Accept your loner status
We’ve all heard writing is a lonely job. And it is. Even if you’re writing in a coffee shop, a library or a park, you’re separated from the rest of the world. It’s like an invisible barrier is erected between you and those around you, including your friends and family. The only people to keep you company are the characters in your head (and, let’s face it, those guys can get a little crazy sometimes ;-)). Personally, I think this is why a lot of writers get distracted so easily. We have an innate need to return to planet earth–to reconnect with our fellow humans–to remind ourselves we live here, and not in the fictitious other world we’ve created.
Unfortunately, when writing on a deadline, you don’t have the luxury of time to constantly re-root yourself in reality. If you want to make it to the finish line on time, then you gotta stick it out in that lonely other world with those real-but-not-real characters. And you must be able to cope with feeling disconnected, because you will.
My advice? During your darkest, loneliest moments, firmly remind yourself you’re not alone. Remind yourself that there are thousands of other writers cut off from the rest of humanity with you. I promise you won’t feel so alone anymore.
Commit at least ONE FULL day/week to writing
Nearly everyone in my life knows Saturday is “Don’t Talk to Jenna Day”. Saturdays are my think tank’s refueling station–the precious oil to my creative cogs. Saturday is THE day I write. From sun up to sun down I sit in front of my computer, writing and writing, until my eyes can’t stay open and my fingers start to cramp.
It’s intense, and it’s not always fun, but it’s vital to my production output. And not just because I get a ton done in one day, but because I get pumped up to do even more the following days. By dedicating a full day to writing, I find it a lot harder to turn off my imagination the rest of the week. No matter how tired I am, or how busy I get, I will find the energy and time to sit down and pour my thoughts onto paper. They’re just too warm and alive to coldly bury in my subconscious until the next weekend.
There’s no crying in writing
Okay, okay. There’s lots of crying in writing. And trust me, when you’re writing with a deadline in mind, you’ll probably cry even more. Mostly from exhaustion. And also the occasional–or not so occasional–bout of angry frustration. But you know what? You gotta suck it up and push through the emotional breakdowns. Just go grab a piece of chocolate, watch an episode of 30 Rock, and maybe listen to Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believin'” a few times. Then get back to work. Go. Do. It. Now!
…Okay, that was my version of a tough love pep talk. Did it help? No? Whatever, go eat some more chocolate. GO!
Don’t be Miss Congeniality
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time saying no to people. Need a babysitter tonight? Sure, I’m there. Need a hundred cupcakes for that party next week? Of course, I’ll make them. Need someone to proof that business proposal? No problem, I’m happy to help. However, when it comes to writing on a deadline, I must stifle the urge to be Miss Congeniality and focus on doing what’s best for ME. I know, it sounds horrible. But when you’re on a deadline, you have to lace up the ol’ selfish boots and keep them on until the job is done. You have to constantly repeat to yourself, “Me. Me. Me…”, while telling others, “No, no, no…”.
Again, horrible, I know. But, unfortunately, necessary.
To lessen my guilt about this, I always give my acquaintances, friends and family a heads up: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to be crazy busy with writing the next month (or two), so I won’t be as accessible as usual. Sorry, sorry, sorry. See you on the flip side!”
Get it? Got it? Good!
Even when you’re not chugging, keep chugging
Okay, so maybe you can’t be a complete self-serving hermit during NaNoWriMo. There’s work, the gym, the kids, hundreds of errands, special events…No matter how hard you try to avoid or hide from life’s daily necessities, you can’t. The refrigerator isn’t going to restock itself. The bills aren’t going to be paid by the mythical money tree. The wedding of your best friend isn’t going to happen again (well, hopefully). But, don’t panic. It’s okay! You can keep chugging along on your project even when you’re not sitting at a computer or hovering over a notebook.
Example: Every day during my hour plus commute to and from work, I listen to a playlist I made for my book. As I listen to the inspiring songs I’ve collected, I strategize my next scene, or create a new character, or discover a plot hole. This way when I finally do get to a computer, I’m already primed and ready to translate everything I’ve “written” in the car.
Even so, I highly recommend keeping a small notepad on you at all times. That way if you come up with an idea and you’re terrified you’re going to forget it, you can quickly jot it down (because, as fun as scribbling on your hand or a paper napkin can be, chances are those won’t make it home–you know, because you accidentally wash your hands, or someone uses your inscribed napkin to wipe the pizza grease off their face!).
Just keep swimming…
This is the most important lesson of all: Just keep swimming. Just keep trying. Just keep writing! Swim, swim, swim. Try, try, try. Write, write, write!
Writing a book on a deadline is like running a marathon–exhausting, difficult and seemingly endless. But it will come to an end. Trust me. Just remember to keep your eye on the finish line and you’ll get there. Breathe. Focus. And push through the pain! You can do it!
Good luck everyone!
If you want to add me as a buddy on the NaNoWriMo website, you can find me under the name jenspenden.