Spin Me Round: Finding–And Losing–Your Writing Groove

Like a record, baby, right round.

A strange thing happened the other day while I was busy ruining a person’s life.*

I’d settled into the morning writing slot with barely a ripple, pausing only to answer the door—package delivery; guess who ordered more damn notebooks—and refill my coffee. As I cruised toward noon, word count goal long since vanished into the rearview mirror, I realized something:

I’d hit my groove.

There is a time in a manuscript’s creation where it suddenly gets easier. No more fighting the plot or the characters. They know what they have to do, and all you have to do is chronicle the steps they take to get there. Like the needle finding the mark on some quality vinyl, the groove awaits, and once there the words shall flow and so will the time. I’ve forgotten lunch once already this week, and only noticed when I ran out of the little mints I keep on my desk. I was hungry, but, damn, my breath was fresh. And there was a new chapter finished and the next one started, like magic.

Here’s one thing about the groove: it doesn’t happen by accident.

This groove occurred because I have been planting my ass in front of this laptop every morning without fail. I wrangled characters, agonized over decisions, and generally slogged my way through the muddy, thorn-filled early paths, forcing my way on with the brain equivalent of a machete and a grimace. I fought. I persevered. I was generally too bloody-minded and contrary to quit.

And now, as a result of all that, I know who the characters are. Therefore, I know what they would do when faced with a given situation. And what the other characters will do with the inevitable fallout of that character’s decision. The tune is all there; all I have to do is sing along.

This will not last. There will come a time when I will slip out of the groove with an angry-cat-scratch, when I’ll lose the feel, when it will all suddenly be hard. Again. I know this will happen, because it has happened before. Many times. As many times as I’ve had writing projects, as a matter of fact, because any time something takes longer than an hour to complete, it has the potential for grooves and therefore the potential for slipping out of them. So I know it will happen. Probably not today; today’s been good already. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a month from now.

So I’m writing this blog post to remind myself of this groove, and how it was created. And to leave a plan for my future self: here. This is how you get back. This is where the good shit lies.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the groove beckons.

*An imaginary person. I rarely ruin real people’s lives, except possibly by accident.

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Monday Challenge: No One Rides For Free

You can get a lift, but it’ll cost you.

Let’s talk about compromises.

Your characters, if they do anything interesting at all*, will sooner or later have to make deals with other characters. And those other characters will want things in return. Things that your character might not want to give. But, if an agreement is to be reached, they will. Or they won’t, and there’s no deal.

This is about cost. As the old saying goes, ass, gas, or grass: no one rides for free.

It’s especially true in fiction. If conflict is the essence of story, then why make things easy for your protagonist? Don’t give them a free ride. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, anyone who gets things too easily is either boring or hated. Either way, not protagonist material.

What is your character willing to pay in order to get something? What kind of deal will they make? And with whom? Are they sure they can trust that person? And, if they’re not, then why are they making the deal?

Monday Challenge, kiddies: Write someone making a deal at great personal cost. What kind of deal, what kind of cost? Hey, that’s your call. You expect me to do everything around here?

Now, go write.

*And if they don’t, then, seriously, why are you writing about them?

Monday Challenge: Wrong Tool For The Job

WHIRRRRRRRR

Some mornings, the inspiration is thin on the ground. Sometimes it’s just one of those things. Other times, you might have missed all three of the cups of coffee you normally would have had by now and you’re pretty sure that some indispensable part of you brain is now misfiring.

….Guess which one today is.

But writing cannot depend on external stimuli, not even that which comes from the sweet, sweet black death I call coffee. So, despite the dangerously low caffeine levels, I must still get ‘er done today.

Doesn’t mean I can’t cheat outsource it get creative, though.

Remember my post last week about getting with other creative people? Aside from helping you solve those knotty plot problems, they can also be a target of whiny morning texts when you can’t think of anything to write about.

Remember, my little word-goblins: when things just aren’t coming, there’s no harm in calling in a little outside help.

Today’s Monday Challenge is brought to you courtesy of Krys C Wanders, who had the misfortune to still be awake when I started texting her for ideas this morning.

Somewhere between the meme pictures, slashfic suggestions, and gay sex allusions, she came up with this:

Monday Challenge: write a character using something in a way it’s not meant to be used.*

This can be successful or not. For everyone MacGyver-ing themselves an armoured car out of a riding lawnmower and a bucket, there’s someone hammering in a nail with a live mortar shell. For the chick using a guitar as a blunt instrument**, there’s some dude using a cat as a toupee.

Give me your screw ups and your amazing feats of ingenuity. Possibly performed by the same person.

I’m going to try to use this green tea like coffee.

*Come to think of it, this could be slashfic as well.

**Instrument. Get it? Eh?

Brains Riding Shotgun: Problem Solving With Other Writers

Ride together, dress as gnomes together.

Sometimes, while motoring along the story highway in your mental equivalent of a post-apocalyptic pickup truck, you run up against roadblocks. Problems that seem to have no solution. They yawn in the road ahead, impossible to pass.

You can quit, of course. A lot of people do, forever consigning themselves to the role of ‘non-finisher’ in the great story marathon. But you don’t want to do that, do you? No, I didn’t think so.

So, instead of quitting, this is when you call in the cavalry.

If you have friends that are also writers, they might be able to help. Non-writers can help, too, if they’re willing. But you’ve got to be willing to let someone else see into the guts of your broken story. And then willing to listen to their advice.

Getting someone else in on your story problems* will make them easier to solve. Why? I’m glad you asked.

1. Eyes On The Road. You’ve probably run over the same ground a thousand times looking for a solution. You’ve left tire treads three inches deep all along that road, even though you know where it leads.

Get someone else riding shotgun, and they might just be able to point out that side lane you, focused on your destination, missed. And that might just be the route you need to take.

2. Twice The Horsepower. You know what makes you more creative? Hanging around with other creative people.

It’s true. If you buy into the theory that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, then spending time with other people with universes in their heads will make you more creative. And nothing solves problems better than the rapid fire bounce of ideas back and forth. Krys C and I have come up with some serious bits of plot spackle that way, either in real life or via text message.

Just, for the love of god, save the text messages.

3. Dangerous Curves Ahead. Sometimes you’ve got to eliminate the impossible to find out what’s possible. If your buddy is suggesting solutions that just aren’t working, think about why. Is there an earlier flaw that needs to be addressed? An area of worldbuilding that could use more work? Or are you just being a contrary piece of shit and vetoing perfectly good ideas out of ego?

Sometimes you’ve just got to drive the wrong way for a while before you figure out where you want to go.

4. Crossing State Lines. That other person you just called in, they have something you don’t: distance. They don’t have the same overwrought emotional state over the whole thing that you do. So when they say that something doesn’t work or that a character is useless, it’s worth listening.

Sometimes we get so caught up in characters that we love or bits that are just so fucking clever that we can’t see how they’re damaging everything around them. You don’t always have to cut those things; sometimes you just need to shore up the other stuff so that the side character or the clever phrasing doesn’t knock over everything around it like a giant storming the citadel. But those weaknesses will be obvious to another person the way they will never be to you.

So find a partner and ride together. You might find that the journey goes just that little bit smoother.

*Actually, I’d argue that getting someone you trust in on things helps with the vast majority of problems, story or otherwise.

 

Shake It, Baby: Breaking The Routine

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

 

Routines can be great. They give a structure to what is essentially a structureless thing and make sure that you’re not just dicking around on the internet, looking at cat memes and whatever argument is brewing on Twitter today. But watch out for the moment when the routine–as embodied in your schedule, your word count spreadsheet, your plan–becomes more important than the actual thing you’re trying to create.

I don’t think this is just limited to creativity, either. When I started running, I had a routine: five days a week. No excuses. On one hand, that worked out fantastically: I was far less likely to flake on a run in favour of a new video game than I would have been if I’d just said, “eh, I’ll just run whenever I feel like it.” And I ran more, which built skill and endurance faster. But, after a while, the schedule took precedence over other things. Like injury. I kept running with burgeoning plantar fasciitis for a lot longer than I should have, because, in my head, meeting the plan was far, far more fucking important than the pain. I’m lucky I smartened up eventually, or I could have done a lot more damage than I did. As it is, I have a little twinge in my left foot to this day. Which conveniently serves as a reminder not to be so fucking stupid. Not saying I always listen, but…

Writing is the same: having a plan is a great idea, but it should serve you, not the other way around. And sometimes the best way it can serve you is by fucking off altogether.

Getting away from my daily stuff–the word counts, the research goals, the deadlines–cut something loose inside my head and helped me solve plot problems I’ve been working on for months. Part of it was because I was hanging around another, very creative person that I could bounce ideas off. But I think a lot of it was just the change. The routine ceased to matter at all, and the ideas flowed.

Now that I’ve returned home, I have gotten back into a routine. But it’s a different one. The time away also allowed me to reassess my day, see where it was helping and where it was holding me back. And I can put those ideas into practice, make something out of them.

So, if you’re a planner, inject a little chaos into your life. Your creativity will thank you. And the routine will still be there when you get back, ready to put all that new madness to good use.

The Only Two Tools Writers Need

Time to get rid of that special software that promises to write your novel for you.

Let’s talk about writing tools.

There are eleventy billion products out there that will attempt to convince you that you need them to write. Software. Notebooks. Workshops and courses. Special pens that make coffee and are also vibrators.* Some of these things might help some people. But, aside from things to write with and on, there are only two tools you really need when it comes to writing, and both of them are mental.

Are you ready?

Your two tools are: the magic wand and the sledgehammer.

The magic wand** is your creativity and wonder. It has a sign that says Ideas come from right fucking here, asshole.*** This is the thing that shows you all those possibilities. Everything you can possibly create comes from here.

But the magic wand, for all its power, is useless on its own. It’s fun, sure. It always keeps you entertained. But it’s incapable of making anything.

For that you need the sledgehammer.

The sledgehammer doesn’t give a shit about magic. It’s about results. It takes the ideas and makes something out of them. Stories, mostly. Every time you sit down to grind out the word count, that’s the sledgehammer at work.

And, like the magic wand, it is also useless on its own. With no magic, your writing will lack life. Ever read a story that felt like a DVR programming manual? That’s a sledgehammer with no magic wand. The story gets finished, but you’re left wondering why you bothered in the first place.

Here’s another way to break it down:

Magic Wand: Holy shit, check out this dinosaur ninja I just thought up, it has lasers and claws and is also a princess, oh my god, hahahahahah

Sledgehammer: Turn on the computer. Let’s figure out how to make this work. Oh, and you’ve got 1000 words to go today.

Of course, they don’t always work this well together. Sometimes the magic wand gives you samurai unicorns and the sledgehammer thinks that’s stupid. And sometimes the sledgehammer builds something that the magic wand thinks is booooooorrrrrring. They fight. They work at cross purposes. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever get it together. But, like the odd pairing in every buddy cop movie, if you keep throwing them into ridiculous situations, they eventually figure out that they work better together.

So strengthen both. Absorb the weirdness that the magic wand runs on. Hone your practical skills so the sledgehammer is easier to lift. With those two in your toolbox, you’ll be amazed at what you make.

*Could someone invent this real quick?

**Bonus fact: The Husband used to have a magic wand at his place of work, for customers who demanded the impossible. When new regulations required that everything be labelled, he even labelled it ‘magic wand’.

***Magic does not equal nice.

Skinny Dipping In The Fountain Of Weird: How To Get More Ideas

Sweet, sweet weaponized death.

I get a lot of questions about the way I think. Not all of them the good kind, either; about half those queries are phrased “What’s wrong with you?” That’s because, if you spend any significant amount of time with me, either in real life or online, you’ll eventually be exposed to the Fountain of Weird. This is what I call the part of my brain dedicated entirely to Weird Shit: dinosaurs with tanks for heads, six-limbed cat-people, a five-dimensional intelligent ebola virus, Soviet Russian weaponized cupcakes that eat you. Everyone who reads this blog? You’ve already been exposed. I hope your shots are up to date.

The questions, though—or at least those ones that don’t cast doubt on my sanity—are mostly about the process. How do I think of stuff? Why is it so easy? Why the hell would you say that out loud?

The reason I think of this stuff is because I’ve trained my brain to say yes.

It’s easy to dismiss things as childish or silly or ridiculous or wrong. It’s especially easy when those things don’t actually exist. But by taking the time to consider them, no matter how fucking weird they are, you open the doors to creativity. You’re allowing your mind to play. And that’s where the good stuff comes from.

If you’re always saying no, then sooner or later your brain will stop presenting you with the strange and wonderful and often downright disturbing stuff that it comes up with. It won’t do work that’s not rewarded.

This is why so many writers say that coming up with new ideas is never a problem. They’ve trained themselves to think this way. To say hell, yes to the sentient muffin bakery with the side-mounted cannon* that just crawled out of the dark recesses of their mind. Because what looks silly at first glance might have a great idea hidden inside.

And if not, you just spent five minutes imagining a sentient bakery firing muffins through windows**. How is that not awesome?

So, teach yourself to say hell, yes before no. Teach yourself to consider before you reject stuff outright as stupid or wrong or, my personal favourite, ‘a waste of time’. Give that weird thing some time, even if it’s only a minute or two.

Because the weird things, my little badgers, are the best things.

*”DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN MAN NOW, MOTHER FUCKER?”

**I’m officially stuck on weaponized baked goods today.