Day 7: Breaking the Flow

I may have taken too many days off from writing, as it was hard to get back into the flow today. My day was filled with the tasks of my real job, and when I showed up for class tonight I was tired, distracted, and unable to write in more than 5-10 minute blocks. Took longer than needed to get 1,500 words on the page. Now it’s late and I’m going to call it quits short of my goal. What I need to do is to have a scheduled time to write, rather than to use it as a filler block into the rest of my schedule.

Things I learned from school today:

Characters can sometimes deviate from your prescribed path. My Heroine is supposed to be an uptight list-making, take control kind of gal. But through the King method she’s turning into a shy, nurturing, cooks-too-much-when-she’s nervous kind of gal. I have no idea how she’s going to interact with the Hero now, and I guess he can’t figure it out either because when I left him he seemed pretty confused. Maybe he’ll figure it out by tomorrow after we’ve both had some sleep. Hope he can clue me in!

Stephen King’s Ascent

Over at the blog Study Hacks, Cal Newport has a post about Stephen King, and how he used deliberate practice to increase his skill as a writer.

Deliberate practice is the idea that talent alone doesn’t explain high achievement. In his article Why Talent is Overrated, CNN/Money writer Geoff Colvin explain it like this:

So if specific, inborn talent doesn’t explain high achievement, what does? Researchers have converged on an answer. It’s something they call “deliberate practice,” but watch out – it isn’t what most of us think of as practice, nor does it boil down to a simplistic practice-makes-perfect explanation.

It isn’t just hard work, either. Deliberate practice is a specific and unique kind of activity, neither work nor play. It’s characterized by several elements that together form a powerful whole. The greatest performers have consistently combined these elements, sometimes just by luck.

Read the whole article to find out more about what elements make up deliberate practice, and also check out Cal’s posts on the same to find out more.

I got a big kick out of seeing Cal posting about Stephen King, because after reading both of their work (including Cal’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You) I came up with the idea of the School of Writing experiment. It’s funny to see how it all connects.

The gift of books

I decided to start my morning with a short walk. My husband agreed to go with me around the block. As we turned the corner to the next street over, we discovered a neighbor was having a garage sale. We can’t pass up bargains, so of course we stopped. They had some great books for sale. I found a paperback copy of All the Pretty Horses, which is one of my favorites.

“How much for this?” I asked the lady of the house.

“Do you live in the neighborhood?” she said.

“Yes, we live right behind you,” I said.

“Well since you’re a neighbor, it’s free!”

What a completely charming thing to say to someone. I thanked her profusely and we left. And just two houses down we spotted another garage sale.

This house had a for sale sign on the front, and mother, daughter and friends were in charge of the merchandise. “I’ve lived here for 30 years,” I heard the mother tell another customer.

The mother was a fan of romance. She may have had all of Linda Lael Miller’s books.

“That’s a lot of books,” I said to the mother.

“There’s more over there,” she said, pointing to three or four boxes filled with romances.

I sifted through the boxes and found some of my favorite authors. Four titles by Mary Balogh, one from Suzanne Brockmann and another by Teresa Medeiros. Jackpot!

“I need these for research,” I told the daughter as she counted up my books. “I’m writing my first romance.”

“That’s wonderful. Are you looking into getting it published?” she asked.

“I’m just looking to start and finish,” I said. “That’s the only goal.”

She told me my six books would be a whopping dollar. I told her we’d be back with the money after our walk.

“She’s a writer!” I heard the mother call out to the daughter as we walked away.

I sent my husband to go pay the dollar, as I wanted to start the Brockmann book immediately. He returned five minutes later with yet another book.

“They said good luck with the writing,” he said, “then they looked around to give you one more book to inspire you. They went through three boxes to find just the right one. Here!” And he handed me No Sweeter Heaven by Katherine Kingsley.

I may have the best neighbors in the world. And thanks to them, I have plenty of books to inspire me as I take a break from writing.

For some final inspiration, here’s the prolific Linda Lael Miller on writing and rejection. “It’s like my dad used to tell me…They can’t beat you unless you quit.”

Day 6: Let’s get physical

I now have battle scars. Yesterday I decided to take a break from writing and joined my husband and daughter in the backyard for a friendly soccer scrimmage. I was fighting through a scene and remembered short bursts of physical exercise can make creativity flow.

Soccer was fun until my husband kicked me in the shins while we were fighting for the ball. As I hopped around on one foot I noticed that a blood vessel was starting to swell right under my knee. Drat.

I went inside and iced it down, and after the swelling went away I went back to the office and the abandoned scene.

But now instead of calmly walking up the stairs, the Hero accidentally kicks a concrete planter on his way up some stairs, leading to an injury that gets him closer to the the Heroine. It worked out perfectly.

So I can confirm the rumor is true: you can get your creative flow going by doing physical exercises. But you’ll also, possibly, get an purple egg-shaped bruise in the process.

Things I learned from school today:

It’s harder to write when you’re tired. I am exhausted from a week of work, so I came in to a 1,200 word count instead of the 2000. I need to remember that writing, like any physical activity, requires one to be well-fed and rested. I may just take the weekend off.

Day 5: Breakthrough

What a difference 24 hours can make. Yesterday I was sure that I wouldn’t be writing fluidly until day 24 out of the 30. Today, the characters took over, and one of them did something I never saw coming until I was writing it on the page. And at that moment I thought: I really am just transcribing a story that already exists! Amazing.

So today’s big exercise was pacing. Instead of moving at a fast pace to pound out the required number of words, I slowed down. I took time to see: what was really in the scene? To ask: what would Hero really say at this point? What would be his real reaction? Would that reaction be true and real? And somehow by the end of the word count, the characters were living in the moment and leading the way. Amazing. Hope this is repeatable.

Things I learned from school today:

Guideline 5: Close the door to the space isn’t always going to work for me. I am too extroverted to write alone with the door shut, especially if I’m having the characters interact with each other. I want to talk about what my characters are thinking and doing with someone else, and get immediate feedback. Often times when I get stuck,  the very act of saying something aloud to someone else fixes the problem. (I call this talk therapy.) It was nice to have my husband here to hear me out.

Constantly reading other books inspires and helps me. While I was writing today, ridiculous questions would pop up like: “what’s the best way to write about how this character gets up, checks his inbox, then walks across the room?” or “if she’s thinking to herself for three pages, do I need to write her name every now and then so the reader remembers who she is?” Picking up a published book and seeing how the pros handle these and other ridiculous questions really was a support and comfort.

Day 4: Bait and switch

Today was rough. Eked out 300 words, and then the well ran dry. This is what I’ve learned over the last four days: writing every day is work. Real work—like a JOB. The kind of work where it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel good, or you had a late night, or you’re not at your best. You’ve got a story finish, young lady, get back to work!

This is a surprise because writing is the fantasy I escaped to when my real job got to be too hectic or uncreative. I wish I were writing, I’d think dreamily. Think of all the fun I could be having just sitting in one place, and letting all my characters come to life on the page. 

I may have been confusing writing with reading. (Which by the way, I’m totally awesome at…is there a job where all I have to do is read? Don’t answer that. I don’t want that fantasy ruined, either.)

Okay: writing daily is a job. If I publish a story, I will expect to get paid for the work I did, right? All makes sense. So now that I’ve shaken the fantasy out of writing, the next step is to feel okay about feeling like the awkward new hire that doesn’t know how to run the copier. It’s going to take some time, and some days I’ll be better at it than others. Some days it will just be about learning the ropes, and that can be harder than anything!

Day 3: The Real Test

Today was a real test, as it’s the first day I’m balancing writing with my real life work. It would have gone better if I hadn’t felt a bit sick after I got home. I pounded out 2,000 more words, and this time I timed it. Took about 2 hours. Would have taken less if I weren’t so fuzzy headed. I really wanted to give up at 1,500 words, but giving up on Day 3 seemed a bit dramatic.

What I learned today:

Stick to it, and keep writing.