Wednesday, September 12, 2018

New Ruts in the Road


I realized something this summer.

Writing romance is a default setting for me.

What does this mean?

It means that it has become a habit. When I start writing, I easily slip into alternating hero POV/heroine POV, banter/dialogue, focusing on their relationship. Creating setting as texture. The writing flows easily. It's second nature, uncomplicated, effortless.

The writing has always been the easy part for me.

It's the thinking/planning that's tough.

Writing romance is painless. I've been doing it for twenty years, and so yes...it's easy. It's habit. It's my default setting.

I spent months and months working on my current WIP--which is NOT romance--and it became a hellacious struggle.

I couldn't figure out why. Writing the words is usually not such a challenge. But the structure for this book is different, the themes are more subtle. I have a lot more decisions to make. Those decisions were taken out of my hands when I wrote romance.

This summer when I attempted to work on a romance story...voilà! 4000 words popped right out without a sweat.

Forming a 20-year habit means that I have brain pathways that have become extremely ingrained. They are ruts in the road. 

It's tough to make a new path when ruts are already there.

It's also tough to figure out a new writing process when one is already in place.

I'm 52-years-old. I'm forcing myself to make new pathways. I'm forcing myself to find a new process. I'm working on a totally different type of fiction, and there is no default setting for this.

It's all new.

Some days I think about how easy it would be to just chuck this project and go back to romance.

Pop out that word count without batting an eyelash.

But this challenge is good for me as a writer. It's also good for my brain.

I am forcing myself to make new ruts in the road, bushwhacking a new path.

I can do it. But damn, it's hard.

Using this Stephen King quote as inspiration right now...


In the meantime, I did a little re-write for Henry Miller's Daily Program and 11 Commandments. I adjusted it for a mom with kids.

Here's my personal take on his approach...


Henry Miller Daily Program

Mornings: 

Henry Miller: If groggy, type notes and allocate. If in fine fettle, write.

Me: Get daughter up and drive her to bus stop.

Get organized for the day: make bed, clean kitchen, start laundry, etc.

Walk. Think about work-in-progress while walking. Make plans for next section. BRAIN-STORM! Walk Time = Brainstorm Time.

Write FRESH WORDS. Aim for 1-2 hours of fresh writing. (This is my best time of day for brain to work creatively).

Afternoon:

Henry Miller: Work on section at hand, no intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

What I like about HM's approach...I also like finishing one section at a time before I move on. I need that part settled and fairly well-edited before I can move on to the next section.

However, my brain is not always up for FRESH WORDS in the afternoon...

Me: Do low-brain-capacity errands/chores. Go to post office, pay bills, fold laundry, shop/prep/cook dinner.

For writing: Re-read morning section, do edits, take notes. Possibly work on alternate WIP if I need a creative bump.

MAKE PLAN FOR NEXT DAY WRITING. Think of next scene, section. Do edits/clean up writing. Take notes for next section.

Pick up daughter at bus stop.

Evenings:

Henry Miller: See friends, read, explore, bicycle. Write if you're in the mood. Paint, make notes, corrections.

His extra note: Make time to visit museums, bike rides, sketch, library once a week for research, CUT OUT MOVIES. (hee hee! I think movie-watching was his weakness)

What I like about this: I think it's CRUCIAL to have a life and do things that spur on creativity. Like seeing people, enjoying art/engaging in other creative outlets, travel, trying new things. YES TO ALL OF THIS!

Me: Evening is for family, down-time.

Have dinner, finish household chores. Read, walk again. Walk dog if she's willing. Socialize with friends. Sleep early if possible.


Henry Miller 11 Commandments

1. HM: Work on one thing at a time until it's finished.

Me: I've discovered that working on a secondary WIP in the afternoon is a good break/reinvigorates my creative well. 

2. HM: Don't start a new book.

Me: Agree. I am trying to focus on primary WIP, and back-up project only as needed.

3. HM: Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

Me: I LOVE EVERY BIT OF THIS ADVICE. THE BEST!

4. HM: Work on program, not according to mood. Stop at appointed time.

Me: Disagree with this. If you have a family, it's almost impossible. Be flexible. If family needs/health needs crop up, that's okay. If you're exhausted, the words aren't flowing, that's okay. Do other things. If the words are flowing, keep going.

5. HM: When you can't create, you can work.

Me: Excellent advice. Yes. You can still take notes, do research, work on promo, etc.

6. HM: Cement a little every day, rather than adding new fertilizers.

Me: I like this. Tighten up your manuscript/edit as you go along instead of adding tons of new raw words. I like this a lot because it means your manuscript is in fairly decent shape at the end instead of needing tons of edits/revisions.

7. HM: Keep human. See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Me: YES YES YES. Drink beer on weekends.

8. HM: Don't be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.

Me: This is so true for me. The magic happens with joyful writing not forced word count.

9. HM: Discard program when you feel like it, but go back the next day. 

Me: Good advice.

10. HM: Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Me: Slightly disagree. If you have creative inspiration for something, take notes and keep a file folder for later on.

11. HM: Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, come later.

Me: I don't completely agree with this. Sometimes you need these things to replenish the creative well and then the writing flows better. Trying to force words when they're not happening is like lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep when you have insomnia. Sometimes it's just not happening. That's okay. Do something else for a bit.


I would love to hear from all of you! What do you think about Henry Miller's advice? Is it important to stay a bit flexible?

Have any of you worked on establishing new brain pathways for your writing?

Let's chat!

xoxoxo

Nina/Penny


6 comments:

Tasha B. said...

I think some people need structure to work effectively and others work better with felixibiliy, but I definitely agree you need to make writing THE priority if you want to get any work done. Otherwise, your writing time will gradually dwindle away to a couple hours a week. And it’s not just “writing time”: you need time to think, and research, and plan, and revise, and hustle for publishing opportunities.

That typed, take it as a “do as I say and not as I do” because I haven’t been.

extraordinary ordinary whimsy said...

I get what you're saying. It's easy to fall into old habits.
We tend to autopilot in certain directions.
I commend you for challenging yourself.
I know you're going to do great.

Penelope said...

Tasha...All good points. I think "productivity" in a writing career includes actual writing time PLUS time for research, plotting, replenishing creative well, promo, etc. There's a lot going on, not just actual words.

Penelope said...

Thank you, Whimsy! xoxoxoxo

Julia Barrett said...

If I could just find an hour and get a good night's sleep! I think that's the key to writing. Hard is a good path to take. I understand what you're saying because I'm working on several hard books right now. I just have no time... And I'm so bloody tired!

Penelope said...

Julia, Yes! You need sleep! And you need to conserve some energy for yourself. Challenging ourselves creatively is good for our brains. ;)