Friday, April 27, 2012

Sometimes Writers Shouldn't Read

Or: Six Ways To Jump Start Your Writing

Truth is, I haven't felt much like an author these last few weeks. The "prose" part of "Proser" had deserted me, turning me into a mere "poser."

Then I decided to take a week off from reading.

First of all, let me state that I agree wholeheartedly with Sheena's post about how writers need to read. But I've got to add my own two cents. Lately, on a typical day, this is me: I have a pile of health magazines that I thumb through in a pinch. I also have stacks of my favorite books that I pick up whenever I'm "between novels". Plus, when I'm in the car or working in the kitchen, I've got audio books to keep me company. All of that reading is in addition to all the real reading I do--I think I read about 2 books a week, give or take 5.

Add in my current Psych obsession, and I believe I'm forced spend approximately half an hour a day creating my own thoughts. Luckily I've got music to break up the tedium.

News flash! This is not a healthy lifestyle for the long haul.

It all came to a head last week when Sabrina published her personality post.  It turns out that my personality has a tendency to deteriorate into "frenetic escapism."

Wow. Who would have guessed?

I wasn't even sure what I was trying to escape from, but I knew those personality people had nailed it. In an effort to figure it out, I decided to ban all reading materials for a week. I'm also severely limiting my television time, though if I'm being honest, I haven't given it up completely.

About 24 hours in to my self-imposed ban, it was like a dam burst in my head (this sounds like a good thing to escape from, right?) I've been trying to name a magical group of people in one of my novels for years now, and suddenly I found the perfect word. I began the final edits on the novel I'm planning to publish this year. I wrote the first chapter of a novel I'm collaborating with some friends on. I went from writing nothing but my Proser post to having to drag my butt away from the computer because my fingers were getting blisters and my back was cramping up.

Truth be told, Obsession is my middle name. I am not a good multi-tasker. This morning, my seven year old told me that when I'm sitting at the computer, he can get me to say yes to anything. Excuse me? Were you even in the house while I was on the computer? Drat.

I wonder what I told him he could do.

Six Ways To Jump Start Your Writing:

1. Make a list! Two nights ago, this was my Facebook status:
Today, I started writing a new novel, cleaned out my garage, planted some hostas, chauffeured the kids to about 3 dozen places, protected J. from being loved to death by a Great Dane, cooked, cleaned, did laundry and went on a lovely walk...Somewhere upstairs, there's a bed with my name on it. Cross your fingers that I can make it.
That felt good. Until I wrote it all down, I had been feeling like a bit of a slacker. I was so focused on everything I didn't get done, that I couldn't see all my accomplishments. I imagine it would be even more helpful to write it all down in advance. I hear there is something quite soothing about checking things off a list.

2. Block out some time. Turn off all your distractions. Put your books in a safe that opens on a timer. Treat this time like gold.

3. But don't block out too much time. Except in November, when all bets are off, you aren't just an author. No matter who you are, you juggle many plates. Balance is the key to keeping them all up in the air. When you've figured it all out, let me know how you did it. I'll let you be a guest poster on The Prosers.

Remember, family is the most important thing. Of course, parents out there, remember that when your children are seeing you happy and productive, you are being a great role model. BALANCE, my friends. It's all about balance.

4. So far, everything I've written has been stuff I've always known was great advice but can't do to save my life. However, I'm pretty good at this one:

Keep your mind open to new opportunities and experiences, especially when you are feeling burned out. Don't be afraid to try new things!

5. Make sure you spend the majority of the time thinking your own thoughts. It may sound drastic, but cutting out books for a week worked for me. Or television...You know what your poison is.

6. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Deadlines rock. I'm not certain I would even get out of bed in the morning if I didn't give myself a deadline. Use them! Abuse them even. Make crazy, life changing deadlines like, "I'm going to finish all the rewrites to this novel by Friday at noon!"

Important warning: Deadlines works best when you are looking at your To Do list (rule 1) and your calendar (rule 2) when you make them. That way, you don't promise yourself that you'll finish the rewrites to the novel by Friday at noon, the first chapter of your new collaborative novel by Wednesday at 10, your regular blog post by Friday morning, create your new book review blog (complete with book to review!) by Saturday at 3. All without changing the usual flow of your daily life. Not that anyone would be crazy enough to try such a thing... 

**Don't forget to go to Melanie's First Annual Name My Book contest to submit your ideas or even just to register for the chance to win! The deadline is June 15.**


  1. That's it, you've inspired me to do a little spring cleaning in my schedule. Somehow the two hours after putting the kids to bed has become "movie time" and I should probably use this time to write. My nights really got away from me this month.

    I'm also setting a deadline, which I usually avoid. I know they work, they're just so hard to stick to. Actually, that's probably why they work. They force you to stay on track.

    Great advice Melanie. Thank you! I think May will be a more productive month for me now.

  2. I love #55. Make sure you spend the majority of the time thinking your own thoughts.

    So true! I don't do that, but when I (rarely) do, that's the days the word count explodes.

    I need more balance.

  3. Great post!!

    I think this is a good reminder of how we need balance in all things. Yes it is good to read, but you also need time to write and to think about writing. I think I need a deadline. In my college days, I always worked best under pressure. :)

  4. I've noticed that too, how consuming someone else's creativity somehow dries up your own (at least for a time). I take in my share of course, and you do need some as you said. I find manual labor is a good way to clean out someone else's creativity while getting my own flowing. I do my best creating when my body is automating (driving, pushing a mower, etc . . . ).

    My poison is facebook though. I've made it a rule that I can't get on (outside of business needs) without 1,000 words written. I've even kept it once.

  5. Isn't it odd how differently peoples' minds work? I'm almost the complete opposite - I get way too trapped in my own thoughts. They go around in circles and if I don't get out of them, I can get depressed and unmotivated. However, I can definitely get into too much escapism too!

    Excellent post - thanks for sharing. And I'm glad the ennegram is of use to you. It's given me some really great tips.

  6. This really hits home. I have felt for some time now that I am more of a 'consumer' than a 'producer' in many areas of my life. And too much consuming of books and media tends to just be a way for me to escape from what my real goals are. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I can vouch for usefulness of deadlines. Mine was going to Eurocon last week and had to finish, edit and publish my novella online so that I could print the book cards and have them with me when I go. I did all that in one week and boy did it feel good to have a deadline once again.

  8. Thanks for your comments everyone! By the lateness of my reply, it is probably apparent that my book-free week is over. I might have to start another one...


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