Monday, September 24, 2012

Read This Post if You Want to Live.


I'm about to share with you my Number One Writing Secret.

Imagine this're nodding off to sleep for the night, or you're jamming out to some Colbie Caillet, or you're in the shower, when you hear the rustling sound of fairy wings that is a brand new idea.

You're intrigued. You starts asking questions, and the Next Great American Novel idea has magically opened up behind your eyes.

You with me?

Okay now, stop here.

This path is beautiful,
but watch out...
the gate's locked.
From here on, you're about to take one of two paths. One of them is a trick that will make your writing better, but first here's the, perhaps, familiar path.

You follow the idea around for a bit. You explore, ask questions, and patches of prose, or scenes, briefly touch your mind. It's delicious. This is brilliant, you think.

The fairy tells you the last of her story, and zips away, and you're left with a smile on your face.

 Then life happens. You drop the kids off at school, you buy milk or broccoli, you break up fights, or finish an assignment for work.

Finally, you put the kids in front of something mind-numbing, or your roommate goes to bed, and you can finally open up Word...

...and nothing happens.

Okay, you think. There was this idea, and it was so cool, and oh yeah...(you write a sentence recited from memory), but... that's not exactly it. Darn this writer's block. You shut off Word, check Facebook, or Hatrack, and then go watch netflix.

And the idea is gone. You've lost it.

Okay, now, rewind with me on the path, back to the moment I said stop.

You're in the car, (or the shower, or on your pillow with your eyes closed) and you hear the rustling of fairy wings. You open your mind for a second, and ask enough questions to see if the idea has magic in it, or if it's actually a moth disguised as a fairy. I hate those.

If it's magic...trap it. Wrap it up in a ball, and put it in your pocket. Then, turn on Beyonce as loud as you can, and force yourself to STOP asking questions. Do not explore the idea yet. Put your metaphysical fingers in your ears, and say, "La la la la la! I'm not listening"

Let life happen. Drop off the kids at school, buy your milk, chat with your coworkers. This magical fairy of an idea will stay with you, and pop her head in at the oddest hours....because you are a writer, and fairies like writers. Do not let her out. Keep her trapped, and ignore her the best you can.

As soon as you are able, open up Word and let the girl go. Ask her questions, and she'll tell you her answers. Your fingers will fly over the keyboard, and will catch snatches of prose, moments of magic, locations, characters,  and pain.

Then the fairy will tell you the last of her story. She'll leave you with a smile on your face and enough fairy dust left on the screen that you can go flying again whenever you want.

Last week, MaryAnn wrote about how sometimes life gets in the way of writing in this beautiful post.  I've thought about that post all week, and I think I've come to a conclusion.

I think she got it backwards. I think the problem comes not when life gets in the way of writing, I think the problem comes when we let writing get in the way of our life. Life comes first. Life is the meal, writing is dessert.

Real life, our children, or responsibilities at work, smiling at our neighbor, talking to the kids as they're buckled in, taking care of yourself so you get enough sleep, or exercise, or keep clean - these things are more important than writing time. I'm not saying writing is not important. It is. But life happens in life.

Writing should always happen at your desk.

But I'm world building, you say. But this is just brainstorming...


Brainstorming only really happens with a pen. Writing, without a pen,( or a desk), is just daydreaming. It's creating ideas that you are going to lose. It's wasting your time, and your magic.

So... my number one writing tip is this. Stop daydreaming, and start writing.

What I'm reading now, Stephen King, On Writing
What I'm writing now, FTCM, Fourth Draft.


  1. I loved your post, Sheena, and it's always great to see how other writers write. I don't think this style would work for me. I think of books sort of like a pregnancy. I daydream while the idea gestates, and after it matures enough to be a viable story, I sit down at the computer to give it life. That's just my process, though. Everyone has their own way, and that's what makes books so diverse, and so much fun to read.

    1. I'm not saying you have to write every story by the seat of your pants. What I'm saying is that its a good idea to write down as you brainstorm. Take notes. That way its not remembered creativity, its fresh creativity.

  2. I love your idea fairies. This is so true for me. All my great ideas vanish as soon as life starts happening if I don't write them down. That's why I carry notebooks everywhere...just in case.

  3. I can't tell you how much I loved this post. I think it was written for me even whether you realize it or not. :)

    Seriously, I really needed this. I think you are totally right. I did have it backwards. I was letting my writing interfere with my life. I think that by not trying to write or brainstorm or whatever while I'm doing those important life things will not only increase the quality of time I spend with my love ones, but will actually help me get more done on both fronts. When I have time to write, I need to focus on writing and not worrying about dishes, and when it is time to do the life stuff, I have to banish those writing fairies and focus on those day to day life things. I think if I do those life things without being half-distracted by my writing ideas, I will get them done faster and have more time in front of a computer.

    I don't know if that makes sense to anyone but me, but thank you so much for writing this post. I really needed it. :)

  4. What a fun and beautiful post, Sheena. I love it! I think it is right. How often am I so busy working out just the perfect sentence (that I'll probably never write down) that I don't here what my children are saying? I'm getting better...but this is a great reminder. "Life is the meal. Writing is the dessert," is my new mantra.


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