I plan on greeting the New Year sound asleep, actually, because I need sleep more than celebration at this point. For lo, I am old and boring. But, to mark the fact that I made it through another fifty-two weeks and have largely gotten things Under Control and Well Situated, here’s three things I learned about writing in this last year. (Because one can always learn something new about writing, I think.)
* Changing creative fuel doesn’t have to be hard. “Creative fuel” can be different things for different artists. Some writers use emotional drama to fuel their writing. Messy personal lives are a good source of fuel, it’s true–but the cost of using that fuel can make it unsustainable. It can provide an occasional “kick”, too, and I’m a firm believer that there’s no better way to process something than to strip-mine it for material (that car crash in ’06 was priceless, let me tell you) but constantly using conflict or emotional drama as fuel is not a happy cupcake. Letting go of using that fuel is scary–it’s reliable, it’s fast, it plays into the create-more-drama loop, and it’s got a hell of a rocket kick. But one needs longer-term sources of fuel, especially if one wants to have a longer-term career.
The good news is that other sources of fuel are available pretty much by default, and one is already using them, since one can’t write by drama alone. I can categorically insist and promise with a clear conscience that the other fuels are there, they provide just as much kick, and the hangover from using them is way less intense. You don’t have to worry about whether you’ll have Things To Write About or fuel for writing if you move away from the drama. You will have more Things To Write About, and fuel that doesn’t make your life look like a smoking crater afterward. Which is really a pretty good deal.
* Trust the work. This is more in the nature of recovered or confirmed knowledge instead of “new” knowledge, but it bears repeating. I’ve been terrified over the past year that I wouldn’t be able to produce (due to a number of Personal Reasons we won’t go into until I can make the Public Announcement and get it over with) or that if I did, it wouldn’t be my usual quality. “Terrified” is not too strong a word for how much I’ve feared that.
But my editors are happy. They say I’ve actually gotten better. (Readers’ opinions may vary, of course. I’m okay with that.) And I’ve made every deadline and to spare these past two years, no matter what was going on or how I felt about it. The habit of just Sitting The $&#% Down and Doing It has never stood me in such good stead; and I’ve found comfort and solace in the things I’ve finished. Being able to crawl inside another world, one where I have a measure of control and free will that I might otherwise lack, has been a lifesaver. If you commit to the work, it will help you.
* Physical movement helps. Again, more in the nature of “recovered” knowledge here. I hadn’t realized, until I started losing weight, how physical a writer I truly am. Once my body gets over the “Christ what did I do to you, why are you DOING this to me?” moment at the start of every run, I settle into a peculiar meditative state where plots germinate, characters speak, and things just generally shake into place. I’ve come to depend on that time (see, an alternative source of fuel! I’m so sneaky!) as a part of the creative process.
I am not saying you have to run however-many miles in the morning to be creative. Far from. I’m saying to never underestimate the power of some kind of physical movement to shake things free inside your brain. Got a plot tangle? Character giving you trouble? Go for a brisk walk, do some jumping-jacks, put some music on and dance around a bit. More often than not (okay, a ridiculously high percentage of the time) this will shake it loose, make the character behave, take the work in a new direction. Plus, it’s good for you. We tend to forget how physical an act writing truly is. The brute work of typing 60-100K words for a zero draft of a novel (not to mention however many thousands in revision, dear God) is hard on the body. It’s hard on the fine structures of the fingers and wrists, it’s hard on the forearms, sitting for that long is hard on the back and the legs and your core. Moving around is good for you and will help ameliorate the purely-physical cost of writing.
There you have it, three things 2010 taught me about writing. They’re maybe not new things, and other people found them out way before I did. Still, I gained what feels like a greater understanding. And, you know, I’m stubborn. Mostly, people can’t tell me a damn thing. I have to run into it and bark my toes (or other more tender places) before I Figure It Out. Oh well. There’s always next year.
Assuming I want to change that about myself, that is. I’m not so sure. But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.
So, a safe happy New Year’s to you and yours. Enjoy, be responsible, have some fun, and let’s do that time warp again…