Tag Archives: habits

Motivational Malaise

When you’re writing, you’re writing.

Seems simple enough, but here’s what it boils down to for me.

Some people blog in place of working on their current “work in progress”. There are times where we think of writing as a finite energy that can only be applied to certain things. If I wrote a blog post today, then I didn’t write 500 words for my book. Writing in this model is like socializing for introverts. I may enjoy doing it, but I need a recharge and I’m only up for so much of it.

As I’m getting older I’m becoming a much more introverted person, so I understand this idea pretty well. And sometimes I act like it with my writing, assuming that I need the same recharge period if I’ve done a burst of creative output that I would need after going to a party with a lot of people I don’t know.

But I actually believe writing breaks the conservation of energy principle.

Time is a finite resource, creativity isn’t.

I have more to write about when I’ve been writing. Basically, this makes sense. One of the main topics of this blog is writing about writing and often thoughts for blog posts come from something I’ve been working on recently, a problem I’ve encountered, a new method I’m trying out. Other topics are fed much more by reading or listening to the radio, particularly the technology posts, but the desire to write them comes from … well … writing.

This isn’t about the spark of an idea, it’s about the motivational energy it takes to turn that spark into something on paper. I’ve thought a lot about this energy as habit, as discipline, and that’s not incorrect. But I think it still misses the point. When you write consistently, you can reach a point where you are typing faster than even modern computers can keep up with, where you just want to keep going even if it means you’re going to be late. Where it feels like you don’t have enough time to get it all down, where you are literally itching to work on something and it distracts your mind from everything else.

This is writing in the extroverted model. Spending time with other people energizes you. Writing energizes you. And not writing is draining, something you have to break through, a barrier you have to knock down.

I’ve been feeling … well … blah the last couple of weeks. Nothing’s been wrong physically, and I’m not significantly more or less busy than life always is. I just haven’t felt like writing and I let that be enough of a reason not to do it. This happens from time to time, often after spending a lot of effort on writing. I tell myself it’s because I’m tired, but I’m not really. I have the same ideas I want to write down, the opinions, the scenes from books that won’t leave my head. I’m just not in the mood to translate them into words.

Well, that’s just silly. Time to get back to work.

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Filed under Writing, Writing Goals

Things I’ve Learned In The Last Year

And it’s not even over.

It’s been a busy year with serial novellas, final revisions, book reviews, and myriads of project ideas. Writing is about experimentation, about learning new things, and about remembering the old things we should already know. Here are a few of mine:

Perspective Jumps: For a serialized book like The Sky Below this can be a little tricky to follow (hopefully better once I have the full book complete). But perspective jumps can be a nice way to inject fresh viewpoints, and to give the reader information other characters might not have. It can certainly be frustrating if you really want to find out what happened to one character, but are forced to read another (though one author has a novel solution to this). My current project will probably jump between 2-3 perspectives at fairly regular intervals. This used to be something I did all the time (in my first novel) but got away from because I needed focus, or it was too difficult to follow. And maybe I needed time before I got the hang of it, but I’m loving jumps now.

Research: Want to never get a good night’s sleep again? Check out crime stats for your neighborhood. You’d be surprised what goes on. There was an (attempted?) robbery at a Huntington Bank down the street from me earlier this month. I used to do the old trick of [insert specific term here] or [write description of area there] so I could move on in drafts, but it’s amazing how even a little cursory internet searching can spur ideas for plot threads. Specificity is key to both reader engagement, and writer enthusiasm. I used to try to fumble my way through descriptions assuming my vocabulary was vast and always accurate. My wife will tell you, it is not.

Keeping the flow going: You might be tempted to take a writing break. And sometimes this is needed. But less often than you think I’d wager. Often the grind of getting back into a groove is not worth the recharge period. I finished revising book one on Monday, celebrated by watching The Maltese Falcon and eating some delicious enchiladas, then started writing book two on Tuesday. Granted, I’m kind of a nut. A day or two is certainly okay. Just don’t make it a month.

Read, Read, Read: Articles, blogposts, comic books, books, anything you can get your hands on. Both for ideas and technique. It feels like you’ll never have time, and indeed I’ve had to come up with creative solutions to reading (including my Kindle that reads to me in the car), but the time is always well spent.

Environment: I’m kind of a restless person. I was always looking for the perfect writing spot, which often happened to be the coffee shop closest to a Half Price Books or favorite bad food place. But for the last month and a half I’ve worked exclusively at home in my basement. Sometimes the dogs bug me. Sometimes I get the itch to go out. But it’s kind of nice just working in the same place every day. I try to keep the distractions to a minimum, especially multi-tasking (burns or file sorting, plus miscellaneous internet tooling around). And it helps to have both coffee maker and beer fridge in easy reach.

What have you learned in the last year?


Filed under Writing

I’m too tired to write

The above statement is what I was telling myself for a lot of November and December of last year, and even this morning starting this post at 5:30 in the morning sitting up in bed I’m very tempted to pull the sheets back and take the extra thirty minutes of sleep rather than writing these words to you.

I try not to be susceptible to writing moods but the truth is my emotions and the way I’m feeling physically does affect my output. Some of this is taking the time to actually get a good night’s sleep and to be prepared for the days work. Saturday in particular I allowed myself a good night’s sleep, woke to a wonderful breakfast in the breakfast nook with the little red haired girl, then worked at Panera for a number of hours on a writing project. I was certainly tired and wired after the session (three large cups of coffee will do that to a person even  sipped over the course of four hours), but I also felt like I’d gotten good work done.

Some time at the beginning of this year I decided I wasn’t going to let the tired excuse stop me from doing the writing projects I wanted to. I wasn’t going to say that I couldn’t take on too many projects, write more blog posts, put more hours into the writing. There have certainly been days where I’ve wanted to renig, to drop some things, to reconsider, but on the whole I think it’s been a great month and I hope to have many more like it in the coming year.

This doesn’t mean I don’t take the headspace or the tired argument seriously. I think some things are obstacles to the creative process. They may be largely created by ourselves, but that just means that the solution has to be created by ourselves as well. Sometimes the solution to not being able to write at 5:30 in the morning is to go to bed a half an hour earlier, and sometimes the solution is to write the night before. Not all emotions can be channelled into useful, productive work, though with practice most of them can.

One of the basic things I’ve found is that I’ve more to say, and more to write on the practice of writing when I’m actually writing. I have more to say about technology when I’m immersed in what’s going on in the world, and when I’m writing code. And I have more to say about books and comic books when I’m actually reading them. Taking more on has given me more to talk about (hopefully some of it interesting to the rest of you).

This is also not an inviation to overwork. There are limits to the amount of work a writer can practically do. I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve created a lot of “output” but after a point only some of it was usable, and the rest needs heavy revision. And there are other comittments in life besides the work we’re trying to finish. It’s just as valuable and refreshing to spend time sitting on the sofa curled up with a loved one and a dog (maybe sometimes a cat though a dog is more acommodating of when you have to go to the bathroom).

The only thing I’m saying is, we usually can do at least a little more than we think we can. And writing every day, or nearly every day, makes writing easier and frankly a hell of a lot more fun.

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The wee hours

I’m up 40 minutes later than I meant to be.

To be fair, 5 in the morning is a terrible time to start the day, especially for someone who likes to be a night owl.

Problem is during the week morning is really the only time I can get certain things done, going for a walk, breakfast that’s not at my desk, and writing the blog.

I know my friend Brian writes in the morning, and I used to think he was nuts.

Actually I still do.

There is something to be said for some times being better than others. I used to write on my lunch break at work. The problem was that writing the blog became something that interceded into my thoughts during the whole morning, which could sometimes be disruptive to productivity. There were often interruptions, and even in the best of circumstances a cubicle is not the most creative of spaces.

I tried writing at night, which is actually my preferred time to work on projects like my book, but this always felt like it was cutting into time with my wife and time to relax.

So here I am at 5 in the morning, or this morning 5:40.

Thing is I kinda like doing something like this even though I can be miserable and tired until I get that first sip of coffee. I have this romantic vision of the writer that years of practical experience has yet to shake. I like the idea of staying up all night to work on a project, or going to a coffee shop in the wee hours of the morning, the few times one can be alone in a hectic lifestyle.

But in all those years in college when I stayed up til all hours of the night, I was never as productive as I am now, waking up at the ass crack of dawn. Something in my being fights the notion of driving to work and the dark, and arriving home in the same dark, but writing alone in the dark is somehow perfect.

It’s calm, and quiet, and though you wouldn’t know it from the boisterous fellow I am, I need that quiet time.

Time to write, think, pray, and give my time first thing in the morning to the thing I really want to be doing. It’s worth being tired later to have started the day right.

Now if only I can get to bed a little earlier…


Filed under Writing