Ann Patchett’s quote is only too true. That said, it’s during my many (and I mean many) edits that I attempt to unearth the words I hope will go some way towards evoking the feeling I want to convey. Sometimes I can spend two hours on a key paragraph. I personally love writing where my emotion and understanding are greater than the sum of the words. This is true art.
Rules are meant to be broken. Buck the trend of character and plot dominance. Bend language, challenge structure, change points of view, turn narrative on its head: create and be original.
I had an amazing writing day the other day. Words flowed out of me in a way I’d been working towards for a while.
What did I do differently that day? I asked myself. It took me a while to work out what it was, but I’d spent the morning doing physical work and listening to music – my Best Songs Eva playlist. I’ve been experimenting since then with listening to music before and during writing. This is what I found:
- Music inspires
Art feeds art, and music can inspire you to write in a new way. Choose the right playlist to arouse, impel, exalt, animate, fill you (you get the idea) with feeling, openness and receptivity and let it flow out of you onto the page.
- Music enhances mood and creativity
There’s something about listening to the right kind of music to get your neurons and synapses firing. I had to write about something based in personal pain, which I hadn’t been looking forward to. But it flowed out of me with an honesty I was flawed by, and surprisingly it was less painful than I’d expected. My word combinations were also new and exciting. I came up with language I didn’t know I had in me. Some of it needed paring back, but it was a great start. Music seemed to be my muse.
- Great lyrics help language
Music with great lyrics – by that I mean words combined in a new way to create meaning and impact greater than their sum – can make you think about language in a new way, just like reading a classic book by a great author. It’s about looking at language through someone else’s eyes to spark new ways of using it yourself. It’s also about absorbing compelling language in an unconscious way that will hopefully show up on the page.
- Music can block distractions and create focus
Some people use music to block out other distractions. I didn’t find this myself, but it definitely gave me greater focus and single-mindedness.
- Write while listening to music?
This is OK for me, but not ideal. I found it interfered with the music of my words, sentences and paragraphs. That said many people swear by it so experiment to work out what’s best for you.
- Or listen to music before you write?
This works best for me and it’s how I plan to go on using music. I’m working on creating playlists for certain moods I want to create in my writing. But really, anything that moves me seems to inspire. What works best for you?
Let’s talk about how to keep going with your writing, against all the odds: time, the miniscule likelihood of being traditionally published, the challenges of being standing out amid the ocean of self-published works. I could go on, but you get the point.
In last week’s post here, I mentioned business woman Beate Chelette’s quote on breakdown, breakthrough and breakout. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve been struggling with writing boredom. I know myself well enough to know that boredom comes from within me. It’s not an external thing that’s imposed, it’s in my head. I realised that something had to be wrong with my writing if I was bored, but what?
This has been my process of reinvigorating my writing.
- Realise that perseverance is not just willpower or resilience
Persevering in your writing is not just a matter of willpower (bum glue, making time, mind over matter), resilience (against rejection, fear and criticism) or endurance (it takes so very long to write and especially to write well).
Perseverance comes down to loving what you’re doing. Research on the psychology of creativity shows that we produce our best results when we’re slightly excited, optimistic and seeking pleasure (not in fear mode). You don’t always have to love what you produce, especially first off, but you need to love the process; the story, words, creating.
My main problem was that the feelings I had inside me weren’t being reflected on the page. My writing was reading adequately, but not as richly or evocatvely as I wanted. I was frustrated about the level of my writing but I had no idea of how to improve it. What to do?
- Ask yourself if you need to grow, and how
For inspiration on how to rekindle my love of writing, I began reading a new (deceased) author, Angela Carter. Her writing is intense, beautiful, transcendental. It’s not how I write or want to write, but her use of words is masterful. I realised I wanted some of that in my writing, which felt a bit safe reflecting the fact that I felt safe in my writing. I wasn’t pushing the envelope anymore and I was truly bored. (Aside: Reading is so important to being a better writer.)
I explored some websites and ordered a few time-honoured books on the craft of writing. Why I didn’t already have these technical books is beyond me (der!), although I’m sure I’ve read such things in the past only I took what I needed from them at that time, which is not what I need from them now.
From this research I worked out that I wanted to strengthen my style and voice. Ideas, structure and plot have not been issues for me so far (but every book is different). Next I found a free online course on style and voice. Wow! I spent just half a day completing week one, then rewrote the first page of my current novel adding in sensuous description. I referred to Carter’s work as a guide.
The result? My writing group loves my current novel (unlike my last), but rewriting the first page has taken it to a whole new level. I received comments like: “It has a dreamlike quality about it now that draws me in deep.” Not bad for a day’s work!
Since then, I can’t wait to write every day. I’m writing much slower, but I have a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment that’s been missing for a long time.
- Be determined to grow
Perseverance in itself isn’t enough to be a good writer. It’s perseverance in a willingness to grow your writing that’s critical. If you read published authors on writing, many say they must relearn how to write eah new book. What is life if it it’s not change, and what is change if it’s not growth?
Be willing to examine where you’re at and how you might improve your writing. Listen to your gut, listen to your critics. Open up and always look for opportunities to challenge yourself and grow. Stagnation is death.
To stay engaged in your writing process and become a better writer, what do you need to improve?
- Also, for inspiration and camaraderie, read this amazing piece
Here’s a link to an incredible piece by writer Michael Ventura that I occasionally read during times of doubt called ‘The Talent of the Room’. It’s deep, brutal and real. In it he discusses the dangers of the (writing) room: the craziness, compromise and learning, the slog, the selling out and success (or is that really failure?).
“Writing is something you do alone in a room. The only thing you really need is the talent of the room. Unless you have that, your other talents are worthless.”
The creative, writing life can be isolating. Remember this when you’re feeling like that.
I recently attended a great workshop on remembering your creativity with author Sue Woolfe. She’s turned to neuroscience to understand how the creative mind works in order to optimise creativity after being somewhat stuck with her own writing process. Here are some gems I took away with me that have lifted a weight off my shoulders and made writing fun again.
We used to believe that so-called creative people had ideas constantly flowing through their minds. A study done in the mid-seventies discovered that instead such people’s creativity dipped sharply before taking off exponentially. This is known as the lull. By decreasing brain activity or going into stillness, we allow the creative parts of our brains to activate. Begin your creative time by de-focusing and see what happens. Remember, we are all creative beings and problem solvers by necessity.
- Writing is a two-part process
It’s not possible to write a perfect story in one hit. You need to do the creative—often called the vomit draft, first. Then you begin the editing process, fixing your story by bringing in structure and order to it etc.. As Sue said, you need to make the clay before you begin the sculpture. Here’s why…
- You must turn your editor off
This is critical. For so long I would write a section of my story then edit it. Then I would edit the whole chapter and next the chapters before it. I was fearful that if I didn’t, I would end up going down dead-end paths. The problem was I became stuck in an endless editing loop and my stories’ progress was slow and stilted. Most critically, I was no longer having fun writing. Here’s the reason. Apparently when we edit we engage the frontal lobe. It carries out higher mental processes such as thinking, decision making, and planning. The problem is the frontal lobe isn’t connected at all to the creative part of our brains. This means that when we engage our editor we’re switching off our creative thought processes. So turn your editor off, go into the lull, trust yourself, and see what comes out. It may be half rubbish but it also might lead you somewhere exciting and new, adding depth and beauty. You can always go back and fix it later. Better an imperfect something on the page than a perfect nothing.
By observing Sue’s advice I’m enjoying writing again. When I look back over the previous day’s work (briefly and without editing, of course), I sometimes can’t remember what I’ve written and am pleasantly surprised. Characters are taking over, which deepens point of view and adds authenticity.
Give it a go. What have you got to lose?