Builiding Your Writing Tools: Creativity, Productivity and Energy


Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Virginia Wolfe had it right with regard to the difficulty of writing with multiple competing obligations and the lack of a personal space to write in. She used the illustration of Jane Austin, who had the great good fortune of a good income and a supportive family to help her bring her amazing pieces of fine literature to fruition.

I am not the only writer to fall prey to this dilemma. Over the course of my adult life, I have found times when I could be extremely productive, and others when I have gone weeks or even months without writing anything of note. Talking to my many friends who write, they report similar issues.

Part of the problem is that the part of your brain that governs creativity is a different part of your brain than the part of your brain that governs productivity. And both parts require practice and work to function well.

Speaking as a mother, it can be incredibly difficult to carve out writing time when your attention is beig pulled in three different directions by family members and obligations that 'come first'. And it's incredibly easy to fall prey to the idea that writing is optional and indulgent, rather than important and life sustaining (which it is for most writing).

I don't claim to have a perfect solution. If I did, I would have a dozen completed (and

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: courosa)

published) novels rather than hundreds of published (but much shorter) blog posts and poems and short stories. I find that my stolen moments are ideal for 300-1500 word thoughts and not so suitable for 100,000 word novels, even when broken down.

To exercise the creative portion of my brain, I:

  • Listen to music I love.
  • Read books I love.
  • (and blogs, and magazines).
  • Study writing techniques.
  • Ignore them and develop my own.
  • Write haikus on an (almost) daily basis.
  • Write blogs on an (almost) daily basis.)
  • Live my life and notice both the beauty and the pain.
  • Mine my life for interesting stories.
  • (and apologize to friends and families who see themselves in them).
  • Form connections between things that aren't usually connected.
  • Put a microscope on things that usually aren't examined closely.
  • Use my professional training to put a new spin on things.
  • Ignore my professional training and put myself in the shoes of someone from a different perspective.
  • Turn something 'everyone knows' on its head.
  • Find the humor in something tragic.
  • Find the tragedy in something humorous.
  • Rant about injustices.
  • Garden. Knit. Do dishes. Play video games.
  • Pay attention to teenagers and kids.
  • Pay attention to elders.
  • Pay attention to people who live very different lives from mine.
  • Surf the internet for beautiful, and disturbing, and funny, and thoughtful images.

And on the other side of the fence, to exercise the productive side of my brain I

  • Write every day no matter what.
  • At least once a month go through old stories and articles and re-submit, update or edit them.
  • Find a writing form that fits the time and schedule you have and learn to excel at it.
  • Look at the obligations in your life and pick one or two that can be delegated or eliminated for writing time.
  • Pay attention to your internal clock and try to write when it tells you it is time to write.
  • Find a place that means 'writing time' to your brain to help your brain settle into productivity time.
  • Find music that means 'writing time', too.
  • Do writing tasks in odd moments. Re-read chapters in waiting rooms, keep a pen and paper notebook handy for story ideas everywhere you go (or a voice recorder or a program that you can type it into on your phone – whatever works for you).
  • Label your drafts folder 'shitty first drafts' or something else equally insulting, if it helps you to get past perfect to done.
  • If your problem isn't finishing, but editing, set aside time every day to edit. Join a local or online writing group for feedback. If you have kids or a partner, enlist their help as readers.
  • Once you've submitted something, take one day off, then get right back to work. Or find a different way of honoring the 'I'm done' achievement and get right back to work.
  • If 'the story' isn't moving forward, set it aside for the day and work on something else. The next day, try again on 'the story'. Write something, even if it's only a sentence, before giving up.
  • Use free novel organizing or story boarding programs such as yWriter5 or Storybook to help you organize larger projects.
  • Use a bulletin board or similar surface to organize clippings and other items that pertain to your work in progress. Hang it above your workspace.
  • If you're having trouble with your plot, write individual plot points on 3x5 cards and re-arrange them, add to and cull from them until they work.
  • Keep a list of all the references you are using on a file on your computer.
  • Keep backups of EVERYTHING you write. Utilize Dropbox or similar services, use a flash drive, and/or email copies to your email server for retrieval at will.

You have kids and pets and neighbors and partners muddying up the works?

  • Write during nap time, or Disney time.
  • Encourage your partner to develop a hobby that gets him or her out of the house a few nights a week.
  • Turn off your cell and close the Facebook (and reddit, and LJ and...) of your browser while you work.
  • Let the dogs out right before you start and make sure they've been fed and watered.
  • You're on your own on cats. If you can find a way to keep cats from laying on the keyboard while you type, I'd appreciate a pointer.

You're too exhausted (mentally or physically) to write:

  • Re-evaluate your job. Is it time to send out your resume?
  • If you work at home (for family or money) are there responsibilities you can pass on or avoid?
  • When was the last time you got checked out medically? Is there something slowing you down?
  • Find three ways to lower your stress level
  • Let go of a toxic person, idea, or thing (or a dozen).
  • Rebuild energy through getting angry, and use that anger to write about the situation.
  • Take a (real) breather. No electronics, no internet. Go hiking or have a picnic or read all day.
  • Increase your sleep time and your exercise time.

There are times when even all of these ideas aren't enough. Don't beat yourself up. Do what you need to do to re-balance your life. The story ideas will still be there when you get back.

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Maureen O'Danu is the webmistress of Am I the Only One Dancing? where there is a new discussion every day on any one of dozens of topics and ideas, as well as reviews, geekery, family, fun, and enough politics to season the pot.
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  • Andreas Schaefer

    " I find that my stolen moments are ideal for 300-1500 word thoughts "

    I remember hearing Fay Weldon say, that the paragraph length in her novels, was in effect generated by the slightly over halfhour train ride while commuting. On the other hand we know Thomas Mann insisted on a minimum of 2 undisturbed hours in his working room [sic!] every morning. ( and it is hard to imagine his 2 page long sentences of perfectly constructed and nested sub-sub-sub-clauses being done in shorter bits of time )
    Both these examples and 'A room of ones own' make sense to me. ( and I also would love to do some paid research into the the connection between working conditions and works of writers. Including, but not limited to the effect of wordprocessors )