Every writer is different, with a unique approach to getting their work on paper. There is no one-size-fits-all method for taking a story from an idea, a “what if” moment, to a finished piece. Each of us has to find our own way. I have found a few tricks to jar things loose, organize my ideas, and make a coherent, logical arc out of a story.
But I’m like everyone else; I can’t write creatively when life is too stressful.
However, I can always write a blog post—which is how I keep my writing muscles in “fighting form.”
When I reach a point in a manuscript where I’ve run out of ideas, I stop forcing it. As an indie, my deadlines are self-imposed, so my production timelines aren’t as finite as a writer who is under contract. I begin a different project and come back to the other one when I am inspired.
Thus, I always have several projects underway. Even if one goes unfinished, I can relax and enjoy the act of creating something from idea to completion. My goals are for me, not for anyone else. I choose to embrace a Zen writing life.
One book I began several years ago feels like it will never be finished because I’m stalled at the halfway point. I have a vague idea of how it has to end, but now that I’m halfway there, I don’t know how to arrive at the end. The original outline just doesn’t work.
So, one goal for that novel during the rest of this year (2022) is:
- First: Get a new outline completed, with a choreographed ending.
In January, I hope to begin the next phase:
- Second: Write and revise the manuscript.
- Third: Self-edit the manuscript.
- Fourth: Have the manuscript professionally edited.
- Finally: Have the completed edits proofread.
Nowadays, I hang on to a finished manuscript, let it sit unread for a while, and go back through it a fifth time, looking for typos and cut/paste errors. Then, if I am happy with it, I will have it professionally formatted and will publish it.
I’m always learning. While I love to talk about writing craft, I am a far better editor than a writer. Free-lance editing is like being a hired gardener—with a bit of work, a trim here, pulling a few weeds there, you enable an author’s creative vision to become real.
Still, I need to write, so I do.
My work doesn’t appeal to readers of action adventure. My stories are internal; the characters and the arc of their personal journeys are the central elements of their stories. While I love the action and the setting, they are only the frame within which the characters live and grow.
The real action is in their heads. I write what I want to read, and I am an odd duck when it comes to literature.
So, I know my work is written for a niche reader: me. It’s not something everyone is looking for.
In the old days, I didn’t understand that. I rushed to publish my work when it wasn’t ready. Not only that, but I marketed it to the wrong audience. Readers of action and adventure aren’t interested in slower-paced work.
With each project that I complete, whether it’s poetry, blog posts, short stories, or novels, I grow in the craft of writing. Blogging about the art of writing from a reader’s and editor’s point of view offers me the chance to discuss the areas I am working on in my own writing journey. Writing craft is something I can write about when I am stalled on my other work.
The first hard-earned bit of wisdom I have to share today is this: you must develop perseverance. No one will satisfy every reader, so write your stories for yourself and don’t stop trying.
The second bit is a little more challenging but is a continuation of the first point: Write something new every day, even if it is only one line. Your aptitude for writing grows in strength and skill when you exercise it daily. This is where blogging comes in for me—it’s my daily exercise. If you only have ten minutes free, use them to write whatever enters your head, stream-of-consciousness. Write a journal entry.
The third bit is a fun thing: learn the meaning of a new word every day. You don’t have to use it, but it never hurts to learn new things. Authors should have broad vocabularies.
The fourth thing: is don’t sweat the small stuff when you are just laying down the first draft. I know it’s a cliché, but it is also a truism. Let the words fall out of your head, passive phrasing and all, because the important thing is to finish the story. Don’t share that first draft with anyone you can’t unconditionally trust because it is yours and is still in its infancy stage.
The fifth thing to remember is this: every author begins as someone who wants to write but feels like an imposter. The authors who succeed in finishing a poem, a short story, or a novel are those who are brave enough to just do it. They find the time to sit down and put their ideas on paper. As time goes on, we overcome the roadblocks that life tosses at us, and we have more time for writing.
Every author I know has struggled in their personal life. Car wrecks, illness, divorce, fires, and floods–things come along. During the years I was raising my children, I had three failed marriages, worked three part-time jobs, and struggled to find time to write poetry. Just when life was getting better financially, two of my children developed adult-onset epilepsy.
Over time, I have learned not to “freak out” when I get the dreaded phone call letting me know something has happened. We pull through, but each episode interferes with my adult children’s ability to do many of the activities we take for granted. I keenly feel their stress, but I let them work it out for themselves.
My stress comes from forcing myself to not be an interfering mother.
For many of us, writing is a way to make sense of the twists and turns of our human experience. It helps me process the complications in a non-threatening way. I don’t write to win awards, and I don’t expect to earn a lot. I have the choice to write and not feel guilty about the goals I don’t achieve. The story is the goal; everything else is a bonus.
In real life, nothing is certain. Adversity in life forges strength and understanding of other people’s challenges. Having the opportunity to make daily notes in a journal, to write poetry, blog posts, short stories, or novels is a luxury—one I am grateful for.
If I can make it a Zen experience, all the better.
Credits and Image Attributions:
The photographic images in today’s post are the work of the author, Connie J. Jasperson. The hydrangeas are from her front garden, and the ocean images were taken at various times in Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA.