Sure, the writing life can be glamorous. Thrilling, even. But at some point, when glamour fades and thrills subside, almost every writer encounters discouragement. As George Orwell said, “writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” I can certainly identify with this, since I’m currently trying to get one novel published while writing the second one.
(Just as a side note: Apparently ease doesn’t predict success. Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four recently enjoyed a huge spike in sales after Snowden cracked open the NSA surveillance scandal. Good to know that even the best and most enduring writers struggle with the craft, right?)
When the act of writing has been compared to “opening a vein” and getting published is often described as a soul-sucking process, how can writers push through the hard times? Here’s what works for me.
Write in a Different Style. Alternate writing styles like celebrities go through fashion. Have several projects on cue: your journal, a short story, novel revisions, blog posts, the next book in your series, a how-to article, or my personal favorite for beating writer’s block: timed stream of consciousness.
Write in a New Place. Go outside on a rainy day. Take your laptop to a trampoline park while the kids play. Try a different coffee shop. Write in the car while waiting for a meeting. Wake up early and stay in bed with a cup of coffee and a notepad. Record thoughts on a bus or train, and send them in emails to yourself.
Write in Your Head. Can’t find a good place or time to write? Don’t let that stop you. Let your mind wander to your current project. What’s the next scene? The biggest character issue or plot hole? No pressure. Just think. Ponder. It could be your best writing ever.
Read in Your Genre. Okay, this one is a no-brainer. As Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Read in Other Genres. I’m a sci-fi thriller and suspense kind of girl. Cozy mysteries and romance weren’t my thing, until I became an editorial intern for Henery Press. Reading in these genres gave me a whole new way to look at dialogue. Plus I got to enjoy some really good books that I would have missed otherwise.
Read like a Writer. Pick it apart. Think about what you would do differently, or the same. Analyze story structure and technique. It will make your writing stronger.
Ask Big Questions. Yes, the BIG ones. Why we exist, good versus evil, why you believe what you believe. All writing is the act of questioning. Go deep.
Ask Small Questions. These are the questions in every reporter’s arsenal and at the core of every science project: who, what, when, where, why, and how? When something jogs your interest, at any level, start asking yourself these small questions.
Ask Uncomfortable Questions. You know the ones. The places you’re afraid to go. The people you don’t like. The ideas you’re afraid to entertain. The things you just don’t want to think about. Let yourself be uncomfortable. Then turn it loose on your characters.
Ask “What If” Questions. What if your morning cup of OJ is really a teleportation serum? What if your house was made of Jell-O? What if our country finally broke free from racism and prejudice? What if we regressed, rather than moved forward, in technology? What if?
These are the basics: write, read, and ask questions. All that other stuff – queries, agents, publishers, marketing, and sales – doesn’t matter. Not really. Not in the long run. Not for those of us who love words, who will keep writing through the challenges, regardless of outcome.
It’s what we do.
(This is part five of six. Stay tuned…)