Yeah, I know. The words easy and writing don't usually belong in the same sentence.
And maybe writing will never be truly easy, but I think that we can all agree that--on the best days--it can be easier rather than harder.
When my writing is going okay, I lean deeper and deeper into this practice of staying connected to the work.
Because isn't disconnection half of what's hard about it?
If my characters are strangers, if I can't remember the knack of their voices, if I've lost the atmosphere of their world, and the thread and threat of the conflict has evaporated...
That's when writing feels impossible. That's when I start giving up.
But when the world of the novel stays alive in my mind, when all my mental machines for writing stay on and humming, when the engine is warm:
Those are the enchanted times when I get three new ideas during dinner, when I step out of the shower with a paragraph written in my head, when I hear a chance phrase from someone else and solve a major plot concern instantly.
We want to keep that engine warm! It's a massive game changer in this whole enterprise.
We have to never stop writing.
No, I don't mean we're tied to our desk, and I don't mean we never have a day off. I mean that we never let the engine get truly cold.
In Chapter after Chapter, Heather Sellers describes the practice of "positioning," a term she got from her writing friend Eric.
She says that he decides exactly what he'll be working on the next day. He makes a list, staying businesslike and professional about it. He sets out the files he'll need, getting everything ready for the next morning.
"Purposeful book authors ... lay out their things, mentally and physically preparing for the next writing day. ... Everything is set up for the next day, like dominoes, and in the morning [Eric] just has to get his butt to the chair, flick his finger, and the process immediately has its own momentum."
Heather describes her own positioning process while writing a collection of short stories: every evening she would review her notes, touch the printed pages of her draft, and glance over her outline.
Nothing intense. Just a nightly visit to her writing studio.. But this kept the book alive in her mind, day after day after day, in spite of massive changes in her personal life.
James Scott Bell, in Plot & Structure, describes his habit of writing 350 words in the morning, practically first thing.
He says it's a good jump forward on his quota of words. But I think it also keeps that story alive, by immediately connecting writer to words at the start of the day.
I've found half a dozen ways to stay connected to my story, and to keep that writing engine warm:
- When I'm in the thick of drafting, I always start the day's work by rereading what I wrote yesterday. (I'm not allowed to cringe too much.)
- If I'm drafting by hand (and I usually am), I also type the previous day's work. Usually, I tweak it a bit as I go, and this light editing gets my brain all kinds of warmed up.
- When I get up from my desk during the day (you know I have those dance parties!): I jot a few notes. Whatever I already know about what comes next: any details, any fragments. It's like a quick Polaroid of what I was writing toward.
- If I have to leave for a longer time--doctor's appointment, coffee date--I'll take a much more complete snapshot. I layer in more details, roughing in a view of the rest of the scene. Even if a whirlwind of distractions follows, that next bit of writing is safe. And it doesn't take much for me to get back into the groove.
- At the end of the work day, just like Heather Sellers and her friend Eric, I make a plan. I'll look at my notes, my outlines. Maybe tidy up the clutter. Set out all the working pieces in places of honor.
- ... And when I'm really, really working hot, when the days feel like I'm living more in the book than in the "real world," more in ink and paper than in oxygen and carbon, I do one more thing: I sleep next to the manuscript. It's right there next to me in bed. Yes. I do realize that this is TOTALLY weird. But there's something about the notebook sitting there, with all those words. It feels like the book is truly alive, like my brain is still connected. The last thing I want to do is break that spell. So instead, I try to put a huge sign on my subconscious, saying: I'm Still Here. (It's a little less weird if you think of a newborn baby sleeping in the same room as its parents. See? That's normal, right? And you never know when the manuscript might wake up in the middle of the night and need you to rock it back to sleep...)
If you've ever had a block. If you've ever had a rough day. If you've ever totally lost the thread of what you're working on because life showed up. If you've ever been in a groove and then so unexpectedly fell right out of it.
If that's ever happened to you (and that's all of us, right?), then you owe it to yourself to lean in. To make the most of the good times.
Learn how to stay connected to your work. Refuse to take the good days for granted. Don't start skipping out. Don't trust the sunshine to stay forever.
Keep the engine warm; keep moving forward.
Make it easy (or at least easier) to write.
Do you have strategies for staying connected to your book? I'd love to pick up some new tricks... Do share!