Writing: Exhausting or Energizing?

A while ago, one of my wonderful clients mentioned that after a good writing session, she felt exhausted. Boy, could I identify with that, because I often have the same experience.  After a particularly intense stint at the computer, I sometimes feel like doing nothing more than crawling away and collapsing in a quivering heap.

And yet, I’m also energized. And excited. And in love with the world. It is a strange mixture of exhaustion and joy. Years ago one of my  MFA mentors and I marveled at how it was possible to get a blood sugar drop (an experience usually reserved for being physically active) from an avid writing session. She related that a neurosurgeon friend of hers had told her that under intense concentration, the brain can use up as many calories as one’s body does when exercising.  I’ve since had other people vigorously refute this, but I prefer to believe it–because I’ve experienced it. (Okay, here’s an article that disagrees with me, but it is still worth reading.)

Here’s the deal, though. This weird state is one of my favorite states to be in. And that is because I feel like I’ve given everything I have to the page, let the words flow out of me so intensely that I’m totally spent.  It makes me feel like I am fulfilling my purpose as a writer.

Process, Not Product

And the key to achieving this state is…yeah, its pretty obvious, isn’t it? The key is focus.  I would take that even a step farther and submit that it is a certain kind of focus.  And that is the kind of focus wherein one is so caught up in the process that she is not worried about the product.

Not worried about what her family will think when her memoir is released.  Or how her agent will react after reading the manuscript. What the spouse will say. What the children will think. What the high-school friends from long-ago will think. How the first-grade teacher, long in the grave, will judge. I swear we let all these things and more stop us from doing what we really want: which is deeply engaging with the writing at hand.

The Inner Critic

And sometimes they congeal into one big, bad lump of an inner critic. Your worst enemy. The one who keeps you from writing. The one you listen to scream at you. The one you let stop you from all your dreams of creative freedom. Guess what, people? You’ve got three choices here: you can carry on as usual, letting he/she/it stop you, or you can tell it to shut the f$%# up and ignore it, or you can befriend it.  Either of the latter two will work.  Just don’t get stuck in the first option. Please. (I’ve written numerous times about dealing with this imp. You can read more here and here.)

Balance

Besides acknowledging and slaying dealing with your inner critic, I think it’s important to realize that this kind of exhausting and energizing state is not one we are going to be in all the time. I used to get into it more often when I was not a professional writer. Back when I was writing for fun, it was far easier to just have at it without worry about the end result. That is not quite so easy to do anymore when I know that people will be reading my blog, newsletter, or novels. This is one reason I write in my journal every more–crap that means nothing to anybody but me and will never be seen by anybody but me. It reminds me that this is my goal, always–to write freely and openly without worry about how the words will be judged.  And thus it is important to seek a balance between this wonderful free writing and the time when you are more slowly considering the word you are putting on the page. (And for the love of God, don’t confuse the exhilaration you feel after completing a first draft with the idea that means it is perfect. I see this happen far too often. Just because it was fun to write doesn’t mean it isn’t in need of more work.)

A Certain Kind of Exhaustion

But, oh how I love it when the words are flowing freely and I’m a mere shadow of my former self at the end of a writing session!  This kind of exhaustion is what we all aim for: the knowledge that we’ve given one of the most important things to us all we have in the moment. That is all we can ask for.

How does a good writing session make you feel?

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My BEST Writing Tip, I Promise

Writing_writer_dark_2531_lHemingway knew it and used it.

I've expounded on it numerous times, including recently. (That juxtaposition of sentences makes it appear that I might be comparing myself to Hemingway, to which I say: bwahahahaha).

It is the single most helpful tip for you to get words on the page, and here it is:

KNOW WHERE THE FECK* YOU ARE GOING BEFORE YOU SIT DOWN TO WRITE.

Case in point:

Me, yesterday morning.  I got up at the usual time to work on the novel.  I've been doing some re-organization on it and I planned to finish that up before moving on. After my plot session with Cathy Yardley, I have some changes to make.  However,  I am not going to go back and fuss over the first few chapters.  I am making good notes and writing a few additional scenes, but I'm not going back to change things.  Because that way, madness lies.  And not finishing drafts.

The night before, I had dutifully made some notes of what I wanted to accomplish–where, ahem, I was going–on a little yellow index card.  And that morning I sat down, ready to refer to my notes and get going. 

But I couldn't find the little yellow index card.

Panic in Needle Park!*   (I looked it up! Its a movie!)

I couldn't, for the life of me, remember what I had promised myself I would do.  So I farted around on the internet.  Looked at knitting sites. Read blogs. Checked email, again.

And then finally reminded myself that my brain was stronger than that and I could indeed remember what I had set out to do. So I did it, sort of.  But I'd easily wasted valuable writing time.

And of course, later that day I found the little yellow index card.  And at least the experience reminded me of how important it is to my process to KNOW WHERE I'M GOING.  And it gave me a blog post.

Here's a little something I found for you, since we were talking about Hemingway.  It's his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  But before you watch it, how about you let on what your best writing tip is?

 

*Feck is my new favorite British-ism, or at least I'm assuming its British because I picked it up in that silly British novel I just read.

**Don't ask, its something my sister and I say to each other, based on, I think, the name of a long-ago book.

Photo by re_birf used under Creative Commons license.

 

7 Ways to Knowing What to Write

When I was the mother of two young children, I would beg babysitting time from friends so that I could write.  For awhile, I had a desk stuck in a back hallway in amongst the coats and baseball bats and mittens.  I'd take the kids to my my friend's house and sit at the desk and marvel at the quiet for a minute.  And then I'd pick up my pen…

And not write.

Office_computer_blind_238126_l

Here I suddenly and at long last had time to write and no words came.   No matter what I did, the words wouldn't arrange themselves on the page.  My brain was simply too frazzled from rushing about getting everything organized to have the ability to form sentences.

And this still sometimes happens to me.  Every morning when I first get up is the time I devote to my creative writing.  It is how I start my day–with a cup of coffee and my writing pad.  Usually, I know exactly what I want to work on and I get right to it.  But some mornings, like today (it often seems to be a Monday), I take a sip of coffee, stare at the page, then take another sip of coffee, stare some more…and not much happens.

It happens to all of us.  We set aside precious time to write and then once we get there, we can't write a thing.  Or suddenly it seems imperative to do laundry.  Or we write a few words and they don't sound right so we quit.  The problem becomes not finding time to write, but knowing what to write when we do make the time. 

Here are some ideas on how to avoid this:

1. Be Prepared.  I know this might not be a pleasant topic for us creative types, for whom the thought of preparation or organization or structure is anathema.  But a little advance planning can serve you well.  It can be as simple as reading over what you last wrote the night before or as complicated as writing up an outline for what you want to accomplish.

2. Make Up Your Own Prompts.  I have a love-hate relationship with prompts.  Sometimes I think they are silly and inspid, and others I'm grateful for them, because they've jump-started a writing session.  To me, the best prompts are the ones I make up myself.  Keep a list in your journal and add to it often.  You can use quotes, lines of poetry, first lines from published novels, a line of dialogue you heard, a phrase that is ringing about in your head.

3.  Maintain a List of Topics.  This is similar to #2.  Keep an ongoing list of topics that you want to write about.  They can be of a general nature or specific to a project.  For instance, if you want to write a novel, some topics might be character bios for each character, descriptions of locations, etc.

4. Work Your Subconscious.  Putting your subconscious to work for you can be a huge help.  The idea is to give it something to chew on, so read over your latest writing before going to sleep.   You might dream a new scene, or wake up with a line of dialogue on your mind. You can also ask your subconscious questions.  Then let the question go and do something else.  You'll be amazed at the answers that pop up.

5. Surround Yourself With Ideas.  Writing is an inner game and an outer game.  And if you're a visual person, like me, surrounding yourself with images really gets the juices going.  Create a vision board for your book, tack pictures on a bulletin board, get yourself a giant post-it notepad and write huge notes and lists on it.

6. Write When You're Not Writing.  Extend your writing time into thinking time.  Ponder your novel while cleaning house, or compose a line of poetry on the morning commute.  By keeping your writing front and center, it will be easier to access words when you do actually have time to write.

7.  Read.  You'd be amazed how many people I run into who want to write but can't be bothered to read.  Um, there's something seriously amiss with that picture.  When I'm heavily involved in a writing project, its words in, words out for me.  I feel I have to read a ton to absorb enough words inside so I have them available to spit out onto the page.  A little strange, I know, but there it is.  Reading will inspire you, and it is the absolute best way besides writing to teach yourself to write.

Those are my ways to assist yourself to know what to write.  Any other suggestions?

 

Photo by mmagallan, via everystockphoto.