Monday, June 10, 2013

A Desk in the Corner: Inspiration and Brass Tacks
















When I get questions about writing, I always feel kind of squirmy. The entire act of creating through writing is a shifty gray area, and applying hard and fast rules and regulations to it is a bit like trying to pin down jello. If you're looking for an outline, a blue print, or a game plan... it ain't out there. You have to trudge through most of those soggy gray areas all by your lonesome and find out what works for you.

But since I do get these questions fairly often in my inbox, I will try to answer as best I can from my perspective. And please remember it's just that. My perspective. 

One of the questions I get the most is about inspiration. How do I find inspiration? How do I decide what I'm going to write about? How much do you write per day, per week? When do you find time to write? How long should it take to finish a book? 

I like to call these things the brass tacks of writing.

How do I find inspiration?

Here's how I see it. Inspiration is a shifty fellow. You have to follow where she leads. So the first bit of advice I could give, as so far as it's worked for me, is don't hold on too tightly to that outline. 

If you feel like writing on your current book project, go for it. 

If you don't like where Chapter 4 is going, skip ahead and work on Chapter 5. 

If you wake up and feel like writing about the time your great aunt Eleanor farted at a funeral and blamed it on your little sister, but that has nothing to do with the book you're working on, go for it anyway. 

This past week I was in a checkout line and the people in front of me got into a fight and the woman yelled, "Oh REALLY? Well remember THAT the next time you want me to put medicine on your toe warts!" And I looked up to the ceiling and whispered, "Thank you, I know how to finish Chapter 8 now."

In summation, my best advice about finding inspiration is just unclench a little bit. Go with the flow. Don't worry about how long it's taking you finish a chapter, or how long it will take you to finish the book, or any of that stuff. Be willing to let the wind steer you sometimes. Eavesdrop in the checkout line of your local grocery store. That's when I do my best writing.

How do I decide what I'm going to write?

When I was in college I was stumped as to how to pick a major. My dad solved the problem for me when he said, "You better pick something you love doing, because you're going to do it until it comes out your nose."

I apply the same logic to picking a book project. Is it something that lights me on fire with excitement? It better be, because it's a major time and mind commitment. Make sure you love it, obsess over it, dream about it... that's how you decide what you need to write.

How much do you write per day/per week? When do you find time to write?

I'd love to say I have a set writing schedule. I'd love to say I hold to the hard and fast "2000 words a day" rule. But my life doesn't really permit that. For those of us that have full time jobs, kids, significant others, friends, church, hobbies... the idea of writing four or five hours every day just isn't feasible. I don't feel guilty about that. Truthfully, I grab time when I can get it. An hour here, two hours there. 

For instance, last Monday night Matt was out with friends, Jane was in bed, and the house was quiet. My friend Jenna came over to watch a basketball game (she doesn't have cable at the moment), but I stayed upstairs. I wrote for five hours. Do I get to do that every Monday night? Probably not. Does that make me a rude host? Probably (although she understood).But my mind is always on the watch, like a nervous cat. 

"Can I write now? No? How about now? No?"

When opportunity strikes, you have to pounce. 

How long should it take to finish a book?

I'd like to point out that I've written ONE book. OK, that's not true. I've written a couple of others that were purely awful and never saw the light of day. But in my experience, it shouldn't take longer than three to six months. A year is really pushing it.

Book ideas have a honeymoon period. You love it. You dream about it. You stay up at night thinking about it. That is the time to be writing like a crazy person. This has an expiration, it won't last forever.

During that honeymoon period don't ask people for opinions. Don't let your best friend read the first few chapters to critique it halfway. Just go with it. Be in love with your book and write like the wind and finish that first draft. There's plenty of time for critiques and opinions and rewrites later. BELIEVE ME... you will edit and field opinions until you're blue in the face when you get to the second draft phase. 

But that honeymoon/1st draft period is just for you. Relish it. Work on it every chance you get. Don't let it go to waste.