Friday, March 4, 2011

It's Tricky

I'm roughly 500 words from finishing a new short story, so instead of finishing it I'm going to lay down some honest truth about the act of writing, like I'm some grizzled professional instead of someone who's just had four piddling short stories published. So without any more ado, may I present....

Writing Tipz & Trickz for the Easily Bored Author

Let's face it, people: writing is boring. You're sitting down at a laptop/typewriter/weathered Moleskine, often for very long periods of time. No matter how into your story you may be, there is always something more interesting going on elsewhere. This ain't sky-diving, kids, or action painting! This is writing, one of the most sedentary of the art forms, and at times it can be a drag.

There are two basic ways to get around the drudgery of writing: good old-fashioned "dedication," and trickery. I've tried being dedicated, and all it's gotten me is feeling like a loser because I can't churn out novels like so much organic butter to be sold in a Vermont co-op for $6.95. Trickery it is. Here are some things that have helped me get through this last story:

1. The Last-Minute Rush: This one mostly works if you have an SO, or a kid/parent, who works or does things out of the home while you can be at home. Basically, you start writing twenty minutes before they are scheduled to arrive home. That isn't much of an explanation because that's all there is to it. It works for me because twenty minutes is an easily quantifiable amount of time, and I know I won't be able to concentrate on my writing when there's another person around. Yeah, sure, I technically have ALL DAY to do some writing, but it's hard to really plan out seven or eight hours. There's no sense of urgency there. But by creating my own urgency, time seems to shrink and become something I can deal with, instead of "yeah, I can write whenever." I have to write NOW, or I can't do it at all. And if I don't write at all, I run the risk of committing genocide upon the tiny race of people who live in my computer (see #3).

2. Battery Drain: This works with laptops. You unplug your computer and take it elsewhere. The screen will start to fade! Well shit, man, you'd better get cracking if you want to hit your 500 words (or whatever your daily goal is) before the computer shuts down. I'm guessing this is really bad for your computer, but I still do it. The slowly dimming screen and green battery bar also provide a physical ticking-down of time left over, which increases one's sense of panic and anxiety. Which leads into my next tip, which is really the most important tip of all and probably should have been first on this list. Oh well!

3. Get Anxious: As stated before, some writers have a dedication to their craft. The act of writing brings them joy in and of itself. (This group probably aligns closely with people who enjoy stamp collecting, butterfly taxonomy, and BBC miniseries.) For the rest of us, the joy of writing comes in the completion, in the act of finishing a story, forgetting about it, and then finding it again and being able to say "I wrote that, and it was awesome." So it is sometimes necessary to unleash a little bit of psychological torment on yourself, so you can enjoy the spoils of your work later. Imagine that your writing is powering a tiny village living inside your computer, and if you fail at reaching your quota, everyone dies. Make up your own tiger mom! Writers like us don't feel the benefits of writing until the act is complete, so do whatever you can to speed up that completion.

4. Accountability Friends: This is something I'm still searching for, mostly in my search for a writing group here in Maryland. I never got more writing done than when I was in writing groups. In fact, I think that productivity, not critique, is the main benefit of joining a writing group, especially for lazy Type-B writers. Writing groups give you a built-in audience, they give you deadlines (which aren't as serious as, say, newspaper deadlines, but deadlines nonetheless), they give you an external reason for writing. I can let myself down, but I have a harder time letting down other people without feeling guilty or anxious (see tip #3). So make it so that you HAVE to write, if you don't want to be the gaping hole in your critique group's schedule.

5. Visualize the Future: I can't write a story without knowing the end. Not just the end, but most of the plot twists. And because I'm a very visual person and also a person that tends to go to extremes, I go a little farther: I see it as a movie. Or, rather, since I'm a short story writer, I pretend that I have my own anthology TV show like Ray Bradbury, and I need at least sixteen stories to fill out the season, because it's on basic cable (SyFy probably, maybe USA). This is the kind of thing that makes people think you're full of yourself if you tell them, and of course I don't believe I actually will have my own anthology TV show. But thinking of it like that helps with story pacing, it helps with dialogue, it helps solidify characters and place, and most of all, it means that the story is already finished. You're just describing something you've already played over and over in the Hulu of the mind. And isn't that easier than writing something from scratch?

I hope these tricks are helpful! And remember, procrastinators aren't serial killers, so you've got that going for you.


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