These are 5 tactics I rely on when I get bored, lost, or stuck in the middle of a book. They’re each useful at at different times and in different situations, but these tactics made the list because I return to them time after time.
Perhaps you have already felt bored, stuck, lost, or at a complete dead-end when you’re working on your book.
This is a signal that you’ve reached the soggy middle.
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
Tonight is noteworthy because this is the 200th blog post that I’ve published here on MGHerron.com!
A little history will help provide perspective.
I registered this domain and launched the website in December 2013, shortly after I settled on a pen name and began to write and publish fiction seriously. That’s almost four years ago now.
Looking back at the early posts, you can tell what my goal was setting out. It was all about writing and getting published. There was still a lot I didn’t know, but if nothing else at least that much is clear.
As I’ve published a dozen stories, 3 novels, and a nonfiction book since then, looking back at the beginning is surreal, almost like I’m looking into someone else’s past life instead of my own.
I’ve run personal blogs on and off for a decade before this one, publishing articles and stories and links and quotes and conspiracy theories and code snippets and other various things I was interested in at the time.
But none of those blogs had any staying power. They were all attempts to find myself in some way. Those projects taught me different aspects of writing and critical reasoning and creative collaboration and website management and HTML/CSS and other important skills. Eventually, though, I grew bored or restless of each and moved on to something else.
The biggest downfall of all those previous attempts was that they all lacked direction. This blog, for any failings it might suffer, at least knows what it’s about: my journey as a writer and everything that entails.
My journey, told in my own voice. After four years, I finally feel like I’ve embraced that. That’s liberating in its own way.
So 200 posts is a milestone I’m glad to have reached. I’m grateful to be able to look back and see that I’m a different person than I was then, that I’ve grown, and that I’ve got a few books on the shelf and many hundreds of thousands of words under my belt.
I wonder where I’ll be four years from now…?
Well, there’s no reason to rush it. If you’re not diligent, you blink and life rushes by.
I’m just going to continue being present here, trying to squeeze the most of each day, and be a better writer this year than I was the last.
I’m in a weird place with the current draft of Translocator 3 — right at the end of the first act, just over 20,000 words written so far, and trying to get everything into its proper place for the setup before I move on into the middle of the novel.
As a result of a few mistakes I made while writing what I’ve got on the page so far, I had to go back to the beginning and read through twice as I cleaned some things up and made necessary changes. I changed the role/title of a character. I altered the timeline so that everything lined up better. I fixed a few inconsistencies in plot elements that I had forgotten (*facepalm*) in the months since I finished The Alien Element.
All this is to say that while I’ve only got 20k words on the page, I’ve written more like 30k or maybe 35k if you count all my notes, cuts, and revisions.
But as usual, it was necessary and good work, and I’m glad I took the time to do it. The story is better off for it.
Some writers call this “cycling”, where you jump back a ways and clean up the story as you read through it for a second (or third, or fourth) time. Once you hit “white space” (where you left off), you’ve got the fresh memory and momentum to carry on.
So that’s where I left off this morning, before I had to run off to do client work and other stuff during the day. White space. Tonight I cooked dinner with Shelly and turned in a writing workshop assignment, and then wrote this. So tomorrow I’ll start fresh, and hopefully knock out the last chapter in the first act. It’ll be fun, because it’s designed to end with what should be a jaw-dropping moment.
That way Act 2 can open with a bang.
And a twist. Because what would the opening of act two be without a twist?
Today marks the 30th day in a row of blogging here on mgherron.com!
I’m celebrating this small victory with my favorite cider…
Ahhhh, yeahup. That hits the spot.
Blogging every day for a month was a good challenge. Here are a few things I already knew, but which the challenge brought to the forefront and clarified for me.
1. Streaks don’t tolerate excuses
Inevitably, if you try to do anything worth doing for 30 days in a row (writing, exercising, getting enough sleep) there will be days when you won’t feel like doing that thing.
Just the way it goes. The sun can’t shine forever. Clouds will roll in. Such is life.
Does that mean you get to take a break? No way, buddy. Don’t even think about it.
Having a 30 day blogging streak means that I posted when I didn’t want to. I even posted when…
I didn’t know what I was going to say
I didn’t feel like writing
I was tired
I was on vacation
There were even days where I nearly forgot, and didn’t post until close to midnight.
But I didn’t give in to the excuses.
It helps when you set the bar low, and can always reach for some low hanging fruit. With blogging this means being able to post a photo or a quote and call it a night. With fiction, try setting your goal so low that it’s laughable. How’s 50 words? Five minutes? Surely you can manage five minutes a day. And when you’ve got that down pat, make it fifteen.
Piece of cake. You’ve got this.
2. Daily words add up over time
Even better is to see how many words it all adds up to in the end.
I totaled the number of words in all 31 blogs.
Total (including this blog): 7,250 words
And this took about fifteen minutes of effort per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
7,250 words is the length of 1 – 3 short stories.
Or 2 – 3 epic blog posts.
Of course, in that time period I also wrote about 15,000 original words of fiction 😀 But that’s my life, not yours.
Set your own standards.
Stay calm, write every day, and it will eventually add up if you can learn to be patient. This works with any kind of writing, whether that’s fiction, nonfiction, blogging, or your memoirs.
It’s amazing what’s possible with consistent practice over time.
3. The more you give, the more you have
This concept is hard to put into words. It’s even harder to explain to beginning writers in a way that they are inclined to believe because it’s counter intuitive. But I’ll try.
Take this example:
The more ideas you brainstorm, the more ideas you will have.
Don’t believe me? Try to brainstorming 10 new ideas a day. If you do that for a week, I’ll bet that you’re bursting with ideas at the end of the week. At the beginning of the week you won’t be able to imagine what those seventy ideas would even be. By the end you’ll be writing in the margins of the page because you’re running out of room. Ten won’t be nearly enough!
That’s because your creative brain gets used to the idea, gets better, and comes up with more ideas. How? By teaching it to come up with ideas in the first place.
Same with writing. The more words you write, the more you will be able to write. You build your muscle by using it. At first, fifteen minutes of writing will exhaust you. You’ll be able to increase the amount of time you spend writing given practice.
A lot of people (myself included) started out by thinking that creative energy is some kind of finite well. That you can use it up, or run it dry.
But that’s not true. Writing isn’t a well. It’s a muscle.
And how do you make muscles stronger? By using them.
I’ve overcome this hurdle so many times that I thought I was past it entirely. And yet when I undertook this challenge, one of my first thoughts was, “I’m going to need more ideas. I don’t have enough blog ideas for 30 days. What am I going to write about?”
That’s the well trap. When you see yourself speaking negatively like that, saying “I can’t” or “I don’t” or “I never,” cut it off at the root. Creativity is not a well. It doesn’t dry up…unless you don’t use it.
I don’t always know what I’m going to write in the day’s blog post. Most of the time I have no idea.
But the more I did it, the easier it became.
Having a daily practice even took the anxiety out of it. If I don’t post for a long time, I feel a huge pressure to make the next post great, perfect, wonderful. If I post every day, there’s another chance tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
If I’m in the mood, I can write long posts like this one. If I’m not, there are other options. Half the fun is coming up with creative ways to maintain the streak with the minimum amount of effort.
I guess you could call me lazy. I call it smart.
I’ll try to keep up the daily blog, at least for now. It’s a good challenge, and fun. Hope you stick around.
Special thanks to Jason H. Abbott, BookDragonGirl, jenniereads, todaysechoes, Christy Esmahan, and Jason Knight for reading and liking and sharing. I see you, and I thank you.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written here in the past 30 days, would you chime in with a quick comment to let me know what you’d like to see more of?
I’m gonna have to go look up the writing book where I first encountered this advice, because it’s escaping me right now, but the wisdom went something like this:
The quality of your writing has no correlation to how you feel about it while you’re writing.
That’s right, no matter whether you’re happy or sad, angry or depressed, jubilant or hungover, your emotional state does not correlate to the quality of the words you’re writing.
I’ve had days when I’m a miserable grump, and write a great scene in spite of myself. I’ve had days where I’m depressed and write crap.
I’ve deleted scenes that I thought were brilliant and which I wrote in a burst of inspiration. Oops.
I’ve had good days and bad days and everything in between. The quality of my work stays consistent—and (I hope) actually improves with time.
Will it be easier to sit down and work when you’re in a good mood? Of course.
That’s why taking care of your health is so important.
But you don’t have to be in a good mood to work.
As a professional, you go to work no matter how you feel. Do you want to be a pro? Then get to work.
This fetish with the flash of inspiration is damaging to the working writer. It gives the wrong expectation. How can a writer not be disappointed with a bland day when they expect genius at every turn?
In the end writing is a craft. And like the woodworker goes to the shop every day no matter how he feels about his work at the moment, so must the writer.
Otherwise how are you going to get enough practice to be any good at this thing?
Today was mostly life stuff — groceries, cutting the grass, seeing friends, cooking food. Good food, too. The steak and lemon risotto we made for dinner was absolutely delicious.
I did find a little time to write. The first part of that was spent doing distance and speed calculations for the logistical problem I stumbled upon on Translocator 3 yesterday. The second part was spent staring off into space wondering how I was going to fix it.
Sometimes thinking is writing. And in this case it certainly was because I seemed to have backed myself into a corner.
But eventually I figured out a good solution. I fixed it as I went through the first three chapters. Now things are moving quickly again. There will be more dialogue to tweak near where I left off at chapter 9, but that should do the trick.
Reading the story on paper is fun and I find myself getting sucked into it as a reader. Definitely a good sign.