But I get up again

My writing has been sluggish of late. I’m putting the time in, doing a lot of staring at sparsely populated pages, outlining when the pantsing doesn’t work, and pantsing when the outlining fizzles to ash. The result? Some days seven hundred words, some days five hundred words, some days a paltry couple of hundred–and I’m grateful for each and every one of those two hundred, let me tell you.

I try not to worry about it too much, because, hey, at least I’m spitting something out. In the past, I’d have been starting to wonder if it was time to change my writing space (add a hammock, perhaps), dive into another book on craft, or maybe take a break and let the ideas regenerate. Yes, well, we all know how those strategies turn out, don’t we? Not that there isn’t a time and place for hammocking, learning and percolating, but when I’m mid-project, they tend to be code for “Hey, I know! Let’s procrastinate! Wouldn’t that be fun?”

So, my new strategy is to keep on keeping on. Instead of succumbing to the urge to skive off or beating myself mercilessly with the Oh-My-God-You-Suck stick, I’m planting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, and keeping them there, however drecky the resulting output. Or, in the immortal words of Chumbawamba:

And, for the record, tonight it’s a whiskey drink. Very unusual for me, but what can I say? We ran out of red wine, and my perseverance during this creative drought will only take me so far without a modest drop of encouragement.

But, speaking of changing writing spaces. I’m pretty darned sure that if I lived in one of these converted water towers, I’d never whinge about writing output again. Ever.

Reading for inspiration, part 1

Like many of us who are groping (come on, get your mind out of the gutter) our way into the writing world, I have my share of brain-stuttery days when the whole creative process grinds to a painful, definitive halt.

You know those days. There’s a tumble of words slopping around the old cranium, but the few that want to be written only allow themselves be slung together in strands of relentless triteness. All the ideas and imaginings that felt so fresh and vital yesterday have turned to mold overnight. The characters who bounced off your fingers and onto your keyboard are now so stultifyingly tedious that you’d strangle them yourself if they had any actual substance.

Yeah. Those days. Whether you write, or paint, or take photographs, or throw pots on a wheel, if you create, you’re probably bitterly familiar with those days, in all their grim, uncompromising absence of spark and inspiration.

We all have our own little tricks for reinvigorating our saggy, baggy, flagging inspiration. Many, many tricks, if the truth be told. Some tricks work well when our plot has taken a detour into the realm of convolution and improbability. Some tricks are just the ticket when we realize that our main character has the personality of a desiccated booger. It’s all about knowing which trick is going to wreak its tricksy magic on a specific creative crisis. Is this a “just keep your butt in that chair” problem, or is it a “take the dog for a stroll and blow the stink off” problem?

One of the most effective strategies I’ve found for rekindling the writing magic is reading.  It’s a piece of advice we hear all the time, isn’t it? If you want to be a better writer, read! But reading doesn’t just fuel our writing talents; in my experience it can also fire up the creative barbecue with startling efficiency, even when the ashes appear to be stone cold. I’m not talking about just picking up whatever novel you’re currently reading and diving in–although that, too, can be just the poke you need. No, again, I’m talking about figuring out the specific piece of reading that will wreak its tricksy magic on the specific writing damn-jammer that is currently causing you woe and despair.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to share a few of the writing quagmires that tend to suck at my boots and the reading inspirations I’ve found most helpful for slogging  my way clear. I’ll be talking about the reading remedies I use when I’m laid low by plotting woes, by insecurities around structure, by character implosions, by stagnant prose and flat dialogue, and by the general malaise of indolence that has me convincing myself that just one more episode of Dexter or the IT Crowd could be construed as research if I only squint hard enough.

And I’ll try not to mix my metaphors as egregiously as I did in that last paragraph, but no promises. If you have your own reading inspirations that you’d like to share, have at it in the comments, or tune in again on Wednesday when I’ll be looking at the therapeutic benefits of taking a voyeuristic peek into the writing practices and processes of other authors.