Enthusiasm. Passion. Inspiration.
These words are pale descriptions, gestures toward the drive that causes us to bury ourselves in basement offices and spend hours writing (and then hours more reading).
I feel as though I’ve just come off a bender. For a week I’ve had that white hot passion of creation living inside me, almost like a drunkenness burning me up inside, driving me on.
It was wonderful!
And yes, I let everything else in my life slide and for that my apologies. I was programming, something I haven’t done in years, and it felt wonderful to flex those old muscles.
Now, though, that the program is done the passion has bled away and I woke up today feeling decidedly uninspired.
How To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm
My renewed passion for programming made me think about my WIP and how dispassionate I feel toward it. I was looking for a topic to blog about. I don’t want to saturate you with news about my program and all the cool things I’m discovering, I’ll blog about that often enough in the days and weeks and months to come. But then I thought, well, that’s what I’ll write about, getting one’s enthusiasm back. (And, yes, I do this often; write the blog post I need to read.)
The Great Swampy Middle of Despair
At the moment I’m slogging through the middle bits of a first draft. I’ve adopted Jim Butcher’s terminology for the middle section of a novel: the great swampy middle of despair. (I added the part about despair, but I think it fits.)
You saw or read Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” right? Remember the part where Frodo picks his way through the Dead Marshes. That, right there. That’s the great swampy middle.
So, today, I thought I’d write about how to rekindle one’s enthusiasm, how to fall back in love with your WIP.
1. Don’t get out of bed right away.
Close your eyes. Imagine. What story are you working on? If you’re writing a first draft, or are at the index card/outline stage, the first few moments of consciousness can be pure gold.
Keep your eyes closed. Don’t think about all the meddlesome, anxiety provoking minutia of the day ahead (the day crouching before you like a starving tiger). Don’t think about all the boring things, all the tedious tasks, you have to do. Think instead about the story you’re in equal measures discovering and creating.
Where did you leave off? What is the viewpoint character doing? (Or, alternatively, what is the narrator experiencing?) What do they want? Why don’t they get it?
Use this time of creative semi-consciousness to rev up your muse.
(Yes, you may fall back to sleep but that’s what the snooze button is for!)
2. Keep a writing journal ready to hand.
I never know when inspiration will pounce. I’ll be thinking about a problem, trying to solve it, then as I’m walking to my car with my arms full of groceries, bam! My unconscious births a creative solution.
If you’re anything like me you need to write this down. I can’t tell you how many times I had a revelation, one I was sure to remember it was so staggeringly obvious—and then I forgot!
The journal doesn’t have to be fancy. I have two, and both are plain. One is a simple lined book with a spiral binding. I keep the cover closed with an elastic band—but it works! The book is small enough to live comfortably in my purse. Now when I have an idea I have a place to write it down. I keep another journal with me during the day—I think of it as my RAM. I write everything in there, lists, little reminders, story ideas. It’s where I scribble out rough drafts for these blog posts! I leave it on my bedside table before I go to sleep just in case I have a story idea during the night.
3. Have a support network.
I have people in my life who know me well enough and like me well enough to badger me, to be the two year old in the backseat: Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...
Yes, you don’t want too much of that but I can’t tell you how many times just knowing there were people who would realize I was slacking off, how much that motivated me to shake off the blahs, the negative thoughts, and keep going. And not only to keep going, it helped fan the fading ember of enthusiasm, of passionate affection, back to life.
4. Have a system.
I almost entitled this point “outline” but decided against it because, while I think everyone would benefit from having some sort of system I don’t think everyone would benefit from outlining. Different strokes and all that.
Take where I’m at right now. As I mentioned, I’m slogging through the middle of my story, poised right between, right on the cusp, of my kick-ass protagonist confronting the Big Bad.
I think what was bothering me about the scene was that she was too passive. But anyway. I turned away from my slog to do something (for me) infinitely more pleasurable—write a simple VB program in an attempt to find an objective measure for whether (given my tastes and predilections) a book is well written.
That has taken me away from my WIP for almost a week, but I’m able to go back and reengage with my material because I made an outline.
Yes, things in the story have changed, have deviated in small and large ways from the outline. And that’s fine. That’s as it should be. A story is a living, breathing, entity that has a will and a trajectory of its own.
Still, though, my outline keeps me tethered to the main themes, it helps me keep in mind the major beats and why they’re there. It tells me where I’m headed.
So, that’s my advice: Have a system. It doesn’t have to be a detailed system. Your system may be to collect images of what your characters look like from the many interesting recesses of the internet and pin them to various boards using Pinterest. Or you may scout the internet for exotic photos that may become the various locations in your novel. Perhaps you even have it worked out that this location, these people, come onstage in the beginning, then we shift to this board of pictures over here for the middle and then ... and so on.
The important thing is to have something that will help you get back into the groove if life calls you away, interrupts your progress, and steals the momentum you’ve build up.
5. Do something you love.
Do something that feeds your soul. Something that, when you hold the image of it in your mind, makes you smile.
6. Imagine something wonderful.
Writing is imagining. Use your imagination to experience how you will feel, not just once you’ve completed the first draft, but once you’ve done the last edit, once you’ve received your manuscript back from your copy editor and, by god, you’re done! Finished.
It’s quite the feeling, quite the high to have not only birthed a story but shared that story with the world.
Our stories are potentially immortal. They carry with them a bit of who we are, a bit of our souls, ensuring that a part of us will live on. If that’s not something to get excited about, I don’t know what is.Photo credit: "Canon EOS 1N and Kodak Ultramax 400 - Cat shot" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.