Thursday, March 22, 2018

Saved by the #amwriting deadline ~ by Leah St. James

Several of our Roses have written in the past few months about being stuck in the writing doldrums, or something similar, where circumstances and/or mood keep the Muse away. I’m no different. In fact, I’ve shared in previous posts that I’ve been stuck in that mode for quite some time. Recently, though, I’ve started coming out of it, and I thought I’d share a what snapped me out of it.

It all started last fall when I was trying to write my short holiday story for our blog. We’d had the first line for months, and ideas had been floating around in my brain since, but I was having a hard time coming up with an actual story. The date of my first post kept creeping closer and closer like some creature with its claws out, ready to gouge me! Each time I’d post a monthly blog, I’d see more and more Roses who’d finished their stories and had them queued up for publication, and I still hadn’t started mine!

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was starting to worry, and for the first time I started to doubt my ability to get the story done. I knew I could ask one of my fellow Roses to swap dates with me, and I’m confident someone would have graciously agreed, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I needed to find a way out of this myself. Because there was no real reason I was behind—no family crisis, no visitors, no illnesses. Just my normal routine.

Finally, I settled on my idea and started writing. The story was shaping up, I was feeling confident and about three-quarters done. Then the writer’s worst nightmare happened—less than a week before my posting date, I somehow wrote over my document with something entirely different. And – poof! – like that my hard-fought words were gone. DID I MENTION IT WAS LESS THAN A WEEK FROM MY POSTING DATE!?

When I realized what I’d  done, I wanted to cry. I think I did let out an inhuman-like wail that caused my husband to come running, then pooh-pooh me like it wasn’t a real crisis. (What does HE know anyway?!)

After a frantic search of my computer, I located three or four old versions that I’d somehow had the foresight to save under a different name, so at least I had a foundation. The basic plot hadn’t changed, but a lot of the details had. I remembered enough that I knew it was salvageable, but the clock was ticking.

 



I couldn’t take any time off from the day job, and by the end of the work day my brain is dead, so I did the unthinkable. I sacrificed my morning exercise and promo/email/blog-raading time to work on the story before work. Thankfully I got the story done (although probably with a few glitches I didn’t pick up on in my rush), but in the process, I discovered something amazing.

Writing at 4:25 a.m., when my brain is still half asleep, released the creativity I’d been missing for so  long, but more than that, it rekindled my love of writing. Somehow my brain likes writing before dawn. Who knew?!

I’m a creature of habit, AND the kind of person who likes to get the icky tasks out of the way before I let myself do the fun stuff.  So for several years I’ve been following the same pre-work routine:  get up early, exercise, take care of the  writing “business” stuff, then try to write, then go to the day job. It hasn’t worked. I think by waking myself up with non-creative things, I locked my thinking into that business-like frame, and once there, I couldn’t get it back, even on weekends when I didn’t have to go to work.

Bull-headed, I didn’t quite recognize this about myself until after the first of the year and I’d settled back into that routine. I’d been making slow progress on my WIP, but at the rate I  was going, it would take another year to finish. I knew something had to change.

When  I’d managed to write the holiday story in record  time, I assumed it was the deadline and the thought of having to admit failure that lit the fire, and that was true. It forced me to come up with a solution. Analyzing it after the fact, though, I remembered how good it felt, even under pressure, to put words and sentences together first thing after waking. So I took a leap and rearranged my pre-work routine. For the past couple weeks I’ve been getting up at the same time, then stagger downstairs, get myself a cup of strong tea, and settle down to write. And miraculously, it’s working!

I’m averaging 500-700 words each morning before work, finally making progress on my long-neglected WIP. In fact, I’m having a hard time yanking myself from my laptop to get to the rest of my day. (Back to reality? Nooooooooo!)






On the negative side, the “business” needs are suffering. I’m posting far less frequently on my Facebook page, for example, but I figure hardly anyone was reading it anyway, so no real harm. And once I have this story in production, I can ramp up my efforts.

So if you’re stuck in the writing blues and missing your Muse, maybe try to figure out when you get the most joy from writing and refocus your efforts on that time of the day or place. It can’t hurt to try! And if you're in a place where you're having a tough time finding joy in anything, give yourself time to heal, to recover...to regain your balance. The joy will find you when you're ready.


Happy writing.

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Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love.  Learn more at LeahStJames.com.

20 comments:

Margo Hoornstra said...

Well go you for breaking out of that slump! I admire anyone who can function so well first thing in the morning. Not something I could do. I don’t think...but then again...maybe I should try it!

Jannine Gallant said...

I'm glad our stories pressured you into changing your routine, Leah! I have to tell you, early morning works like the proverbial charm! May though Sept., I drag myself out of bed at 4:20AM and get to the boat ramp by 5AM. After letting a fisherman or two onto the lake, I settle down to write. It's by far my most productive time of the year. At home, I'm distracted. Later in the day, I'm distracted. Working at the ice rink was a disaster in distraction even when it wasn't busy. There's something about being the only one up besides the chirping birds that motivates me. Go, you! Keep up the good work!

Leah St. James said...

Thanks, Margo. I'm definitely a morning person, although I'm not sure if it's more from need or preference at this point! I also like late at night, after the house is quiet...presuming I haven't fallen asleep on the couch at 8:30. :-)

Leah St. James said...

It's so true, Jannine, at least for me. I'm up at about the same time, and it's just me and Hercules. Some people can take their lunch periods and write, but my head is too into "work" to shift gears, and people always need something. I don't know how those writers do it. Thanks for the encouragement!

Vonnie Davis said...

How awesome to be out of the walled creative room. I've been working off and on on a book that's different from anything I've ever written. I'm jumping from the Vietnam Era to the present and back and forth. I'm a third done after all this time and I'm ready to work on something new. Just for a mental break. We all have our writing issues. Mine is sticking with one thing until it's finished. I like working on three at a time. It's called insanity, isn't it? But what you've done is called progress and growth. Yay you!

Brenda Whiteside said...

I'm with you on the early morning writing. When I had the day job, that's when I wrote, even if I only got in 15 minutes. Best way to start the day. Good for you.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Huzzah! Sweet that your need to finish the Christmas story got you to this better place. I think you're on to something. I do business first...then write. I think I'll switch that up, too. Thanks for the nudge!

R. E. Mullins said...

Due to spring weather, my muse is on hiatus.

Leah St. James said...

Vonnie - You are far sharper than I am, at any time of day, I think. No way I could jump between stories. I have a hard enough time remembering what day of the week it is! (Seriously, sometimes I just stare into space and think, What month is this?) Yikes!

Leah St. James said...

I'm in total agreement with you, Brenda. My only problem now is that I want to go to work even less than I did before! :-) Luckily the need for money compels me from my writing perch.

Alison Henderson said...

When I was stranded in no-writer's land, it never occurred to me to try writing at a different time of day. I don't think I could string three words together at 0-dark-thirty, but how do I know? I've never tried. What rescued me was doing a mini NaNo. I'm so glad you found a way out, too!

Andrea Downing said...

Business needs? What are those again? :-)

Leah St. James said...

Give it a try, Rolynn. This switch, combined with the early morning, is really helping me.

Leah St. James said...

Robin...is it spring??? :-) Neither my local weather nor my brain has acknowledged the change in seasons! Hopefully soon, then I too will have something else to distract me!

Leah St. James said...

Alison, I commend anyone who can successfully survive even a "mini" NaNoWriMo. I've tried the main event three or four times, and I'm certain the last attempt is what sent me into my writing decline! I hear that word and run in the opposite direction now! :-) Glad you found it helpful, though.

Leah St. James said...

Andi, the more I pay attention to the business side, the less I understand it! :-)

Diane Burton said...

Good for you, Leah! Deadlines spur me on. If you'd asked, I might have changed dates with you (mine started on Dec. 26th). One big problem, I was still writing my story on the 23rd. I procrastinated too much last year. As I wrote in my post on the 16th, I finally came out of my winter funk. Spring did it. Sunshine helped. When I mentioned what a difficult time I had, Daughter said she was getting me a "happy" lamp for Mother's Day. We'll see how next winter goes. Changing up your morning routine certainly helped you. I hope you can keep it going.

Alicia Dean said...

Love this post! Not only am I thrilled you have a productive writing routine and rediscovered your joy of writing, I'm the same way! First thing in the morning is my very best time to write. After that, I'm useless creatively. I keep telling myself I'm just going to handle a few of my 'must dos' before I begin writing, then I'll dig in. But, the 'must dos' never end. So, I'm taking your advice, I recently wrote a post about making it part of my morning routine, like drinking my coffee, but I haven't implemented it yet. But, I am going to, starting immediately. I'll never do it if I don't do it first. The other stuff will still get done, eventually. Hell, I'm never caught up anyway. Thanks for the reminder/kick in the pants!

Leah St. James said...

The lack of deadlines (normally) is probably one thing that allows me to sort of languish writing-wise, Diane. Being an indie is great, but if you're not good at self-imposed deadlines (which clearly I'm not), you can pay with productivity! And thanks for sharing that you, too, were a bit behind on this year's story! :-) I've heard about those "happy lamps." I hope it will help when winter hits next year.

Leah St. James said...

That's how I started, Ally -- with a few "must do" items. I told myself it would only take 5 or 10 minutes. I even downloaded an app that you can program for incremental tasks. I tried it a few times, but ignored the "alarms" when they went off. :-) And like you said, the "must dos" never end. Something has to give. Let us know how you make out with your new morning routine!