Many people have a romantic idea about writing–and some writers perpetuate the notion–that writers sit around waiting for the inspiration of a Muse. The process seems rather mystical, and no one can quite be prepared for when the Muse will strike. If she doesn’t feel like visiting, the writer is stuck in that ugly place called Writer’s Block.
While I won’t deny flashes of inspiration or moments when writing seems easier than others, I feel duty-bound to smash the myth of the Muse. Or at least to declare that writing–good writing–can happen with or without her beneficence.
I began sketching out plot and researching After the Snow Fallsabout a year after my second child was born. I wrote during my “writing mornings,” while my husband took care of our two toddlers so I could have uninterrupted time to focus on my passion.
I wrote the last word on July 4th, 2011. All told, the process took seven years. Seven years.
Granted, during that time, we had another baby and moved to China where we encountered some significant challenges, financially and personally. We moved back to Canada for what we believed would be a six-month visit that stretched into almost two years. There, I experienced one miscarriage, and then another and another. It wasn’t an easy time.
There were times while writing After the Snow Falls that I forgot more about my own plot than I remembered. When I did take the time to sit down and write, I had to re-read large portions of what I’d written–sometimes years before–just to get back into the flow and sequence of the story. On more than one occasion, I threatened to give up altogether.
But the story kept pulling me back. And I knew I just couldn’t give up on it. I’m so glad I didn’t.
However, when approaching another novel, I knew I had to find a better way. If every novel I wrote took that long, I wasn’t going to have much of a career. And I never wanted to face that kind of discouragement about my writing again.
Last November, on a whim, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’d always wanted to, but the rules state you have to be working on a new project–not something you’d been hammering away at for seven years–and I didn’t have the heart to pick up something new with After the Snow Falls languishing in a drawer somewhere.
Writing full-out like that taught me some valuable lessons about writing well with or without the benefit of one’s Muse:
Writing doesn’t have to happen at special times or in a special place. It helps, to be sure. But if you don’t have that luxury,write anyway.
Keep track of word counts. It is tremendously motivating to see those words accumulating, and it helps you to be accountable when there’s no one else to tell you to sit your butt down in a chair and write.
Write every day. With NaNoWriMo, daily word counts run around 1600 words, so getting behind by a day has a huge impact on your overall success. When you start to see how easy it is to lose ground, you begin to understand the value of writing–even a little–every day.
Don’t let yourself get stuck. Can’t face that blank page? Open up a new document and give yourself permission to write anything. Brainstorm on paper. Come up with a crazy new plot twist. Write, write, write. Take a few minutes before writing each new scene to sketch it out in plain prose so you know where you’re headed, then go back to your work in progress and write what you’ve envisioned. If you’re blocked, there’s a reason. Ask yourself why. If you’re not enjoying the scene, you’re not listening to your writer’s intuition that something isn’t right about it. And if you don’t enjoy writing it, how can you expect that anyone will enjoy reading it?
When you sit down to write, resist the urge to rewrite or edit everything you wrote the day before. Give yourself a few minutes to spruce things up if you like, then move on. Write more. Build up that word count. Make it happen.
Out of the frenzy of NaNoWriMo, I’m learning to follow these tips in my everyday writing. I’m currently revising a middle-grade novel and in the research stage, just about ready to launch into writing another contemporary novel for an adult audience.