Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

This week I was reading Marie Claire magazine, the subscription a generous gift from my agent, Linda Tate. She was skiing in Vail while I slaved over a hot manuscript – literally, it was 44 degrees C in my town – so a touch of conscience? Whatever, it’s a lovely gift that keeps on giving.

One article in the April issue caught my eye: The Confidence Game by Melissa Gaudron. She talks about being overwhelmed, over-scheduled and out of control – feelings shared by many writers. If published you’re working on deadlines, reading proofs, promoting on social media, and planning future projects. Unpublished writers have the added pressure of finding homes for your books, whether with trad pubs or indie.

Nagging yourself, even when your conscience looks like this, doesn't help

Nagging yourself, even when your conscience looks like this, doesn’t help

This quote jumped out at me from life strategist, Shannah Kennedy, “No-one forgets to charge their phone every night, but we’ve forgotten how to recharge our own batteries.”

Many writers I know struggle to cope with a family and a day job, as well as produce new words and keep up with the demands of a writing career.

Some have given up, putting their writing on hold perhaps indefinitely, while they handle everything else. This is a sad state of affairs. In my experience, writers are born to tell stories. Having them in your head and never giving them voice is like cutting off a part of yourself. Yet I understand the temptation.

I’ve often wondered what non-writers do with all that spare time. Even watching TV or a movie would lose some appeal if I couldn’t second-guess the writer, try to spot the foreshadowed plot points, or mentally rewrite the ending more to my liking.

What would I think about in bank and supermarket queues, in waiting rooms or on long flights?

As Shannah Kennedy says, “How can [you] back [yourself] for a promotion or a major work decision, or to make a career change, when [you] have lost who [you] are and what [you] want from life?” Substitute “writing” for work or career, and you have the dilemma facing many writers today.

Have you lost the joy that writing used to be? Has it become another chore on a never-ending to-do list? How do you recharge your personal batteries each day? Here are three ways I recharge mine. You don’t have to use the same ones, but try to think of at least three ways to suit your own needs.

1 – try something different

If you’ve been writing murder mysteries, would you enjoy trying a new genre – science fiction, say, or romance. Or family history. Write exactly what you feel like writing without thinking how it might fit a market. Some of the most successful novels have been those where the writer had no expectations beyond the work itself. 50 Shades of Grey, anyone? My latest project is a book co-written with Dr. Anita Heiss. Neither of us has written a novel with another writer before. It’s a huge adventure and we’re loving it. This book is “grip lit”, edgy women’s fiction with a smidgen of time travel all set in Hawai’i. Go figure. Writing with Anita, bouncing ideas around, is a breath of fresh air for us both. Try something new, something you’ve dreamed of writing. Have fun. See where it leads. That’s what we’re doing.

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2 – stop writing

This may seem odd advice when you’re already struggling to get your writing mojo back. But sometimes taking the pressure off can be the best course. Shannah Kennedy says right now we’re in a constant world of comparison – which affects women more than men. Taking time out to do something different is an ideal way to destress. Would you like to craft or paint? Do that. Read War and Peace? Do that. Walk in the park, sit on a beach or meditate in a corner of your garden. Chakra meditation which I’ve done for decades, is a great safety valve. Don’t try to be “perfect” at whatever you choose; do it for the pleasure it brings. Ignoring your writer voice for a while can have it clamouring for your attention. Two late great writers, Morris West and Maeve Binchy both announced their retirement at one point, then went on to produce new work I’m sure even they didn’t know was lurking in their subconscious.

3 – share the journey

Even if you’re a fairly new writer, you can exchange critiques with someone else at the same stage. If you’re farther along, share what you’ve learned with local groups, at conferences and writing centres. I love to teach, generally gaining as much from the group as I give them. On March 25 I’m launching a new workshop called Story Magic at the ACT Writers Centre in Canberra – details here http://tinyurl.com/gwedj7z I put the focus on the “magic” of writing – bringing readers into your fictional world; making them care about your characters, and stay with you to the last page.

I also mentor the winner of the Valerie Parv Award, held in April each year by RW Australia. I’m excited to see which entry will catch my eye. Winners have written everything from supernatural to sci-fi, historical, crime, fantasy and suspense. I work with the winner for a year, chasing their writing dreams. Nearly all the past winners are successfully published.

Do you struggle to balance writing with other life demands? How could you recharge your creative batteries? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

Check out my shiny new website http://www.valerieparv.com

I’m on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

My latest book, Outback Code, is out now.

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Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring March – 3 ways to get your writing mojo back" (5)

  1. cagedunn said:

    Insist on at least one month each year (or one day each month) where the writing is not priority number one. Try to plan a holiday – somewhere you may even get to when the book is published. Use the one month a year to write (whoops, sorry – jot) up all the concepts and premises for new stories, along with a beat sheet or story board – but not the WIP! A break is a break is a break, however it is used to hide from the current requirements.

    • Some good thoughts here. Are these ideas you practice yourself? “Hiding from the current requirements” sounds like a plan 🙂

      • cagedunn said:

        Yes – I can’t do a decent edit unless I ‘take a break’ from the big job, but to stay completely away from the words of a story – impossible! So a side-track for a few moments, so to speak.

  2. Hmmm. A storyboard. Maybe that could help with the revisions my editor wants for my inspirational romantic suspense. I swapped Villain A for Villain B, but their henchmen’s motivation isn’t working. Also, she thought after the minions were ID’d, they’d leave the area and let A&B fend for themselves. I’ve been interviewing the characters, trying to discover what’s hiding in everyone’s background that’s keeping them from cooperating with me. H/h need to fall in love, but have reasons not to. Villains need better raisons d’etres. At least the danger & suspense are working, but if anything else changes, the danger & suspense could fly out the window like bats out of Carlsbad Caverns! Arrrrrrrrrgh (as Charlie Brown says). Taking a break also sounds good. Which, basically, is what I’ve done, aside from trying to interview the characters (yet again).

    Thanks for another excellent post, Valerie, and for your ideas, too, Cagedun. I have worked a bit on a YA fantasy whose protagonist popped into my head during a writing challenge at our local writers’ group. Last November, I added 50k words to her story, some of which surprised me! Characters sprang onto the page (well, screen) like mushrooms, including some scary creatures. Of course, I’ve since realised it’s going to require some actual work, not just throwing words out there and seeing what sticks. It needs a story arc, and something more of a plot, and the heroine is indicating her story may be a trilogy, which will make it harder. However, at this point, I’m letting her run with it (when I open the ms, which I haven’t this month).

    Meanwhile, I suggest also, if you have other creative outlets, like music (composing, playing, singing, etc.) or art, or folk crafts, indulge in those. I understand knitting sometimes frees up the imagination for writers. (I don’t knit as much as I tat. Thread costs less than yarn, is more portable, and lace is pretty.) Going for a walk and letting your mind drift can open up the mind to new ideas, too. Plus, being in nature can recharge your batteries, just with fresh air. If you don’t live in the country, visit a park. And read! Read something that isn’t in your genre or subgenre. When I was a kid, I read and wrote a lot of science fiction. Lately, I’ve discovered the Imager series of L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Already a fan of your SF, Valerie!

    Well, my breakfast is getting cold. Thanks again! I think with these suggestions (especially the one about just letting yourself NOT write for a bit), I can get back on track! 🙂

    • Agree with the creative outlets and walking, all help calm mind and body. When I need to sort out a story, I write dot points of the key story elements and see whether the story has a coherent arc, highs and lows, and most importantly, character development at every stage. Most of us know what keeps our hero and heroine apart but we seldom address what’s keeping them together. Most people in a high stress situation would get out of there. So why do these characters hang in there? Answering the ‘why’ is actually de-stressing because it’s using left brain thinking and LB loves structure and logic. When you’ve answered your character questions, then you’ll find the writing itself more appealing. All the best with your projects.

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