WAYS TO RECAPTURE AUTHORIAL DELIGHT
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET IN A SLUMP
There are two main forms of writer's block (a condition I refuse to believe in, by the way, as part of my method of avoiding it. Believing in writer's block is really just writer's hypochondria.) One form occurs when you're in the middle of writing something and you get stuck because you don't know what happens next. Another far more insidious form is when you can't summon the motivation to write at all. The former is a more mechanical issue of planning and plotting and self-analysis. This lesson will help you with the latter. Here follows a brainstormed list of 7 tips for putting zeal back into your typing fingertips.
1) Analyze all writing advice about work habits. (Write every day! Keep word count lists! Submit your stories to every market! To only the top markets! Don't bother with old ideas! Certainly no time travel stories! Research markets! Read every genre magazine! Read lots and lots of books on writing! Outline before beginning a short story, especially for a novel!) Now, print that advice on newsprint. Make a paper-mache doll out of it.
Then beat the living crap out of it. I'm talking spouse-calls-a-shrink type of frenzy.
This should remind you of Lessons 1 and 2. The standard advice works for some people. It doesn't work for others. Like me. In fact, it stifles some of us, squashes the creative freedom out of our souls. Keep what works. Actively despise what doesn't.
2) Read interesting non-fiction. Stuff you'd read whether or not you were a writer. If you're like me, the most annoying part about doing this is that you can't read it in certain situations, because the times you read where you did NOT have a notepad handy drove you nuts--you just HAD to write down that idea. And that one. And that one.
3) Read Bad Fiction that sold well. Only as much as you can tolerate, of course. Bad Fiction has inspired many people to write something better. A friend of mine started writing primarily thanks to David Eddings. He got so sick of god-like super-characters that he wrote a novel with very down-to-earth heroine (not to mention other improvements over the Belgariad.)
4) Read Good Fiction outside of the genre. Maybe you already do. Then try something else. Or something in the genre that you'd normally never touch. Maybe it's some of Robert Asprin's humor. Or see if you can find a copy of Delany's "Dahlgren." I managed to read about half of it before starting to skim, and it made me decide that I would never torture my readers with pretentious overblown obscurantism. But it also opened my eyes to new ways to use language, and I subsequently wrote the prologue of a novelette in the most imagery-popping words that I'd ever penned.
5) Remind yourself of past successes--read your old stories. Recapture that lovin' feeling. Even my oldest stories--gag though they make me might--contain gems: a cool idea, a great character name, a glowing turn of phrase. And they remind me of the feelings I had when I wrote them.
6) Get Real. Have you ever felt that YOU wouldn't accept your own submissions, were you an editor? Yes? Great. I felt this kind of click just before writing my first "big sale" to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, realizing I'd submitted tons of stories knowing deep down that they weren't going to be bought, not out of pessimism, but because the stories weren't good enough. So I decided to write only the ones that felt good enough: ideas and execution. My track record is much higher since then. This might seem intimidating; actually, it is liberating. It relates back to Lesson 1. Why should I write every day, crank out 200,000 words a year, and publish nothing, when I can write 50,000 words a year and sell half of it? Are you really improving by cranking out drivel? I've always fought the "quantity versus quality" battle. Maybe you do, too. Maybe if you wrote half as much, each piece would be twice as good. And the feel of submitting something and knowing that it a high chance of getting accepted--wow. That's powerful motivation.
7) Convince yourself that you're brilliant while you're writing. Extreme idea weeding as hinted at in 6 helps. This is the Stephen King Closed Door/Open Door sentiment (from his book, "On Writing"). Be critical when you're planning or editing and narcissistic when you write. How do you do this? Write fast. Go with your impulses. Write the story the way YOU would like it, not the way the thousand voices of imagined fans and critiquers like it. Tell your inner editor to shut up; she gets her turn LATER.
BOTTOM LINE: If even one of these tips in the least little bit reaches you, I'm happy.
NEXT: How to send chills down your readers' spines.