Thursday, October 29, 2009

Writing in the absence of inspiration

In my opinion, one of the most valuable lessons taught by NaNoWriMo is how to write even when you're not inspired or in the mood to write. It's so romantic to think of writing as the result of a spectacular burst of creativity, and it all just flows magically from that seminal idea... but hey, sometimes there are deadlines. Sometimes, it's November. How do you write without the magical, genius, inspiring, motivating idea?

Maybe you take a long walk, and let yourself get bored to clear your brain, and let a new idea come to you. Maybe you take a nap or listen to music that makes you jump around and then start fresh afterwards. Maybe you reread earlier parts of your work-in-progress, looking for a nugget of information that can -- indeed, should! -- be expanded. Maybe you read another book to consider how other authors dealt with similarly thorny plot dilemmas...

Or maybe you Just. Keep. Writing. Sometimes the risk is too high that, if we walk away to "refresh" ourselves, we may never come back. And in November, any writing you do to help move your story forwards does count towards your final word count goal. Go ahead, do a little free association! Maybe indulge in some character development, writing short scenes that you know will never make it into the final draft, but that nevertheless help inform your own sense of the characters, and perhaps help you see the next (plot) encounter these characters will have. Write that backstory or give the character a crazy dream sequence. It all counts towards your 50K, and it gets you into the habit of working through the tough moments.

And don't forget the NaNoWriMo forums! Don't know what your character would do next? Get online and ASK someone! Join a word war, find a writing prompt, let someone else name that character you're currently calling "Bad Guy #2." Or just go moan to a crowd of sympathetic ears who will all encourage you to get back in the saddle. Writing need not be such a lonely endeavor, at least not next month...

Obviously, sometimes a break from writing really is called for, but I think that beginning writers often take too many such breaks, waiting for that romantic AHA! moment where the plot is suddenly laid out before us like a freshly paved highway. Sometimes, you just have to keep plugging away. As Stephen King says, you have to build good habits so that your muse knows when and where to find you when the time is right.

And in November, it's all good. Every dumb word you write gets you one word closer to your NaNo novel. And your odds of writing one good page in the midst of several bad pages are infinitely higher than your odds of finding a good page on your desk when you didn't write at all that day, because you were stuck, or had writer's block, or weren't feeling it.

When inspiration hits, by all means grab it and milk it for all it's worth! I have twice started my NaNo early because I think the spirit of NaNo is to write more, and I wasn't going to let a great idea get away because of a fun-but-artificial start date.

But if inspiration doesn't hit? Keep writing anyway. You will never know what you are capable of creating if you don't keep going over those rough spots.


  1. I ain't waitin for no muse and when people do that sort of thing it makes me kind of a*mused.

    This has been the beauty of taking up my blog in the last month and few days. I've been treating the blog as a job (damn I wish somebody would pay me for this!). I get up in the morning and after doing my morning housekeeping, etc, I'm in my "office" by 9 AM and I start writing and researching. My daily blog post has only been taking 1 to 2 hours per day, and after 40 posts in 41 days I've done @ 33,000 words.

    I think the novel should come even faster. I can b.s. dialogue and compose the prose of action and description pretty quickly without thinking too much. And I find that as I get more involved in the story, the faster I write and the more quickly inspiration comes my way--one inspiration just leads to the next if I don't get bogged down about thinking about it.

    But you are so correct. Just start writing and if you have any kind of ability for coherent thinking you should be able to develop a knack for inspiration as a matter of habit. Don't work hard trying to find inspiration, just work and let the inspiration come naturally and organically.

    November -- barring any problems and the good Lord willing-- I am quite sure that I can not only do the novel, but still do my blog and comments on other blogs. I'm just gonna write.

  2. This is the newbie kick-in-the-butt I needed. The closer November 1 comes the sweatier I get.

    Really, I appreciate you emphasis to keep writing no matter what.

    I hear you load and clear! I may need you to scream it again before Novemeber leaves us.

  3. This is a really fantastic post. Very motivational! I SO need to win Nano this year. My previous attempts have all been quite pathetic.

  4. Excellent, accurate post. I'm a first-timer to Nanowrimo this year and I can't wait! One of my biggest problems is that I think I write slower than I should because I'm too much of a perfectionist. It will be so liberating to be forced to let the words flow, regardless of whether or not they're perfect.

  5. I'm not doing Nanowrimo, but I promise to be writing everyday along with you. Good Luck!

  6. I usually wait for muse and that's not the best thing. Sometimes I have to wait for a while! I'm really trying to be more disciplined to sit down and write/edit anyway. So far it's been a great thing!

  7. November 1 is coming up fast! My muse turns up when he feels like it and leaves with frightening speed, if I waited for him I;d never have writtern a word.

    Great post Carrie!


  8. I like Andrew's comment. If we waited for our muse we would wait and wait.... and wait. If we want to write then we need to, um... Write.

    sometimes easer said then done though. I am learning to push through feelings. Especially the doubts that tell me I suck. :)