There’s this comic that my fiancé has been talking about lately that David Lynch made about a dog who is “bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis.” I never thought much of that comic until July, when I felt very much like I could identify with that dog. Three months to go until the wedding and the panic had set in all over again. I was feeling completely burnt-out from work, my social calendar was filled to the brim, the time I’d gotten to spend writing my novel was non-existent, and my body had practically forgotten the definition of “relax.”
Bound so tightly with tension and anger, [she] approache[d] the state of rigor mortis.
Clearly, this all meant it was time for a getaway.
When I got the idea for this post, I was a little hesitant at first. I make posts about writing and give a lot of advice, but typically this advice is for people who are already writers and may be working through some of the same challenges I am. But what kind of advice could I give to someone just starting out?
It’s not a question of credentials. I consider myself a knowledgeable writer. I’ve been writing for well over half my life. I went to school and got a degree in creative writing. I’ve written a novel and numerous short stories, and essays and articles and have edited and rewritten and revised over and over and over. But I’m still not sure what the most useful advice to give someone just starting out is because there are so many different aspects of writing and the writing process to talk about.
The best way I know how to do this is to ask myself what I would have wanted to know when I started out and what has been essential for my growth as a writer. So that’s what this will be: advice for a younger Chelsea, that will hopefully help you too. This advice isn’t necessarily about the writing craft – how to set a scene, develop characters, or get nice, clean dialogue (although perhaps I’ll make a part two of this addressing just that). The advice I’ve chosen to give is mostly about the process of writing itself, which I find in some ways has taken me a longer time to develop and hone than some aspects of the craft.
So without further ado, here are some of the tips I have for those of you wanting to start out, but not quite sure where to begin.
There are times in my life when reading comes easily. I can devour book after book and nearly every waking thought is about the story I’m reading and the next one I’ve yet to read. It’s an exhilarating feeling and often feels like it will never end… until it does.
We’ve all been in them, so we all know how much they suck.
Book slumps are challenging and can be really frustrating. They can make you feel like you’re wasting your limited reading time. If you’re an avid reader, you know repeated weeks or months spent not reading can make life start to feel a bit bland. So how do you get out of this?
Well first, recognize that you’re in one. For me, this can look like picking up more than three books at a time and not getting very far in any of them because none seem to retain my interest. It can also manifest as me either not wanting to read or avoiding reading altogether. When I’m choosing to do anything besides reading I know that I’m probably in a slump.
Since I’m the type of person who feels it’s always important to be reading something, this is unacceptable. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. So here are a few tips and tricks I use when I need to get out of a book slump. Putting these to use typically help me snap out of it right quick.
I want to say that over the years I’ve been writing I’ve managed to master multiple forms of the craft, but unfortunately, that’s not true. I’ve always had an interest in script-writing, but I just haven’t made it a priority. I loved writing personal essays, but haven’t done one since I’ve had a class that required me to. And I’m not sure I’ll ever muster up the desire to take another stab at poetry.
The truth of the matter is that since I’ve begun writing, my ideas have always been for novels. Almost any idea I have turns out to be an idea for a longer form of work.
I relish in the extensive planning, character building, and worldbuilding that often accompanies these ideas. Novels to me are gold. But although I love novels, I don’t want to be a writer who can only do novels. I still possess this desire to be well-rounded, which, in my mind, means experimenting with other forms of writing.
I take solace in the fact that one of my favorite writers, Octavia Butler, also saw novels as her preferred writing medium, which she mentions in Blood Child, saying “I am essentially a novelist. The ideas that most interest me tend to be big. Exploring them takes more time and space than a short story can contain.”
Of course, all of this is said in the forward to her short-story collection. And if Octavia Butler can feel pretty much the same way I do and still write some kick-ass short stories, then I have to ask myself why shouldn’t I?
While casually scrolling through my Instagram or Facebook feed I’ll see photo after photo of friends on vacation in Spain or Thailand or Peru. All the travel bloggers I follow will begin posting more about their journeys because summer means longer days, warmer weather and more opportunities explore. And then my grandparents will announce their latest vacation plans and leave before anyone has a chance to blink.
Every year I’m left wondering one thing: what the hell am I still doing here?
There’s no denying that throughout the year we tend to write more at certain times than others. Take a minute to think about where and when you typically write. What do you think of as writing weather?
Fall and winter are typically the most popular times for writing. For one, these seasons are perfectly acceptable times to cozy up indoors, equipped with the excuse that the weather is too bad to go out. It helps that NaNoWriMo happens to be in the Fall. It also helps that many writers (myself included) are introverts who are perfectly happy staying in the comfortable bubble of our homes. When it comes to spring and summer, though… well, I know it’s difficult for me to stick to my writing goals when the sun’s out.
But if we’re serious about writing, then we should be writing at all times, not just when the weather inconveniences our outdoor excursions.
Writing isn’t and shouldn’t be seasonal, after all. And going outside to write can be surprisingly motivational. You can get some good dialogue bits (people watching and eavesdropping, anyone?), and it just might be the environment change you need to get through that scene you’ve been stuck on. We’re about halfway through the summer now. If you haven’t been writing all that much, do yourself a favor and take the time to recommit.
Don’t just enjoy the view from your window. Make a point of getting outside and getting some writing done while you’re at it.
Not sure where to go to write outside? Well, that’s what I’m here for. I’ve included both general ideas for those who live in different cities and specific recommendations if you’re in Seattle like me (us PNW’ers know we’ve got to take advantage of these precious months of sun while we’ve got them).
Now, no more putting off your writing until fall – get to it, writers!
As a writer, I’ve always believed it’s important to keep a travel journal (and any journal, really), but have, sadly, been a little resistant to putting this idea into practice in the past. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that it’s not always easy to remember to journal when you’re on the move.
When I travel, I’m always trying to take things in and am so focused on what I’m experiencing that I often don’t pay any attention to that blank little notebook in my bag. I want to keep my eyes open. I don’t want to sit down, jot a few notes about what’s happened and risk missing out on what’s happening at the moment.
And yet when I come back from a trip in which I didn’t journal, I tend to feel like… something’s missing.
For the past four years, I have consistently failed my reading challenges. There are a number of contributing factors. It’s partially because I tend to set unreasonably high goals for myself. It’s partially for lack of trying and too much going on in my life. But yet another one of those is the fact that I can’t seem to pick up the pace when it comes to reading.
I’m a slow reader. And it’s not something that’s bothered me too much in the past (even while all my other reader friends zip through book after book as I tread my way through one), but as I see myself already falling almost ten books behind on my reading challenge this year, it’s made me think.
For one thing, it makes me question myself as a book blogger. And it’s also made me question if I can really call myself a voracious reader. After all, all other voracious readers and book bloggers I know can consume and pass through at least three books a week if they really try. And while I certainly do read more and enjoy reading more than a handful of my friends, I feel like without that element of quickness, describing myself as a voracious reader is a bit misleading.
Reading slow, purposefully or not is one thing that’s made me struggle with my perception of myself as a reader, but in brainstorming some reasons for why I don’t mind it (the joys) and why it bothers me (the woes), it’s given me some perspective on why I think this way, and even opened me up to different ideas about my reading style. I’ve listed them below, and I hope that it’ll open you up to exploring your own “reader’s identity” as well.
Have you ever been struck by an idea that inspires you to write without constraint or abandon and suddenly you’ve written a story so fresh and new and beautiful that you’re sure it’s the masterpiece you’ll forever be remembered by?
And then have you ever re-read that little masterpiece of yours right away and thought that it probably wouldn’t hold it’s own against a pile of horseshit?
We’ve all been there. Us writers can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves when it comes to our work, especially if we’re just starting out (and sometimes, in my case, even if you’re not). The problem is that it can be extremely hard to write down and capture the exact story you have in your head on paper and this is frustrating to no end. I can look at a story I’ve written that has received positive feedback from multiple people and still find reasons to despise it if it doesn’t match up exactly with what I wanted it to be.
But sometimes, there are actual moments when I get around that feeling, and can see my writing as something that, while it has its imperfections, isn’t just a steaming pile of hot garbage. These moments are golden. If I’m not busy crying over how much I hate my work and contemplating burning it all, I sometimes make an effort to do things that make me look at it more fairly. So I want to share some of them with those of you who also struggle with this. Because I promise you that unless you’re literally writing with poo, then what you’re writing is better than horse shit.
Ah, fantasy. What fun it is to be spirited away on adventures of magic and mystery through worlds fraught with powerful creatures, enigmatic strangers, and sprawling landscapes! As a writer, music is the number one thing to get me in the mood to write, but when it comes to writing fantasy stories, I find I often have to be a little more choosy.
Is it just me or can it be a little hard to get into the fantasy writing mood when you’re listening to some of the happiest, bounciest pop songs on the radio today? And even if you don’t have terrible taste in music like me and listen to music that’s more words, instrument, and emotion than bounce, sometimes it can be hard to find music that can really transport you into the world of your creation. Which is why I’ve done my best to find the best sources for fantasy inspired music that can do just that.
While I don’t have any specific song recommendations because I tend to just use streaming services and pre-made playlists rather than curate my own stuff, I think that if you’re looking for the perfect songs to go with your fantasy novel, you’ll probably be able to find them through one of these services. Happy listening my fellow fantasy nerds!