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.