When the Muse Has Left the Building

Posted on February 13, 2007

I am so incredibly tired today. Wiped out. Bed sounds like heaven. As an aside, a Christian friend of mine joked that when she sleeps in on Sundays, she refers to it as praying at “Our Lady of the Sheets.” I don’t know if we have a Jewish equivalent, but I usually drag my sorry self to shul anyway and take a Shabbat nap after.

So. Where was I? Tired. And there’s a point to this post, actually. Because it’s really hard to be creative and write when one is exhausted. But I have to write, have to finish this book. It’s way beyond deadline as it is, and I’m only hurting myself by waiting any longer.

This begs the question: How do you write when you don’t feel like it?

I know Jack tackled this question not long ago. Today it’s my turn.

Back in the days when I took writing classes, I learned the value of the timed free write. Materials needed: timer, pen and paper or computer (preferably working), one writer who doesn’t feel like writing. Set timer for 5 minutes. Begin writing. Do not stop until timer beeps (or buzzes or dings or whatever your timer does). Write about anything, everything, whatever is in your head. You can spend five minutes writing the following:

I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about.

Eventually you’ll get bored with that and other words will take their place. The point is, when doing a free write, it doesn’t matter what you say or how badly you say it. The point is that you simply write.

True, that doesn’t get a book written. But think of the free write as a warmup. Now I go to the manuscript. I reread parts of it, to get myself back into the story. I reread the scene(s) just before where I need to write new material. Then I push through. I start by putting one word in front of another. Which character speaks first? What does s/he say? Does the reader need anything described to make this part of the scene work?

Word by word, it gets written.

And this is the time – the most important time in my opinion – when I do NOT edit as I write. Because editing when I’m pushing through the manuscript will just stall me even further and then I wind up certain that I’ll never write another coherent sentence in my life and I should just give up now and go find a job slinging treif burgers.

I just write. Just. Write. Yeah, it may be stilted and awkward, but the next time I come through that scene, I can tweak it and reword things.

And here’s the other Big Thing to remember: I love my editor. I love her because she’s my safety net. The times when I had to slog through and never could find a good way to say something, she’ll find and she’ll probably have some good ideas. And she’ll probably tag a bunch of things I thought were said brilliantly, too, and maybe weren’t so much.

Any author out there considering self-publishing, a professional book editor can be your best friend and seriously can make the difference between a mediocre book and an excellent one.

So, that was my free write for today. Seven minutes instead of five, but I took time out to find that link to Jack’s site so it evens out. And now, despite the fact that I’m bone tired, I’m going to reread a few scenes and, with one word in front of another, write the book.


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