Some of my friends and readers aspire to be writers. A lot of them tell me that they struggle to sit down and write consistently enough to finish their projects, and many have asked how I managed to do it. I don’t have the answer for them. In this first blog about writing, I offer the story of my discovery about what worked and is still working for me. I hope you find it useful.
By nature, I’m the kind of person who can’t help but notice patterns. I’m also a novelist who is keenly aware of the fact that writing and everything associated with it is consuming copious amounts of my thoughts, energy, and time while I’m immersed in writing the first draft of the second novel in the Staves of Warrant series. Being aware of the effects the writing process has on me didn’t come as a surprise. What did sneak up on me was an evolution in the pattern of those effects. Let me explain.
In 2008, I began writing a medieval fantasy series that ultimately grew to five novels over a period of two years. While I was writing them, my writing/life pattern was an absurd contradiction of emotions and priorities. I was miserable, tormented, unable to function happily and effectively in more ways than I care to remember. At the same time, I was elated, mentally stimulated, creative, driven to write, write, and write. In early 2011, I burned the manuscripts and destroyed the electronic files of those novels for a number of reasons, the most significant of which was that they didn’t tell the story I wanted to tell.
Later that same year, my writing/life pattern changed, and I wrote the first novel in the Worlds of Warrant series. This time, my emotions and priorities were in sync. I slept soundly and long enough to feel rested, ate healthy foods, took daily walks, and enjoyed being where I was and doing what I was doing. Every day, I sat down with a writing goal for the chapter I was working on–character building, driving the plot, creating a setting, etc.. Yet, I gave myself permission every time my fingers touched the keyboard to let the characters and the story reveal themselves. Yes, I had a plan, which included research, an outline, and notes. Yes, it was work. Yes, I had responsibilities above and beyond writing. I’d had all those things when I wrote the previous novels. But this time, neither the plan, the work, nor my non-writing hours were so restrained, subscribed, stressful, or overbooked that they didn’t allow room for the critical component missing from my previous pattern: delight.
The change was so dramatic that I remember precisely when I became acutely aware of it. I was sitting at the table in my lounge, typing an early chapter in the book. I looked up and saw the spires of Lincoln Cathedral, a clear view of which I had from a bay window across the room. My thought was that even though I had no idea where my life was going, I was in the right place at the right time and doing the right things. I returned to writing and for the first time ever, it seemed my fingers couldn’t keep pace with the words that started flowing. I typed like a madwoman, and the story didn’t flow; it insisted relentlessly. Hours later, I typed the final words of the chapter. It was then that I realized how I felt: literally breathless and acutely aware that I was filled with delight.
What accounted for the delight wasn’t that I’d finished a chapter. Before I began the novel, I had made a commitment to myself to be aware of my life and how I was living it. As I consciously explored the world around me in the context of how I felt as I explored it, the world took on a new hue, and so did my writing. For the first time since I undertook the task of writing a novel, I was truly telling the story I wanted to tell, the story as it spoke itself to me.
For me, the patterns of writing and living are one and the same. Their patterns are intertwined strands of DNA, of the very thing that makes me who I am. Life entails making plans and working consistently on a goal, just as writing does. Making a commitment to myself to explore, to take the time to be aware, and to accept that I am in the right place at the right time doing the right things help me bypass distractions that interrupt my life/writing. It gives me permission to let life and my stories tell their tales, and it makes both simply . . . delightful.