Welcome back, Happy New Year and all of that. Last year was stressful to be sure, and on all kinds of fronts.
Which got me to thinking about stress and writing. Writing can be so good, so rewarding when you hit on a story or idea which just sings to you. It’s the reason you write, and definitely the reason I sit down at the keyboard. It’s those moments when you can’t type fast enough, or you keep misspelling words because the ideas and lines are coming so fast–it’s a high, a euphoria that can’t be beat.
Except what about the other times? I don’t know if you’ve written under deadlines, but they can be stressful. They can kill your creativity if you’re not used to it. I had a deadline with a gaming company a long time ago. It wasn’t really a creative endeavor, but there was a lot of work to it and I definitely had times where I dreaded sitting down at the keyboard, thinking about how much work I had left to do. I had another deadline experience where I had to turn in 3-5000 words every week and then go over them with an editor. It went on for four months. It was exciting, but also daunting and intimidating.
SO how the heck do you handle deadlines?
There’s no silver bullet (huh, like so many other challenges in the world), but there are ways to beat back the demons. Deadlines are scary: what if I can’t think of anything; what if all I can write is crap?
Breathe. Seriously. Break your deadline down. Take your project apart and figure out how you can split it into pieces. Depending on the type of writer you are, you may plot an outline first. Or at least pin down the start and the end. Or if you’re started and stuck, write notes on what you do know about the story, and start fleshing out any problems you might have to tackle.
I’ve also found that with writing, I work hard for a couple of days and then have to catch my creative breath. I’ve been working on several linked short stories and while I’m anxious to finish them, I’m finding I have to mentally walk away after finishing one. I don’t really understand my creative process, but I know I need to refuel; to reenergize. I think it goes back to my prior writing experience–working on a deadline each week. I remember churning out words, turning them in and then completely divorcing myself from writing for a couple of days.
There are groups who have writing sprints (and a myriad of other terms for them), but it comes down to exercises in writing a lot of words in a short amount of time. I know it’s what I inadvertently did with my workshopping, but it definitely helps with deadlines. I suggest finding a group to help exercise writing muscles. One option: join a group called the Dread Machine via Discord. They offer a variety of programs for writers–check them out: thedreadmachine.com.
If working in groups isn’t your thing, set up your own challenge. Pick a night and write until you hit a personal benchmark. It doesn’t have to be the next all-american-novel in quality, but it’s a way to push yourself. Increase the words each week. See how far you can go, or how much of a story you can knock out in a short amount of time.
Remember: once the story is down, you can go back and tweak it or change it as much as you want.
It’s a writing myth you have to put it on the page perfectly the first time or it isn’t worth crap. Not so. I just recently finished a story which took three attempts. I wrote half of it, a rough idea of where I wanted to go, but it just didn’t feel right. I ended up starting again (saving the first half draft), and again it just didn’t work. And then boom–the third idea emerged and I knocked it out fast. I even incorporated excerpts from the first two versions, though minimally, but my creative side just needed time to work it out
Then I walked away for the next three days. I did everything but write. Until, that fourth night–the next story started creeping inside my head and I allowed myself to go back to the keyboard.
The bottom line of what I’m telling you is: trust your instincts. Reading how other authors write is great to give you inspiration, but trust your own rhythms for writing. If you happen on a routine and it works–go! Forget what others tell you and do whatever helps you sit down and knock out stories. Your style may not work for other people, but so what? You’re writing for you, not them. Get those stories out on the page in whatever way works for you.