Thursday, April 22, 2010

Live Well. Write Well.

Today's advice is brought to you courtesy of several days of exhaustion/mental burnout over the past two weeks.

I'm sure we've all hit that point where the words just don't flow onto the page. Maybe it's just a sticky plot point. Maybe it's a "boring" stretch in the book. Or maybe it seems that for no reason at all your creative energy is gone.

Frequently this is termed "writers block". A misnomer at best. And potentially deadly if accepted at face value. Because (and here's the difficult part) writing is work. That means one has to learn to write even when the muse isn't whispering in ones ear. Even when you don't really want to. Even when you don't know how you will fit those seventy pages of remaining screenplay into twenty.

If you accept the fact that you can be "blocked" then you take a passive stance in regard to your craft. That is a mistake.

However. There are "outside" forces that can influence the effectiveness of your writing routine. The big three are sleep, stress and food.

It's hard when you're like me and counting the days until you can have something ready for submission and then (oh, please) publication. You want to use every possible second to write, write, write. And, if you're like me, you find that some of that time you wind up staring numbly at the half-a-sentence you managed to hammer out before the need for rest drove your brain into wordfail. Getting up a little bit earlier to get in thirty minutes extra writing is fine. Unless the thirty minutes less is effecting your ability to function as a writer. If you need more sleep then take it. Trying to soldier through exhaustion is NOT productive.

Stress is usually caused by family or work. There is only so much you can do to control it. (If it's a serious problem then some sort of settling technique might prove useful - whether it's a walk around the block or a few moments sitting quietly.) But when stressful things happen don't try and write anyway. (You might be that rare type that thrives on conflict. In that case, ignore this advice.) Just like trying to write on not enough sleep, writing while worked up over something else is NOT productive.

Food, well, this one is obvious. Trying to write when hungry/overfull/or full of junk food is... that's right, NOT productive. I'm not saying you have to eat all organic non-meat meals or anything. But slamming down half a pepperoni pizza and buffalo wings is probably not the best idea. Heartburn will kill productivity.

Smaller things you may also want to consider.

Limiting caffeine intake. You don't need to cut it out but chugging coffee by the barrel eventually results in shaky hands and anxiety attacks. (At least, it does for me.) You can either opt for something less caffeinated (like tea) or just limit the amount of coffee or soda you drink.

Not snacking while writing. I believe James MacDonald once said that you should never engage in any activity while writing that when taken away will "kill the muse." (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point. This goes double for things that are addictive like smoking or drinking alcohol.) I do keep a stash of candy in the shelves over my desk. They are there are incentive to help me keep going. I promise myself a square of chocolate once I get 2k written. But I try to avoid eating constantly while writing. Before you know it you've downed the whole damn bag of candy fruit slices.

None of these things are rules and the "Big Three" should certainly not be used as an excuse to not write. But no matter how much we want to be, we are not writing machines. We are people. (Hey, writers are people too.) We get tired. We get stressed. We eat bad food. All of that impacts our ability to write.

So, take a nap one day instead of drudging through the never ending chapter from hell. Or eat a salad instead of fried chicken for dinner. Your brain will thank you. So will your novel.


Jaydee Morgan said...

I really like this post. I'm also one who doesn't buy in to the whole writer's block thing. What I agree is that it is work - it's not easy.

The one thing I could not go without, though, is my coffee. Maybe it is my crutch - but I'm keeping it :)

A.G. Carpenter said...

Hahah. I admit. I still drink coffee. But when I sit down to write I limit my intake to less than one cup an hour. Tea is good because it still has the caffeine content without as much of the jitters (it's just not as strong).

I used to drink soda a lot while writing but have started trying to avoid anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup. So, small portions of coffee or a mug of tea are my caffeination method of choice these days. :)

Lola Sharp said...

I agree, writing is work and you have to sit and write(granted, some days are easier), and I am not giving up my beloved coffee. ;)

A.G. Carpenter said...

Lola, I wouldn't want anyone thinking I want them to give up something they enjoy.

I simply think we overlook that some of the things we cling to as writers can sometimes be part of the problem when it comes to productivity.

Personally, I tend to hit a cycle where I'm worn out so I drink coffee 'til I'm wired, then start feeling sick and anxious and finally wind up going to bed without having accomplished anything. (And sleeping poorly due to my over-enthusiastic coffee consumption.) It's not that coffee is bad, just that sometimes we let it become part of a "bad" routine.

Recognizing genuine physical needs (like sleep or hunger) and dealing with them appropriately will put us in a better position to write to the best of our ability. With a cup of coffee in hand, if we so desire. :)