Over the years, the computer has become the place where I either work or I procrastinate. It’s increasingly harder to sit at the computer and write if I’m not already inspired or don’t already have blueprints of what I need to be doing. So this semester, I started looking for creative ways to get the inspiration flowing without having to sit in front of a screen.
You might be thinking, “That’s what journals and pencils are for, foolish child!” I agree. I used to love writing in journals. But with my Rheumatoid Arthritis, I find it increasingly difficult to hold a pen to paper for any length of time. So I’ve come up with other methods that (if not totally pain-free) are at least more entertaining than sitting with a journal.
3. Step away from your manuscript and study one of your favorite books.
I talked about this at length in my post about character voice in Mark of Athena. Take a break from your own writing and pick up one of your favorite books in your genre. Then start looking for ways you can learn, methods you can employ to strengthen your characters and writing.
For instance, you might grab a copy of Harry Potter to look at the way Rowling builds the friendship between Ron and Harry. Find your favorite interaction between the two characters (perhaps the incident with the car?) and read through it once just to remind yourself. Then go through it again with a pencil. Write in the margins (if you’re sacrilegious like me) or on a separate notebook whenever you notice anything unique about the characters’ interactions. How does Ron respond to the situation differently than Harry? How does Rowling let you understand Ron’s feelings even though the piece is from Harry’s perspective? How does their relationship change? Etc.
I find this really exciting because (in my experience) analyzing the writing of an author reveals there’s far less magic and far more intentionality in their writing. I might not be good enough to work magic, but I can be intentional.
(I like using a book that’s in my genre because the thought of mimicking a master’s voice is terrifying (like Tolkien or Austen). For me, it’s easier to see and mimic the writing of someone who’s more in my circle.)
2. Print out your plot and physically rearrange it.
I hate climaxes. I hate scenes that are pivotal to the plot. These either come out right or they suck in big ways. (Climaxes always suck for the first 20 drafts.) So this time around, I decided to make a game out of it.
I made a table in Word and typed up everything that has to happen in my climax, based off of my horrendously terrible first draft. I included actual actions (“[antagonist] kills [this person]”) and more vague concepts (“[this character] redeems himself somehow”). I printed and cut out three copies of this table. Then I took the individual pieces and arranged them in three different sequences (making sure that every sequence was different from my original first draft). Because my climax takes place in two different settings, I used a pen to mark where the transition between settings happens. I challenged myself to move the placement of this transition in my different scenarios.
With my three different versions, I was able to clarify what I liked about certain versions, what I disliked, and how the action would work best. This would have taken me a whole lot of sweating, writing and revisions if I just did the work in my actual manuscript.
1. Write on dry erase boards, mirrors and windows.
This is my favorite, and not only because it makes me look like an eccentric writer. In class, my professor would often put a sentence on the dry erase board and then let the students hash through and fix the problems. One night when I was pulling my hair out over an opening sentence, I just grabbed a dry erase marker and went at it on the mirror. I starred the versions of the sentence I liked, and kept going through the drafts over and over until I had an entirely new, entirely better beginning of the chapter in question. This works excellently both for troublesome sentences and for timelines/larger problems.
I enjoy using windows because the words almost disappear when you write. For me, this enabled an experience where I was writing out my thoughts without having to process what I was writing. Also, with windows, when sunset comes it’s very hard to see the writing at all. This meant I had to let the words sit till morning, when I could reconsider. It was nice to be able to throw my ideas up and then leave them there for several hours to stew.
Also your friends/family/housemates will raise a concerned eyebrow and you’ll get to feel like an evil mastermind writing out grand plots, which I consider a plus.
Hope you enjoy these tips! What are some methods you use to get away from the computer?