Freeing the Inner Writer

I’m finding it very difficult to get back into writing mode now that vacation is over. It’s really much like getting back into running or anything else, though. I just need to do it a little bit at a time and focus on the process and not on how good or bad the writing is.

I’m working on an article for an academic journal, but I’m really not happy with what I’m doing. The draft I’m writing is mostly crap notes right now, but I know that’s part of the process. Writing never gets easier, and even if it did, I just keep setting the bar a bit higher each time so it’s always an effort. But at the start of every project there’s always a kind of mental squirming and fear that the writing is not good enough.

The key is to just keep on writing and push through these difficult patches. The problem is making up excuses not to write (not to exercise, not to eat right). You know what it really is? Perfectionism. Fear of not being perfect.

It reminds me of a kid in elementary school who would write his name on his paper and if it looked sloppy he’d ball up the entire sheet and throw it away. I guess he went through about six or seven sheets of paper before he even did any homework. He let perfectionism stall out his efforts instead of continuing to work.

Counteracting perfectionism is essential to moving forward. In college I took an art studio class and the first thing the instructor had us do was draw a big, ugly line across our drawing tablets. It instantly eliminated the blank-page syndrome (hey, this sheet of paper is already messed up!) and freed us to create art. Throwing words on the page, whether they’re good or not, frees writers from the awful whiteness of a clean sheet of paper or a word processor screen. That, and a healthy word-count goal, are the methods behind National Novel Writing Month.

This year I’m going to be collaborating on a historical novel that’s already in progress. Our idea is to use NaNo to power through finishing the draft. I’d also like to finish editing my 2011 NaNo novel, which is about 2/3 done. It is getting better; it just keeps getting put aside for other projects, such as my master’s thesis. Time to pick up the pen, saddle up at the keyboard, and get writing.

Post-vacation Blues

Stonehenge.
Stonehenge.

It’s always rough to come back from vacation and get started back into the workaday routine. I missed my pets and the comfort of being surrounded by my own stuff, but that’s about it. I sure didn’t miss my neighborhood with its ridiculous amounts of loud noise or the horrendous humidity of the Washington, D.C., area. Yes, I know other places are worse, but that’s not particularly reassuring. I had adjusted to lower temperatures and humidity and the night we arrived home it was nearly 77 degrees at Dulles airport and according to one weather app it was nearly 100 percent humidity.

I spent the last two weeks touring London, Bath, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands with a peek at Loch Ness (sans monster), Great Yarmouth, and Paris, collecting refrigerator magnets and the occasional posh souvenir. The weather was generally nice, although it did rain a couple of days, prompting me to purchase a souvenir Cutty Sark umbrella from Greenwich. I took a raincoat but it never quite made it out of the luggage and it hogged way too much space in the suitcase. I could have bought more souvenirs…

Now that vacation is over I plan to make a packing list for my next trip based on the things I took and the things I never used. I used a gym bag for my carry-on luggage, but next trip it’s definitely going to be a real piece of luggage with wheels. Even at fourteen pounds, the bag seemed much heavier and the nylon strap dug into my neck.

Well, it’s time to settle back into my writing routine. I’ll be posting some photos from the trip along with new posts. Look for the next installment of the Thursday Writing Prompt later this week.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 104

Stargazer_1403381070009

Next week I’m going on vacation. I’ll “fill the well,” as Julia Cameron calls it, and probably empty my wallet at the same time. Not that it’s full now. Do you know how much a plastic bag with plastic travel-sized bottles goes for? I do, and that’s why I didn’t buy any of them!

In honor of traveling, this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about the fine art of waiting. I expect to spend a lot of time sitting at the airport waiting to get on the plane, lots of time sitting on the plane, etc., etc. I normally take road trips, so I’m driving and in full charge of when and where I stop to eat, but driving to London from the United States just was too problematic and so we’re flying.

Waiting has never been my strong point, but I intend to put it to good use by people watching and getting ideas for stories and characters.

For this week’s prompt you’re going to work on describing a location where you’ve had to wait. This could be an airport or bus stop, a doctor’s office, grocery store, or the line for the tickets at the latest blockbuster movie.

Describe the location. Start with how the place looks, but don’t overlook adding sensory detail such as smells or sounds. It’s often the creaking step or smell of popcorn that fix these places in our memories, so writing sensory details should be a part of your writing toolkit. Your descriptive scene should ideally be a paragraph, or about 150 words.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 103

Geologic feature, or sea monster?
Geologic feature, or sea monster?

I just sent off a short story submission so cross your fingers for me. In the manner of all things Internet, I spun off the publisher’s website, following a link to an article about sea monsters on the Smithsonian website entitled “The Enchanting Sea Monsters on Medieval Maps.” I can’t seem to include a link, but the article is pretty interesting and is accompanied by some wonderful illustrations from antique maps.

Just as wonderfully, it gave me the idea for this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt. Mariners are prone to telling tales of sea monsters, all kinds of weird and wonderful and grisly beasts that can swallow ships whole or tempt sailors to wreck on dangerous shoals. But what if mermaids and mermen actually existed? What tales would they have to tell about the hideous beasts that lived on land, who might capture the merfolk with nets or spear them with harpoons? What kind of stories would they tell their young?

And that, dear reader, is up to you, because your writing prompt this week is to come up with a land-monster story. Have fun and don’t let science get in the way of having a good time with this idea. It doesn’t have to be realistic because you’re coming up with a legendary monster, not an actual beast.