Coming to the end of the fourth manuscript (only a few chapters to go!), I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve grown as a writer since I started this journey. It’s been what, five years now? What a ride. I’ve made friends, fans and surely enemies. I’ve achieved much of what I set out to do in terms of messaging, branding and awareness and have now set new challenges for myself. Also important, is that I’m finally making a sustainable income off my art—that should be one of the goals of any non-Nihilistic artist. Many of the perceptions and habits with which I began this journey, have been refined or removed completely from my writer’s toolkit. I’m not a teacher, or sage, but here’s what’s worked for me and what may work for those of you just getting started, or those of you needing the traction to pull yourself out of a rut with your craft.
Write what you know. Hmm…I really stuck to this precept as infallible, believing it to be a cornerstone of the craft. Then, around the third book, I realized that in order to build Geadhain, I’d researched geology, learned fragments of Greek, explored aboriginal identities and anthropological patterns, and even looked at how particle physics could be applied as a science within the framework of my world and its lore. Yeah. Turns out I was being too literal and strict with my interpretation of writing what I know. Some of the best stuff I’ve done, which you’ll see in Feast of Chaos, came from expanding my base of knowledge. And I’m not talking about “constantly reading”, which you’ll see many author-sages and experts on the craft suggest you should do. I won’t disagree with them, though I will stress that we’re all different with regards to what habits we form and what habits we need to encourage success. In fact, since starting Four Feasts Till Darkness, I’ve gone on a literary and media blackout of anything that might influence my work. During the last few years, I’ve only seen one episode of GoT: the Sansa one, just to see what the fuss was—justifiably—about. I read maybe two books a year, and they usually have nothing to do with fantasy. I read, and skim, more poetry than anything else.
That said, I’m always absorbing information; taking an afternoon or two to research subjects I want to incorporate into my work. In a few months, I’ll be meeting with a university professor to discuss content I’ll be exploring in the smaller project planned after Four Feasts Till Darkness (really, it should have been Five Feasts, given the length of the last book). What you know doesn’t have to come from books, seminars, or traditional sources of knowing, either. Go out there. Be an adventurer. Discover and discuss life. Play people-watcher at a coffee shop—but don’t stare or be creepy about it! Museums, theaters, or even a walk through the woods, where you pay careful attention to your environment, will fill your head with prose on drama, life, death and nature.
The other major shift in my work habits, has been a sharpening of my focus; a trimming of actual hours spent writing. In a semi-recent blog, I had mentioned how I had been toying with adjustments to my schedule. I didn’t feel as if I was making the best use of my time. Whether you’re elbow deep in writing, publishing and promoting, or just eking out a few lines after you finish your 9-5, you need to make the most of your time. I used to sit for 6-8 hours at the computer, squeezing out prose—you’ll still see that in my bio, as it hasn’t been updated. As a process, that’s as uncomfortable and constipated as it sounds. And, as my responsibilities and side-projects have mounted, I no longer have the time to spend 8 hours on a manuscript each day, then do everything else that my publicist, the sites for whom I write content, or my family, need. So I write harder, faster (get your mind out of the gutter). I turn off my phone; I move it to another room. I’ve killed those wandering moments where I reach for a smart-device to check social media, then inevitably lose ten minutes watching dumb shit on FB. If I’m really time-crunched, I disconnect the internet; for reference materials I pull out my old Roget’s Thesaurus or Chambers’s Etymological Dictionary. We’ve had some great times, Roget, Chambers and I. Nostalgia and the musty-perfume of ink on paper always triggers my passion for the craft. (Side note: I’m pretty sure I’ve mistakenly been calling him “Roger”, not “Roget” for most of my life.)
These days I’m working more efficiently. Try this exercise: time yourself. Give yourself three hours to do ten pages or 5000 words, whichever you prefer. Eliminate every distraction. If your hand wanders toward a phone, slap that hand, toss the phone, and fix your eyes to the screen. We only have finite time on this Earth, and there’s no sense in wasting it. You don’t need to punish yourself or feel bad if you’re struggling to keep the pace, just continue reminding yourself of the importance of this time. Write for someone, even. On days when I need that extra push, I look to the image of my mom in my study, or I think of my partner–both people who wholly support(ed) my work–and I am reminded that I write for them as well as myself. Whatever trick or manipulation you need to employ to keep your focus, do it. As an added benefit, I find that maintaining such narrowed attention allows me to tap into my creativity even deeper than when I have the time to amble, to indulge in doubt, or to ponder every letter of my prose.
Curiously, I began this authoritarian practice out of necessity, since I have a standing 2 p.m. phone appointment with my publicist every Friday. By the time I’d finished with the gym, housework, shower and meal stuff, it was usually around 10 a.m. That left me with four hours to do my ten pages. Better get cracking. Without fail and with that looming deadline, I produced my “quota” every time. Transitioning that behavior to the remaining four work days of the week was something I wish I’d learned five years ago.
I don’t have all the answers, only the ones for my puzzling brain. Writing is a discipline influenced by our own traits and drives—we each fine-tune the process to fit our personalities. Still, I feel that some things are universal for writing or any job: productivity, reigniting creativity, staying focused. I’ve reached the point where writing is no more a struggle, where it can be done as routine, yet also with passion. I think that’s what any writer or artist wants: less hassle, less waste and doubt, and more connection to their audience and their material.
All my love,
P.S. “Brutus, Before the Shadow,” the header picture seen above, and a couple of new pieces have been added to the Gallery–in case you missed them during my semi-regular Artsy Fartsy Friday posts on FB.