It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here.
This year has been CRAZY, and that’s an understatement. In 2018, I never thought that two years down the road I’d be making actual masks with my characters’ designs on them to wear every time I go out. (You can purchase a Four Horsemen inspired mask here.) I didn’t think my kitty would have a cancerous tumor removed—along with her whole third eyelid. I didn’t think I’d be living in an awesome house with some wild house guests like geckos, tree frogs, and gators. I didn’t think a year of Instagram marketing would result in anything. But here we are! In the end, things haven’t turned out so awful, or at least nowhere near as awful as I was absolutely for certain they would. You know how it is. But speaking of Instagram—on the app, one of the things I get asked about a lot is my writing process and how I stay inspired, motivated, and committed, so I decided to make this post about that.
Growing up, I don’t know that I ever lacked inspiration. I’ve always been observant and taken in the things around me. Music? That lyric could be a great story starter. The guy in our neighborhood who bikes around with a gas mask and a pink backpack? He’s just a story waiting to happen. That feeling? Well, we could all go on about feelings. Why not write a story based on that feeling alone? When you start looking at the world as a source of endless inspiration, you never lack it yourself. The other day I spoke with a friend about originality and copycats. Truth is, there is nothing new or completely original. We all take inspiration from other things. It’s just a matter of HOW we do that that’s important. If you take inspiration only from one source, let’s say stylistically from another artist or writer, you lose yourself. If you read lots, admire lots of art, then turn around and let yourself loose—then you create something original.
Motivation is a different beast. For myself, I have to remove myself from others creatively to be successful with my work. I have to love it, flaws and all. If I love it, I keep working. This is especially important when it comes to my writing. You can’t compare yourself to published books, though my mom often likes to compare me to Stephen King (talk about missing the mark!), and you can’t compare yourself to others around you. You have to keep your head down and stay in your lane. I have to remind myself this all the time. No one can do you like you.
My motivation always suffers when I start comparing myself to anyone but who I was yesterday, last year, or the years before that.
When we talk about novels: the single best piece of advice I can ever give anyone is to finish ONE work. Finish a short story. Finish a (terribly written) first draft of a novel. Finish a fanfiction. Finish SOMETHING, and I promise you, you will be addicted to that feeling. Finishing a work is something you have to train yourself to do, like anything else. It takes practice, long nights pulling hair out, gritting teeth, and questioning your sanity. But it pays off, I promise.
Since finishing my first crummy novella in 2011, I’ve completed five other works: one short story, another novella, two full-length novels, and one short story collection.
Now, let’s talk about commitment. I think this is a trained trait as well. My go-to writing quote is, “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. (Isabel Allende)” Be at your desk at the same time every day. Spend one hour thinking about your characters, worldbuilding, plotting. Hell, even headcanons classify as “brainstorming” if you ask me! But commit that time—every day, even if it’s the hour before you sleep, while you eat your breakfast, or while you drive to work—thinking. Then you won’t be able to stop yourself from writing. Get a phone notetaking app. Carry a notebook and pen everywhere. Write like it’s a love affair. For me anyway, that’s what it is. Be in love with your work. Be truly, truly passionate. You’ll never have a problem with commitment again.
Lastly, the technicalities of writing: What do I actually do? Well, I once read that it’s best to be creative in the morning. You’re right out of a “dream state.” Your mind doesn’t think in logical terms for that hour or two right after you wake up. Forget limitations. It thinks in freeform. Poetically. Ever since then, I’ve been a morning person. I get up around six, have some black coffee, then hunker down at my desk. I open my latest project. It might be a mindmap of a plot. It might be a novel draft. Right now it’s a printed copy of Nebula and an empty notebook. I spend the next two hours sitting and glaring and not doing anything else. Sometimes I get nothing done. Sometimes I get one page done, one plot point… Sometimes I get a lot done. It’s a bet. But you better bet I’m putting the time in. Listen, anything you do for your story counts as time in. As for the writing itself: I am always at my best when I write like the world is ending. Editing comes later. There’s no time to worry about grammar or spelling or sentence structure or punctuation. The words straight down on paper for me have rhythm and integrity and voice. The characters are there, in the moment. As for the bigger picture: I let the story tell itself. I let the characters tell the story. I let them steer it, completely. I don’t try to tell them, “That’s not what you’re supposed to be doing, dude.” Even if I tried, I don’t think that would work on some of my characters. (Yeah, I’m looking at Jayren.) And let me tell you, letting those characters tell the story has created a story exponentially better than the one I had in my head. I always know the general direction, the beginning, middle, and end goal of my project, but rarely how I will get there in detail. It’s the journey that makes it worth it.
That’s about all I can say on that topic. The rest is up to you. I’ll end on the note of, “If you wait until you’re perfect, you’ll never make any progress.” Live right now. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. You want to write a novel? You don’t know where you’ll be in one year, what could change, if your time could be running out faster than you’d like it to. Don’t wait. Do it now.
Yolo, but not in the dangerous way. (R. D. G. Lover wrote this one.)