Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Can you write without inspiration?

Have you been bossed around enough by the fickle mistress that is inspiration? How many good writing hours have you wasted and how many self-help books have you spent your money on in the pursuit of one goal: to write (and write well) whenever you want?

I am sure that some of you out there have long reached the following conclusion: writing on schedule is impossible because writing without that spark of inspiration is impossible.

This post is designed to show you that however plausible your reasoning might be (I am sure you went through plenty of pain and experience before throwing in the towel), you’re totally wrong about this! You CAN write any time you want and you CAN write reasonably well and progress your writing project any time you sit down to write.

Now, before you launch a complaint in the comments below this post, let me elaborate on my reasoning and the circumstances, pain, and personal moments of writing experience that have led me to form this seemingly far out opinion.

In case you are not a regular reader of this blog, the first thing you need to know about me is that I have been writing fiction for just over twenty years. And in all that time I failed to do one thing: finish a full-length novel. However, I gained something more valuable than a finished piece of work in all this time (which I therefore don’t consider a waste).

I gained a detailed understanding of what it takes to finish. AND against my own expectations *drumroll* the key to finishing your project is NOT inspiration. It is NOT genius. It is grit. That ability to come back into the arena even after you have been knocked off your feet countless times and have lost plenty of fights.

The secret to finishing your novel, novella, short story, column, self-help guide (or whatever else your are dreaming of finishing one day) is the ability to sit down at your keyboard and type even when you REALLY don’t feel like doing it. But that’s not all there is to it.

There is a second part. In addition to the willingness to sit down and type, you also need to have a way of overcoming your self-doubt. Shut up the inner critic, don’t give in to ANY self-talk (not even pep talks), and make sure you have a coffee/ tea/ water to sip every time you’re in danger of giving in to your doubts.

Ultimately the secret to writing on schedule is this: all you need is one sentence you don’t hate. That’s it! Once you have that first sentence down you are more than likely to get sucked into writing a whole paragraph – sometimes even a whole scene!

Here’s how I get to that one sentence through my tried and tested writing routine (nearly 1-2 hours of writing nearly every day):

STEP 1:
Decide what I want to get done that day – minimum expectation only, so I can give kudos to myself if I exceed my target. Stacks the odds in my favour.

STEP 2:
Make a cup of herbal tea/ coffee – this is a habit I have established. It signals comfort and tells my brain: “there is nothing to be scared of, buddy.”

STEP 3:
Go to my writing space – I have a set place where I like to write and where I am used to being productive. Bottom firmly planted on my writing stool (good for my back)…tick!

STEP 4:
Open my favourite writing programme (truenovelist.com) – being familiar with the controls of my writing programme helps not distract me from the task at hand: writing!

STEP 5:
Write a rough outline to define the scope for the session – a small blurb or bullet points that detail what I am about to write will do. For me, that’s mostly scene synopses to make sure I know what should happen in the scene I am about to write (I tend to write in spurts of 1000 word scenes, or complete flash fiction one-shots).

STEP 6:
This is where I write that sentence I DON’T hate. It’s magical. Happens now almost automatically, although on some less inspired days I might still have to have 3-5 gos before it actually sticks.

There we are, a 6-step blueprint on how to initiate good quality writing any time you want (with zero reliance on that fickle mistress showing up – just don’t forget to thank her whenever she does decide to flounce into you writing space…it helps!)

See ya next time 😉

If you have found my 6-step blueprint for writing reliably of any help, please let me know in the comments section below this post. Knowing what you like to read, helps me plan more helpful content for the future. Have a good writing week!

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

How to get back to writing after a long break due to illness?

While giving up is never an option, the temptation is always there; lingering. From the sight of the smallest problem, right up to big, all-consuming crises (aka when life takes over), fear and self-doubt are always there and ready to pounce!

“You can’t do it anymore,” they shout.

“You can try but you will fail in the end,” they snigger.

“Go ahead, write…BUT it will be bad writing, coz you’re a bad writer.”

I am sure there is many more delightful messages you yourself have received over the days, weeks, months, and years since you decided to try and be a writer and start finishing projects rather than just scribble on napkins. I have had daily memos of this kind ever since I first thought about trying to write a novel.

There are many famous writers out there trying to encourage us. “Write very day,” they say. That’s good advice but is it feasible? For me, it’s certainly not an option. I do aim to write every day and write most days as a result.

But for those of us who also ride the 9-5 job train, there will always be the day when you’re kids get sick, or when a deadline is looming, or when you finish the day exhausted and need to fall asleep on the sofa right after dinner…or the day you get sick.

I went through a very scary experience last year. A sudden dizziness overcame me towards the end of a typical work day. I was struggling to focus my eyes. I was feeling nauseated. My left arm went numb, then my left leg, then the left side of my face…until the entire left side of my body felt heavy and devoid of any feeling.

I was home alone that day. I was scared. I called the emergency services and was rushed to hospital not knowing if I was coming back. Two thoughts went through my mind: 1. Will I see my husband again? 2. What if I never get to write my novel?

This is where I have to point out: we don’t have kids. If we did, I am sure they would have featured in my thoughts.

After 20 hours of tests including a blood test, a urine test, a chest x-ray, a head CT, and an MRI (among others), I was sent home with the following diagnosis: my physical health is excellent, there is no infection and no other physical cause for my symptoms…BUT…the symptoms are real, they will recur, and they will recur every time I am severely stressed.

So, I am playing a game and I will be playing it for the rest of my life. The name of the game? Manage your stress. Meditate every day. Sit in silence for 10 minutes every day. Exercise 15-20 minutes every day. Eat healthy every day. Do breathing exercises every day. E-V-E-R-Y D-A-Y. Forever!

The last few weeks were stressful. I completed a big work project and I didn’t take good enough care of my stress. Now, you know where I was and I why I couldn’t write. On a scale of 0-10, how bothered do you think I am that I have missed blog posts, missed Wattpad updates, and made no progress on my novel?

You’re right, the answer is 0. Because my certainty that I can recover from momentary episodes of my stress-induced symptoms is 10. I have done it before, I can do it again. I have written before, I can do it again. It’s my mantra. It’s what I say to myself when the self talk gets nasty. It’s what I chant in my meditation.

I did this once, I can do it again…so can you.

If this posts helps even one person, I would be chuffed to hear about it in the comments below. If you have your own experience with coming back to write after an illness, or if you are managing any chronic illness whilst being a writer, please share your methods for keeping your writing practice and your writer’s mindset in check.

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Why you should tell your story…

Once upon a time, a little girl had an idea for a story. It so excited her that she couldn’t help but run out into the garden and tell the story to the world…at the top of her lungs.

The neighbours weren’t exactly pleased – although I imagine a few of them were at least intrigued by the story about another little girl who couldn’t sleep and conjured a bunch of extraordinary creatures into being.

Those creatures were the mumble dwarves and the little girl was loosely based on the storyteller – you guessed it; that was me! I was eight.

To restore peace and quiet to the very conservative neighbourhood I grew up in, my parents made a rule. I had to write my stories down…instead of shouting them into the garden. At the time it seemed like a punishment. How would people find out about my stories if I could only write them down?

It later dawned on me that every book in our home (and in the world) had once been just a scribble on a piece of paper. And once I had grasped that concept fully, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer. I was thirteen when this happened.

Twenty years on, much has changed in my life. But one thing is still the same – I am still dreaming about being a writer. In fact, that is all I want to be. So, why am I sitting in my living room, typing this blog post in a hurry before having to start my soul-sucking full-time job that makes me nothing but tired and stressed?

You guessed it again – because I never got over the hurdle of actually showing my work to anybody after I hit sixteen…until last year, when I decided that enough is enough and that I can’t live with myself if I don’t at least try to get my fiction out there. Who knows what can happen?

The one thing I am sure of is that I am not the only person who is going through this storm. Although, I am sure that we are in different boats, it hurts all the same when a gale blows at us and when the waves crash down over our heads.

So, as a beaten and battered (and quite wimpy) writer, with impossibly big dreams, let me shine a tiny beacon of hope into the darkness. You should tell your story! Even if nobody reads it. Even if nobody who reads it likes it. Even if your writing is bad. Even if you never achieve your dream.

Why? Because the journey is worth it! If nobody reads your work, find a way of marketing it better. If nobody who reads it likes your story, find out why and fix it. If your writing is bad get feedback, READ, and STUDY the books you love, write more and get better.

If you are a writer, then writing is something you feel compelled to do. It most likely makes you happy. It most likely, makes you feel like you have a purpose. And that, in itself, is a massive reward.

See ya next time 😉

If you got any kind of value out of this post, share your own sop story in the comments below. No judgement! Everyone is loved…and maybe if we all share a little beacon of hope we can light up this darkness and feel a little less alone as we see each other struggle in our own, uniquely painful ways.

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

How to find time to write with a full-time job?

Many of my friends and family don’t understand why I am still writing. After all, I finished university, got married, and snagged a full-time job. What more do I need? The creatives among us will have no difficulty rattling off a catalogue of needs that a job simply cannot fulfil. And I would happily plonk my signature under any such list – any time!

The deep, inner drive of the creative force within me makes my ordinary life unbearable at times. And the feeling that I don’t have the right to complain makes it at least ten times worse. Having my full-time job swallow my life is my biggest fear. The thought that I might die one day, with my stories still inside me, has me lying awake at night with a sprinkling of cold sweat on my brow.

Every glowing performance review kills a small part of my soul. Because each time somebody tells me that I am good at my job, the thought of leaving all this behind one day becomes scarier. And the possibility that my writing might one day pay my bills (if I’m lucky) seems more and more ridiculous the older I get.

So, I do all I can to fight the demons. This week the demons are full of strength and I feel weak. But I still have a choice. I can give up and let the demons win (in which case my worst-case scenario is certain). Or I can write. As long as I write there is a chance. A tiny spark of hope.

I am not going to sugarcoat things for you. Writing alongside a full-time job is HARD. Maybe the hardest thing I have ever done. It requires time management and the willingness to let bad writing happen. Don’t be afraid to write rubbish now and edit another day. Work out if you are a morning person or a night owl – then schedule your writing time accordingly. Make a realistic appointment with yourself..then show up. Otherwise you will be very frustrated.

In my twenties, I used to be a morning person with the ability to jump out of bed at 4:00am and get dressed by Disney birds. By the time I had to leave the house I would have already written at least 1000 words and feel like a rockstar. I miss that younger, more optimistic version of myself.

Now, in my thirties, I am a night owl. I no longer stress about writing early on in the day and accept that my most creative time will be at 9:00pm when I have done everything I need to do for the day (including my job, any housework, shopping, cooking, eating, tidying etc.)

When my reminder goes off, I go to my desk, write as much as I can for 2 hours and then go to bed. Some evenings I can write 1000 words, on others it’s closer to 10. But it’s my new routine and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It also means that I am able to produce 3 blog posts (including 1 flash fiction story) per week.

I make slow but steady progress on my debut novel (Fearful Magic) by chipping away at this enormous task. Just knowing I am getting closer to my goal and can write reliably is a big help when the demons show up. No matter what they say to me, I have some work to show.

The weekends are mostly for editing. On Saturdays I might still try to write (mostly outlines) but it’s usually less productive than when I write in the week. On Sunday evenings, I spend 1 hour planning ahead; including what scenes/ blog posts/ flash fiction to write next. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous…but it works.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this post insightful, have a great writing routine already, or are still looking for one, share your thoughts (and tips) in the comments below.

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