Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Irrigating your writer's soul...

Before I get to my post for the day, I'd like to announce Friday's QueryTrackers Making Tracks interviewee: Kathy Bradey. Be sure to drop by to learn how frozen horses and lost loves played a part in her offer of representation.

Now, onto today's post. Contrary to the picture above, we're NOT going to be talking about bad hair days (although I could write a whole series on that. Ha!). Today's subject is bad writing days.

Ever since my MS has been out on submission, I've been having a hard time motivating my muse to work on my WIP. Instead, I'm obsessed with checking my email or twitter or bouncing around PublishersMarketplace to read about new deals getting picked up.

Bad writer ... bad, bad writer.

I wouldn't say I have a block exactly, but it's the closest I've ever come. One thing that always helps shake the cobwebs from my brain is rollerblading. But it's been too windy around here to do that lately. Also, my muse loves rain. Last year, in the span of two dreary, drippy days, I managed to whip out over 6K words, finishing one chapter and coughing up another, all while I had a part time job. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a drop in the panhandle for months.

Much like the weather, I'm having a creative drought.

All of this got me thinking about how most writers have quirky routines that help set the mood for a productive session. Some famous examples:
• The poet Friedrich von Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk. To awaken his muse, he’d open the lid and inhale deeply. I’ve tried that a few times with dry erase markers, but it’s just not the same. Kidding! Just kidding...(or am I?)

• Colette, the author of the famed novel “Gigi”, used to pick fleas from her cat before she wrote. Maybe she was afraid she’d mistake some of those parasites for misplaced punctuation on her pages?

• Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer, used his lover's naked back as a writing desk. That could be why most of his work had a romantic slant to it. *wink wink*

• Anne Rivers Siddons' husband reports that she makes a nest of papers, like a mouse getting ready for winter, then she starts walking into walls just before she begins a writing session. That walking into walls thing … I've tried it myself. It seems to be the only way I can work up a synopsis.

• Emily Dickinson wouldn't see her dressmaker, go out of the house, or expose her handwriting while working on her projects. Her sister transcribed all of her letters. Emily would’ve loved email.

After seeing these, I realized I really don't have any quirks for getting myself into the writing mood. I'm more inclined to nurture my muse while living my everyday routine, to irrigate it until it has no choice but to write or burst.

So, what do I have in my watering can?

• Mug shots: I post pictures of my main characters on a bulletin board in my office so I can see them each time I'm in the room. Sometimes that's enough to either inspire an entire conversation between them, or a scene that I have to sit down and write immediately.

• Books and movies: Every Friday night hubbie and I watch a DVD together. I prefer movies about my current WIP’s subject (I’m a bit of a fanatic about it). While working on my geisha vampire fantasy, we saw tons of vampire flicks (with the occasional side of Phantom of the Opera and Memoirs of a Geisha). Bless my spouse and his tolerant heart. This also goes for books. I saturate myself in the subject I'm writing. This not only keeps my head in the theme, but helps me to avoid things that have already been done in similar books and movies.
• Music: When I first start on a project, I'll compose a playlist of songs to evoke the moods of my characters / scenes, and to heighten the atmosphere of the setting wherein I've placed my story. The songs vary from instrumental to vocal pieces. I'm not picky. It all depends upon the book. But I listen to this music, not just when I'm writing, but when I'm doing other things. Like the pictures on my bulletin board, it sometimes inspires a scene or an exchange when I'm not even at the computer.

What about you? Do you have any quirks or tricks that help wake up your muse for a writing session?

Or, like me, do you just feed your writer’s soul until it's fat with inspiration and then sit down and write in a gluttonous purge?


  1. I wish I could say I got inspiration by writing on my dear hubby's back, but I can't. Hehehe... My muse is fickle and at best, temperamental. It's probably why my characters are in such high emotion when they see each other. LOL

    I really don't have a writing ritual. When I'm stuck, then I'm truly stuck and nothing I do can bring it back. I always end up trying again the next day. My only sort of ritual I guess, is that I have to be in front of my desktop. No laptop for this writer, though sometimes I wish I had one when I'm somewhere else and the time is mine.

    I also noticed that when the muse is flowing, the world around me dissolves. My kids have to yell several times in my ear to bring me back to reality. I can do without food, or water, or potty breaks until the muse is spent. =)

  2. First, I wish I could say I was a writer! One day I may put pen to paper and create something but for now I am just trying to make it through my first year of school alive. As for the famous writing quirks: How Strange! I can't believe Voltaire did that to the poor woman every time he felt like writing. Odd. If I were a writer I imagine my biggest quirks would be: Music (like you said, a playlist of songs reminding me of my work), a shower (my best thinking always happens in there), a pen (I can't fully concentrate without chewing on a pen cap), and a clear desk (even small items such as paper clips threaten to distract me all the time). If you mix all those things together I am sure my hypothetical muse would be flowing. Great post, I liked it :)

  3. Great quotes! I'm sorry for the drought. :-((( I know how that feels and it's horrible.

    I don't think I have a routine but usually I'll make sure I have some water nearby and maybe some chocolate to get me in the mood. *grin*

  4. Oh, my muse isn't happy unless the mirror tells her she's the fickle-est of them all.

    I need a watering can.

    Sometimes, though, if I can't work on my WiP, I hook up with my flash fiction camrades and get into this weekly contest they do. The winner of the previous week's contest comes up with a prompt, and the participants have to write a flash (1000 wds or less) as well as review 7 other participants, and vote on their top 3. It's fantastic. I have to go back there every so often to exercise my muse's literary muscles.

  5. I was so happy to see a new post on your blog- I always look forward to them! It's funny you should post this, because the next post on my blog is going to be about "the end of the honeymoon stage" (regarding my WIP).

    Inspiration . . . hmm . . . Music is really important to me, but I can't listen while I write (too distracting), so I'll listen during the day or while I'm driving. When I get really stuck in my writing, I'll jump ahead to a scene that's more "fun" to write. Of course, this can cause problems- simply because my characters change so much from the beginning to the end of the book. So when I jump ahead like that, I usually end up having to rewrite that entire scene because the voice isn't right.

    Great post, Anita!

  6. I don't really have a ritual, I just climb into bed and stare at the blank screen for a little while, play some FB games (totally distracting and stupid ones) and then I go back to staring at the blank screen, tell myself it's time to get serious, and then make it happen.

    Like Angela though, I find music to be an incredible muse. I'll usually have a song or two that resonates for me with each WIP (or character). When I hear those songs on the radio, or they come up on the iPod on shuffle (it has be be random, no forced inspiration) I'll get a fresh perspective. Placing it all on fate, man! That's how I roll!

  7. Cherie~ LOL! If your hubby's anything like mine, he wouldn't sit still for it. I can't believe this, but I'm EXACTLY like you RE laptops! In fact, I have the hardest time on trips, etc..., because I always take along my laptop for the long drives, but the wordage just drags out of me. There's something about being connected to my moniter and keyboard at home. Must have something to do w/being Geminis. Heh.

    Thanks, Jessie. I'm sure I'll get better soon. Heh. I'm forcing myself to write through it. It's just slower. I'm taking your suggestion for chocolate to heart, too! ;)

    Mary, what a great idea! Flash fic works great to stimulate the writer's brain.

  8. Aw, thanks Angela! Interesting about not listening to music while you write. I used to be that way, too. But after about book three, it all changed for some reason. Now I can listen to anything while writing, as long as it fits the mood. BTW, I'm looking forward to your post! What a cute title. LOL

    Mindy, it's surprising how many writers use playlists. One of my fave things to do after reading a new release that I loved is hop over to the author's website and see if they had a playlist for that book. It's always intriguing to see what songs inspired certain scenes.

  9. Katelyn, how did I miss your comment? Thanks so much for stopping in! I know, weren't those quirks ... well, quirky? ;)

    You would fit right in w/the rest of us. Especially with the clear desk! What a great idea! lol

  10. Awesome post Anita, and so dead on! Honestly, keep it simple - when I need to take a break or keep the juices going I just get up and walk around, even just around my bedroom. Real old school pacing like lol, and just get the story playing like a movie in my head, watch the scenes from beginnin to end. Its interesting, but the mere physical act of walking around can break me out of whatever corner I've backed myself into writing wise.

  11. yikes! Rotten apples... and if I used JRM's naked back for a writing desk, NOTHING would ever be written. :D I also use music and sometimes a photo will do it for me. The best cure = run down to the beach and just stare at the breakers for a good half-hour or so~ :o) <3

  12. I knew I took to Voltaire immediately for a reason. My kind of guy!

    I use your tricks, pretty much. Music is like a switch lots of times, especially if I have a particular band or song that goes with a character. (Which I almost always do.) I make up playlists and have them in the car via CD or iPod when I go anywhere, I put them on repeat when I'm writing just as background noise.

    Books and movies are essential too, but I've never tried saturating myself in the theme I was working on--might have to try it! Mostly I just go for a particular aesthetic I'm working with, or something that hits an emotion I need to hit, that kind of thing. Or just something random to fill the tank.

    If I find someone who looks like a character that's always cool. Lots of times I'll draw them, or get people who are awesome to draw them. Makes me happy.

  13. Great post Anita! I usually create a playlist too, and sometimes I'll even make a video trailer to get some good visuals going for myself.

  14. Hey Kalen! Color me surprised that you ever back yourself into corners. Heehee. Seriously, great idea on the walking around. It's amazing how just a little physical activity can rejuvenate your creativity.

    LOL on the naked back comment, Leigh! Oh, so jealous that you live by the beach. Sigh.

    Katey, haha about V. Wait a minute, you're one of those multi-talented writers that can draw, too? I've always had so much respect for those who can do both.

    Hey Kerri, thanks for dropping in. A video trailer, huh? I sure had fun making my book trailer, but I never even considered doing one before the book's written for inspiration. Great idea! You must be a very visual writer like me!

  15. Hmmm. . . .I often re-read the chapter before it so I can get back in the swing, and edit a little as I go if I need to, so I can ease into writing. I also do have my posterboard on my wall of my charactes and images of my setting and words that inspire me that I look to when in the middle of the scene to feel like I'm there, and I also make a soundtrack for each book that I listen to almost obsessively every day for inspiration lol.

  16. Oh, wow, Rachel! You basically outlined every single thing I do to ease into the writing. So I guess I do have a routine, it's just not quite as quirky as the ones listed in my post. Heh. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Anita, how did you find mug shots of your main characters? Sounds like a good idea except I don't know where to look. A funny story: last year, my girl was in kindergarten and I would wait by the playground to pick her up from school. Every Tuesday I'd noticed this kid--a teenager--in his bike, waiting for his brother to come out too. He looked like the boy mc in my WIP (except for the hair color) and I was sorely tempted to take his pic. Of course I didn't. Just in case there's a law against it or something. I didn't want to headline the morning paper: Paparazzi Writer Taken into Custody for Harassing Boy. Caption underneath picture of me ninja-kicking the cops: "But, but he looks just like James!"

    1. Last summer, my family and I were going through some REALLY small town in either Tennessee or Arkansas (They all blurred together; we went through so many places in forty-some days.) and stopped at the local library. One of the guys there was spitting image of Jeb (From Splintered.) and how I envisioned Raven from Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber. I think they must have noticed my astonished/hungry/crazy/I-am-looking-at-the-real-life-doppelganger-of-two-really-good-book-characters stare, because both the girl and guy literally ran from the library... and I didn't even get their actual names! (*Sort of embarrassed yet not really ashamed.*)

  18. Love this post, Anita, and definitely laughed out loud at the thought of you somewhere sniffing markers... ;)

    I use many of the same tools you use (inspirational music, pictures, quiet time, etc.), and my muse has been suspiciously absent as well lately.

    For a time, I had this amazing shoulder blanket I called my "Thinkin' Blanket." It was filled with lavender pieces, and you put it in the microwave to activate the smells (and warmth). I loved it so much, and I always draped it around my shoulders before I started writing.

    WELL, I accidentally nuked it one night, and now it smells like burnt popcorn. Magic = evaporated.

  19. Cherie~ Haha about possible harassment issues! I use google images and search for model's headshots online. But proceed w/caution. IOW, after the kids are in bed. You never know what might end up in the picture line up. I've actually really never had anything too risque show up, but just in case.

    Lisa~ I'm so sorry about your thinkin' blanket tragedy! What an awesome idea, though! Now I'm going to have to look for something like that online. ;) I'm very sensorial so that might be just what I need ... warmth and a relaxing scent. Thanks for stopping by!

  20. I loved all the quirky examples in your post (and in the comments, too). I do some of what you mentioned: music, pictures. I can waste a WHOLE LOT of time finding images for characters.

    Good luck unblocking. I'm sure the waiting is awful!

  21. Has anyone else bugged you to get rid of the spam "captcha" thing?

  22. Hi Nina! Thanks for the well wishes for my writing drought. ;)

    Captcha ... is that where you have to do a word verification each time you post? I didn't even realize that I had my blog set to do that. It must be the default. I'll look into changing it. Thanks for the heads up!

  23. You're invading my thoughts again, Anita. I was just thinking this morning, "What's with this freaking rut I'm in?" I can't get motivated to write?!
    My muse likes to play. A lot. When I'm struggling to wake her up, I do creative activities that are not necessarily related to my WIP. My friend/mentor Jill wrote a wonderful book, check it out at: --this helps me a lot. If there's one thing I've learned from her it's that forcing yourself to be creative only stifles the process further.

    If that doesn't help you, I can send you my blow dryer...

  24. Haha, Bethany! I might take you up on that blow dryer offer! Ha. My problem isn't with a shortage of's more that I'm way too distracted w/things that used to never distract me. So, honestly, sounds more like a discipline problem to me. Heh.

    I'll look up that book! Thanks for the link!

  25. My Muse never sleeps....

    I like that picture!

  26. Darke Conteur~ then you must be the golden child. LOL

    I like that picture, too! It reminds me of Winona Rider, just a smidge.

  27. I write on a naked apple! Or sometimes an unclothed pomegranate! It is rather difficult, however...perhaps I should seek a new muse? Writing on slabs of steak!
    Thanks for the awesome post.

  28. Haha, Jenny! All I kept thinking was how soggy the paper must get. And raw steak won't help in that department.

    Thanks for dropping in!

  29. My muse has been out of the office and isn't taking my calls. Her temporary replacement is Procrastination and she works like hell! Shows up every morning when I get up and doesn't clock out until long after I'm in bed. Until I get my mental staff back inline, I will keep reading. Though oddly enough, I can't read in the genre I am trying to write in. My mind plays the 'this stuff is way better than the stuff I'm coming up with, maybe I should write something else' game. I find it's best for me to stay away from my current genre until I am done with that project.

    On an unrelated note, I'm glad to hear I am not the only Publisher's Marketplace stalker! :)

  30. Hi Marian! LOL; your comment cracked me up! My muse has hung a "Do not Disturb" sign on my office door.

    And nope! You're so not the only PM stalker. I'll bet we have quite a following, actually!

    Thanks for stopping by!