Urgency to Write: How to Keep The Fire Burning

ur-gent adj.

1. Compelling immediate action or attention; pressing.
2. Insistent or importunate: the urgent words “Hurry! Hurry!”
3. Conveying a sense of pressing importance: an urgent message

We hear a lot about creating a sense of urgency in our writing. But do you have it in your writing life?

A recent ADOBE study showed that 8 in 10 people see unlocking creativity as vital to economic growth and nearly two-thirds consider creativity an asset to society. Yet only 1 in 4 people worldwide believe they are living up to their creative potential. Yipes. Though it’s refreshing to hear that creativity is valued, those results are frightening. And I couldn’t help but wonder how many writers feel similarly.

I’m not suggesting we run around in a “MUST WRITE” panic, as…entertaining as that might be. 😉 And I know many of you are eager go-getters who interact on social media between intense bouts of writing, or have deadlines keeping you on your toes. Regardless, I think we can all use tips and reminders when it comes to maintaining writing glee. Remember that wheeee feeling we talked about a few posts back? The following steps have helped me ignite it when the swing set seems slightly out of reach.

 10 Ways to Relight Your Writing Fire & Keep it Burning

1. Write when ideas strike, or shortly thereafter. There’s a reason ideas are illustrated by cartoon lightbulbs a la head. When they strike us, they are HOT. If we wait hours, days or longer to put them down on paper, they’re likely to fizzle out. Keep a note pad in your car, purse or workplace, or type your thoughts into your computer or phone.

2. Nurture ideas you’re excited about. It can be tempting to choose a topic or premise only because it seems profitable. But writing for (what I believe are) wrong reasons shows. I believe we should write stories because if we don’t, we might explode, stories that have us jumping out of bed in the morning. Think about the book you’ve always wanted to read, then write it.

3. If you don’t have a full-fledged story idea, start with a character, place or issue you’re revved up about. In other words, get excited about something. Don’t sit there waiting for exciting story ideas to crop up. Excitement attracts ideas; boredom nukes them. You could also try brainstorming a list—quickly—of possible ways to build on your starting point, or simply write about it until something forms. Then go to a quiet place you find inspiring and let the ideas flow.

4. Take breaks. Staring at the computer, awaiting the muse, won’t do much good. I like to use FAR—an acronym developed by author and physician, Dr. Matthew Edlund. It stands for Food, Activity, Rest. By creating a rhythm of eating, doing something active (writing, exercise, cleaning…) then something restful (walking, meditating, taking a bath…) we can feel more rested and sleep-ready at night, and sharper creatively during the day. Some of our best ideas arise when we’re away from our computers. That’s still writing, in my opinion—a vital part, at that.

5. Manage stress. I don’t much believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in life block. If we’re stuck in toxic relationships, jobs we hate or other stressful situations, our writing lives can feel like cement—unmovable or changeable. If you tend to write your feelings before you recognize them, incorporate morning pages into your routine. Julia Cameron features the exercise in her book, The Artist’s Way. Free-writing—some call it “word vomit”—first thing each morning can not only ease stress but show us how we feel. It also clears the pathway  for other writing.

6. Take a novel outing. Cameron recommends Artist Dates, or taking yourself on solo expeditions to do anything your heart desires. I take my actual projects on dates. (No, not in a delusional Lars and the Real Girl type way.) When I feel unproductive, I take my computer or notebook to parks, Starbucks or where ever for quality one-on-one time. We all need solace for our writing to soar. Pets, family members and home or office distractions can interfere. These outings work every time.

7. Interact with driven, creative friends. Chatting with fellow artists who are totally on fire for their work can light our fires. Hopefully you’ll have a similar effect on them. Simply talking about our work adds meaning and value. Just try not to do so on Twitter, Facebook and the WANA Tribe all at once, all day, or with friends who love talking about creative work, but seldom do it.

8. Do something really boring. I’ve never done this on purpose, but before I’d fully quit theatrical and fashion work, I had several jobs that required standing very still for very long periods of time, for a purpose I didn’t care about whatsoever. It took all of my might not to bust out of there and start typing.

9. Remind yourself why you’re a writer in the first place. If you love writing, you should write. Whatever led you to start putting words and stories on paper can keep you going. If not, ask yourself what has changed? Like stress, stagnancy can be a symptom of a deeper problem that needs addressing.

10. Repeat after me: I am my muse. My muse is in me. I’m a writer. I’m a writer! I MUST WRITE! Now ignore the funny expressions poised at you right now. They’re just jealous. 😉 If you want to write, you can and should. I believe that. And the more you write, the better you’ll become. Don’t judge, just write.

More ideas worth mentioning:

  • Enter writing contests.
  • Set deadlines that stick.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Join a quality writing or critique group, or seek coaching or counsel from a trusted agent, editor or beta-reader.
  • Get therapy. (We can all use emotional check-ins, if we can’t manage stress or stagnancy in particular.)
  • Go to a conference.
  • Take a WANA class, and join a tribe.
  • Use the buddy system, trading pages every week or month.
  • Write in short increments—give yourself at least 30 minutes each day.
  • If you’re a morning person, write first thing most days.
  • If you’re a night-owl, write first thing most nights.
  • If social media is swallowing too much of your time, take a break. Or save it for breaks.
  • Exercise. (Activity stimulates creativity.)
  • Create a mini writing retreat in your home or, if you can, away.
And check out these fantastic, inspiring posts:
Tameri Etherton: Rewriting the Ending
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Are you as compelled to write as your characters are to fight, overcome or win? What helps you stay motivated and on-track?

The Beauty of Something New

Recently a friend told me he’s fallen in love for the first time. Simply hearing those words made my stomach lift, much like the photo I shared on Facebook the other day. (Wheeeeeeeeeeee!) Man, I thought. Brand-spankin’ new love is going to do wonders for his writing. Not that he needs it—just seemed like a bonus. And it really got me thinking.

For years, all of the songs I wrote were sad, the primary themes consisting of loneliness, despair, heartbreak, hopelessness and, at their most positive, hopeful pleas that life would get better. That’s not to say I was always sad. I just never wrote songs when I wasn’t. When I met my husband, the feel-good brain-chemicals went into full force, and voila. Out came songs about bliss, gratitude and love notes to the sky.

Falling in love feels like zipping over roller coaster hills, minus the terror. Sure, there can be fear; love puts us in an extremely vulnerable place. And that is scary. But it’s also beautiful, inspiring and worth every ounce of risk. If we’re not careful (and who punch-drunk in love is?) those chemical rushes can be addictive. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively gain regular doses, without creating a dependency. 😉

According to Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, that initial rush we experience while falling in love also helps us think more clearly and concentrate. So guess what? Falling in love IS great for writing and all art forms. And even “old” relationships—with our partners and craft—can instill roller coaster-like reactions and feelings.

Since my friend’s revalation, I’ve been pondering that stomach-lift-wheeee feeling. I took inventory. I’m blown away by how often these feelings arise—no flings or breakups required.

Over the past few years, these events have sent my brain’s dopamine flow into high-gear, inspiring happy rewards:

  • Realizing that I’m a writer and stepping onto that path fully.
  • Writing and finishing my first novel in a rapid, giddy rampage.
  • Finishing a major revision, and another. 😉
  • Meeting other writers at my first writers conference, and writers in my genre at ThrillerFest and BoucherCon.
  • Meeting, collaborating and celebrating with blogging friends, much thanks to Kristen Lamb and WANA International.
  • Getting offers from literary agents, signing with one. More revising. Getting positive and growth-inducing feedback.
  • Starting my second novel. Epiphanies along the way.
  • Learning that my friend Kourtney Heinz was named a semifinalist in the Amazon.com BreakThrough Novel Award contest shortly after reading and loving an excerpt.
  • On the personal front: Vacations. Fun dates. Seeing close friends and family. Returning from vacation to my dog’s tail-goes-wild greeting. Winning a writing prize. Learning that my newest niece had been born. Seeing Mammoth for the first time. Performing on stage. Seeing The Negro Problem perform live. And a mini-burst today, when I opened my door and saw that my new Kindle arrived.

Regardless of how big or small, seeking and enjoying “something new” can not only give our brain chemicals a lift, but help shake up monotony, prevent and combat creative blocks, boost our confidence and make life more fun. On Monday, Kristen shared 5 Ways to Get Out of the Comfort Zone and Become a Stronger Writer on her blog. I suspect that all five of her suggestions would make for awesome new somethings. Renewal outside of writing can also help…

10 Non-Writing Ways to Get that WHEEE! Feeling

  • Try a new restaurant or cuisine you’ve been dying or hesitant to try.
  • Re-connect with an old friend.
  • Write a thank you letter to someone who’s made a big impact on your life.
  • Have a play date with a friend, where you act like kids: Go swinging at the park. Take a “paint your plate” or other crafty class. Play dress up.
  • Bring homemade baked goods or flowers to a neighbor.
  • Send a thoughtful care package to a loved one.
  • Explore a new hobby.
  • Try a new social media platform, with the aim of having fun.
  • Buy yourself a new outfit. Get gussied up and go out.
  • Try a new recipe. Need ideas? Check out my guest post on mystery author K.B. Owen’s blog. 😉

A few of my favorite posts of the week:

RunningFromHellwithEl: How I Became a Rebel Thriver
Ellie Ann: 15 Thrilling Moments at the Cinema
Natalie Hartford: 5 Things I’ll Never Apologize For

What do you do to keep things lively and joyful in your life or career? What’s the latest “something new” you’ve tried?

Facing the Enemy: Vital Steps Toward Success

“I could see him on the three-inch viewer, sitting on a ragged couth, feet on the edge of a wooden utility spool coffee table. He appeared to be alone, a beer in his right hand, his left hand in his lap and partially hidden from view. You hiding something under there, big guy? 

Hovering in the damp air around the front porch, just above the sweet, sick scent of trash and empty beer cans, was the aroma of something synthetic like superglue and Styrofoam. 

I triggered off the safety, then tapped on the front door. ” 

This excerpt from Amanda Kyle Williams’ novel, “The Stranger You Seek” (which I highly recommend) illustrates one of the reasons we love suspenseful tales. The protagonist, knowing the risky nature of her actions, takes them anyway. Why? Because her mission requires them. We cheer the heroine on, living vicariously through her trials and successes, hopefully gaining not only entertainment, but inspiration.

When I tell people I’m a writer, I’m often asked, “What do you do about writer’s block?” “I’m writing a book, too…but it’s so hard to sit down and write,” is also common. Rather than go into lengthy explanatory responses, I usually say something like, “I have my challenges…luckily those aren’t mine.” (I actually don’t even believe in writer’s block, but I’ll save that for another post…)

Regardless of what our goals our, reaching them requires maximizing on our strengths and facing our challenges/obstacles and weaknesses head on. How boring would a suspense novel be if the FBI agent, sensing danger, dashed home to distract herself via Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! News rather than pursue it?

I personally face a struggle almost every darn night. SLEEP.  It’s taken me years to come to terms with the fact that sufficient sleep is A, necessary and B, damaging to go without it. And if I don’t turn in early most evenings, I won’t have the early-morning gusto to bring to the page each day. Rather than whine about it (okay, I may whine a little…), I challenged myself to rest more often, read a great book by renowned sleep expert Dr. Matthew Edlund, REST: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough and began changing my sleeping habits—not because I thought it would be fun, but because my success as a writer and my overall wellbeing depend on it.

And simply by posting my sleep goals here, stating them “aloud” for others to see, I’m increasing my chance for success. A Yale study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews showed that people who share their goals and goal-reaching updates with friends are 33% more likely to accomplish them.

So…yep. You guessed it. I’d like you to share your goals here. You are the protagonist in your own life. What challenges stand between you and your goals? What are you willing to do to surpass them?