Archive for January 11th, 2013

In the Mood – Not

Back to the NaBloPoMo prompts, at least for the time being:  “How do you find the energy to write when you’re not in the mood?”

Only a professional writer could ask this question.  For the rest of us, the dilettantes, this is a non-starter.  If you’re not in the mood to write, you don’t write.  Simple.

But “not being in the mood to write” is actually a symptom of something else going on.  I think it depends on what you’re trying to write.  When writer’s block crops up in my fiction writing, I have found that it’s usually because I’m trying to force my characters to do something they don’t want to do.  I’ve written about this before, how your characters become real people with real lives, and you are just their chronicler; you get a Brilliant Idea that you think would fit their lives perfectly, but somehow, they don’t think so, and they simply stop “talking.”  At that point, you have to give them space to recover their trust in you, so that you can go on as their chronicler; and that’s how fiction gets written, at least around here.  I could never write a mystery, where you have to know what the end is before you begin.

Non-fiction is a different animal altogether.  When I was in college, I would develop all these Plans for Staying on Top of My Assignments:  Come up with a topic in Week 1; write the preliminary outline in Week 2; assemble the information in Week 3, etc.  Yes, I’m one of those Organized Types.  Franklin Planners were created for people like me.

There was just one problem:  None of it worked.  By the time the paper was due, my original outline bore no resemblance to the finished product.  Over time, I came to realize that I was wasting my time drafting outlines, because I would then go about my research with the outline in mind, rather than integrating what I was learning into the research process.  That was when I came up with my Take-No-Prisoners approach:  Hold off on the research until two weeks before the paper was due.  By that time, there was usually a topic that was screaming for development, and I could do the research to greatest effect, wasting no time at all.  With two days to go, I’d sit down and write the paper.  And it always got an A.

There was one other tool that I used to great effect in writing research papers, and I got it from my husband, one of those much-maligned Government Workers; he got it from one of his supervisors, a Navy Captain. Believe it or not, you start your paper with the phrase, “The purpose of this paper is to…” and state the purpose of your paper.  Then you throw away that opening phrase.  BANG!  You’ve grabbed your reader’s attention, and you have an easy reference point for staying in focus.

The only time it almost didn’t work was when I wanted to prove that it was possible to read body language when you couldn’t actually see the person; in that case, I wrote, as usual, “The purpose of this paper is to prove that you don’t have to see a person to understand his emotional state,” and in that case, in order to throw away that opening phrase, I had to turn the topic into a question:  “Is it possible to understand a person’s emotional state without actually seeing him?”  The professor said it was one of the best opening sentences she had ever read.  (I was referring to internet communication, by the way; all caps and misspellings are a great way to tap into a person’s heightened emotional state.)

So when I lack the energy to write, I listen to my inner muse.  She’s trying to tell me something important.

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