Has your writing Muse gone into hibernation? Writing when you don’t feel inspired is a hallmark of a pro. Yet even those who’ve been at it a long time run into dry spells.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few ideas for stoking the writing fire:
If I can’t seem to make progress on a story, I read. Now I know some caution against reading other novels that might contaminate yours with their style but no. I don’t mean sitting down and typing in another writer’s words. Keep reading and writing sessions separated. I don’t worry too much about “stealing.” As much as I’d like my prose to sound like famous authors, I find my own voice usually appears as I dig back into the story.
Most writing pros say read the best stuff you can find, but I think it’s important to understand your genre. As I’ve often painfully learned, literary writing isn’t going to fly in a bodice ripper. Read widely in your genre.
As for writing resource books such as my Five Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction, reserve reading up on technique for times when you are either stuck or you’re trying to revise/improve a draft. Create with your Muse and not much else.
Another way to awaken that muse is by delving deeper into your characters. Great writers create unforgettable characters who read as fully developed people. Bulk up your characters by doing sketches and exercises. You’ll discover your characters’ back stories, but more importantly, their motivations. Your story’s plot will benefit if it is driven by a deep desire—motivation.
These sketches can be as detailed as you wish but try to concentrate on the character’s inner life. We all have psychological reasons for what we do or don’t do. By knowing these factors, you can add a depth to your story it might not otherwise have.
Resist the urge to use these motives in obvious ways in your manuscript. The main ways we tend to do this is by forcing back story on the reader or overexplaining. Learn to withhold backstory except for need to know moments—the old Cold Mashed Potatoes Rule. And RUE—resist the urge to explain is always wise. Why? Because the moment you start telling readers instead of showing the story, they’ll tune you out.
If you can’t explain or tell a character’s past to illustrate the present, how can you show it? As I often counsel, the answer is in portraying emotion in an honest and deep way. Use Deep POV to move the camera closer. Make every sentence you write come from the narrator’s head—the attitudes, prejudices, motives.
In other posts I’ve described several ways of showing emotion besides simple general words. You can write physical sensations. You can tap into the sort of dialogue the character would use. Best of all you can use interior thought to keep readers firmly anchored in the character’s head (not the writer’s head).
Emotions in your story may call out your Muse more easily if you do some physical yet mindless activity. Sometimes I garden or wash dishes while I think about my characters and their dilemmas. Many more ideas for keeping your Muse on the clock are out there. What works for you?