Waiting for inspiration

If you’re waiting for inspiration to happen so that you can start writing, well, you could be waiting for a while.

For instance, I get inspired in situations when I’m relaxed, comfortable, happy, content like when I’ve just laid my head down to sleep and I’m enjoying the fact that my head is on the pillow, I’m all snuggled up with my hot water bottle and my dreams will be coming soon…

Then WHAM, inspiration hits and all these scenes run through my mind and I curse and have to switch on the light and pick up a pen and use the notebook (I always have a notebook next to the bed) and I have to make quick notes, scribble down the dialogue between characters (why do they always know what they want to say when I’m falling asleep?)

Obviously I don’t want to write my novel from my bed. In an ideal world, maybe, but in reality I need to re-create this moment so that I can write at other times of the day.

So how do you get inspired?

You have to create situations that you can be inspired in.

So how do you re-create these moments?

Re-create a moment in which you are relaxed and ready to write.

For me, I know that I write best when I know I have a couple of days ahead of me dedicated to writing, minimum interruptions e.g. I just have to feed and water myself at least (yes, includes taking showers and performing the daily ablutions)

I need:

A comfortable chair

The room is warmish

I feel cosy – sometimes I wrap a fleece around my tummy and legs (womb-like for when the house is cold around 10 to 14degC)

Time to myself with no interruptions i.e. I’m relaxed and not under pressure.

Laptop or notebook all ready to go.

When I have all this, I check my notes. Imagine the scene. See my characters there, doing things and I start to write it down or type away.

Most of the time though, I use the notes I made last night before I fell asleep.

P.S. I also use the ‘it’s just half an hour’ technique to make me sit down and write. But basically it works by putting bum in seat in front of laptop, opening up the novel document, referring to my notes, and writing.

Write your own damn novel!

This is something a tutor used to say to our class when we were learning to give critique to fellow writers.

As a writer, with all our insecurities about our own writing, we get feedback from everywhere. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s basically like a stab to the heart, the pain is excruciating and we run over and over the criticism in our minds, adding to the already self-doubting scripts running full-time in there.

During the course I did last year, whenever everyone was giving feedback to another writer and the discussion would get heated up about what each of us was recommending to that budding writer (based entirely on our own limited experiences), our tutor would call a halt to it and tell that writer (I adlib slightly here):

‘You’ve got all this feedback, written and verbal, but in the end it’s your novel, you’re doing all the writing. So write your own damn novel. You can take the feedback or not, only you know what bits of feedback you need to keep.’

P.S. I note that there is, of course, an alternative situation where that statement is also applicable. When family and friends ask me how my novel is going and then give me a surprised look when I say that I haven’t finished yet. I do try to explain that I’ve finished a first draft, I’ve written a second draft but I may need a third re-write. Anyway, they don’t get it. It’s at moments like this that I also feel like saying ‘Write your own damn novel!’

Your writing voice is perfect

I remember when I first started to write fiction, I didn’t know if I was writing properly but as fate/luck/whatever would have it I did a 10 week creative writing course. This was my first introduction to hearing different voices or styles of writing.

Now, I hear you say, duh, didn’t you read any fiction at all? Hello?!

Yes, I did but, call me slow, I didn’t make the connection. (Even though English is my primary language I barely scraped a pass at O Level English Language and failed – head held in shame – my O Level English Literature – I didn’t understand the books we had to read. Anyway, this was sometime last century and at last, anyway, back to what I was saying…)

Then I heard the writing voices of other writers in our creative writing group. Brain still clicking away there.

Bit by bit, I made the connection that each writer has a unique style of writing. And by a process of slow (years…) deduction began to realise that there, possibly, was nothing wrong with my own writing. Well, nothing that a little editing or tidying up (which I learnt on another course) wouldn’t make the writing look more professional.


In conclusion, your writing voice is perfect even if you don’t notice it when you start writing. In fact, the more you write, the clearer it becomes. You can see your own style, your unique writing voice, emerge. And when you read work you did sometime ago, you’ll find out that it was always there all along.


Music and sleepiness make me write faster

This is the weirdest thing I discovered while trying (I have to use that word) to write a first draft for a second and third novel idea (I started the second novel got bored and started the third idea – me like this one).

I would turn up at the pc in the morning and, flipping heck, would I do everything except write.

Let’s see: Yahoo, Yahoo world news, read a few of those articles to keep up with what happened last night in the world, email, Facebook (could be a while – have 78 postings by friends to read and there might be something important there), check the Irish Writers Centre (no, the weekend course offerings have not changed in the last few days), RTE Breaking news stories, Oooo RTE Player, watch something on that for a while, 4OD, watch something on that, make lunch, back to the PC, check email again, more emails from Writers Digest (I am going to be a real writer someday so I need to keep abreast of important writer issues), breakthrough inspiration, write down a scene that just came to me as quickly as I can on a notepad strategically set next to the laptop for moments such as this, check Yahoo World news again something could have happened during the day in the world, now I’m ready to write, open Word, load up the last document, save it with today’s date, minimise Word document, go to Start, Programs, Games, Majong Titans (really I can’t write, my brain is wired to the hilt thinking about what I could possibly write next, I can’t think, I can’t think…), play Majong Titans until I have calmed down which is not happening because I am not winning any of my games…

So while doing my writing for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I discovered that when the evening comes and I’m really tired around 7pm (it’s been a long hard day, writing really tires you out, emotionally, physically, mentally) and I play my writing music list (all set up on Media Player), I get into the flow and the words and story pour out of me onto the page. It is truly a thing of beauty when this happens.

In conclusion, I have found that playing music while being reasonably tired (that sort of tired you have when you’ve been busy all day) can make you write fast and the story really flows. It does.

The alternative conclusion, of course, is that I have found that I work better with deadlines. Like the deadline of bedtime.


The writing state and the fictive dream.

If you’ve been writing for a while then you may relate to this passage from John Gardner’s ‘On becoming a Novelist’. It’s on page 120 and I’m going to quote it here.

(Note: Because I’m a woman I always read this passage with ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ and ‘her’ for ‘his’. So the text below is not how it appears in Gardner’s book. This is how I read it to myself.)

‘In the writing state – the state of inspiration – the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words she has written on the page and sees, instead, her characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what she has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract her mind from the fictive dream but provide her with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags she can reread what she’s written and find the dream starting up again.

This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in her imagination, she sees made-up people doing things – sees them clearly – and in the act of wondering what they will do next she sees what they will do next, and all this she writes down in the best, most accurate words she can find, understanding even as she writes that she may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead. This is the process she must learn to set off at will and to guard against hostile mental forces.

Every writer has experienced at least moments of this strange, magical state.’

When I get wound up and stuck in my writing, I read this passage and it makes me cry because I want to do so much for my characters within my limited ability to find the words to do so.

Then I tell myself ‘You can do this’ and keep going.

Have you ever felt like this?

Am I stuck or just scared of writing?

So the quest continues into my inability to write my novel. Is it merely my perfectionist self that says things to me like: ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘Do it right, if at all’.

Or am I stuck because the idea is bigger than me at the moment.

Stuck to find my characters motivations in each scene.

Stuck to put conflict into every scene.

Stuck on how to create tension.

Stuck on how to get a good opening and closing to each scene.

Stuck on how to vary the tempo between scenes.

Stuck to complete a full 2nd draft, a draft that reflects more fully where I want this novel to go.

Stuck because I know this novel is a good idea.

Stuck because I am torn between a shitty draft and making my writing exceptional.

Stuck with putting the time in to get the writing done.

Stuck with becoming a ‘good’ writer and getting better at it.

Stuck with making time to…

I lie, I waste time. I have the time.

Now I need to believe I can do this and be fearless when I write.

(I wrote this in March 2012 as a 5 minute free-writing exercise.)

Free write your fears out about your own writing. Do it every day for a week. Then stop and write your own novel.

Books to get you writing

Of all the books I have, I think the two that are good for starting out are:

Writing down the bones by Natalie Goldberg

The sound of paper by Julia Cameron

Why? To get ideas to write something. Anything. Get the flow going.

Natalie Goldberg recommends in the chapter ‘First Thoughts’ in Writing down the bones, ways to free write.

1. Keep your hand moving.

2. Don’t cross out.

3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.

4. Lose control.

5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.

6. Go for the jugular.

These are not the only books out there and they can only give you prompts to get you started.

So keep going. Do 5 minutes of free writing now.

Picking up the pen…

At the end of the day, that is what writing is about: Just doing it.

The act of picking up pen and paper, putting pen to paper and making your mark, pouring your heart out, throwing your ideas down, scribbling, scratching the surface of the multitude that will come in time.

And the writing does flow. It does come.

But as they say, you must first turn up at the page and put down the first word.

So in the beginning, there is you, and the paper, or the electronic device if you feel so inclined.

Listen to yourself.

Believe in yourself.

Trust yourself.

Now, what will you do for the next five minutes?

Idea:  Free write about your novel idea, short story idea or whatever your ‘big thing’ is.