I’m growing quite adept at writing amongst chaos.Although penning notes or scanning revisions while balancing household demands is far from my ideal writing setup, it works when I need it to! However, some things really halt the writing flow. Whether surrounded by boisterous children or writing during the precious quiet of nap time, there are certain interruptions that I just can’t make a quick recovery from.
*I will insert a tone of humor here, just so we’re all clear that this is a light-hearted post!*
Ryder’s Top 5 Most Annoying Types of Writing Interruptions:
5. The phone rings. I’ve talked about my introversion before – I often still get anxiety when I have to answer a call, or even a text, although you’d probably never guess it! I’ve also mentioned what I do with my phone when I have scheduled writing time. The little devil of a device stays silenced but near me while I write, especially if it’s during the day (aka: nap time, during preschool hours). This is for obvious reasons, the main one being that I like to keep myself available for anything urgent. However, there are those times when I forget to silence the phone or when I notice something come through and I feel anxious for not answering it. My introversion sets in: Just answer it now, that way you won’t have to get on the phone later. It’s the doctor’s office…they’re probably calling to confirm an appointment but what if it’s something else? Gah! Now I have to worry about calling them back later, too. It’s silly, really. But it does interrupt my writing flow.
4. Potty Time. This goes for me OR for a child. If the kids are around while I’m writing, I try to make sure everyone (including myself) is fed, watered, bathroom-ed, freshly diapered, etc before I sit down in front of the computer. But life is life. When you gotta go, you gotta go, and the writing must halt.
3. “I forgot to load up the Crock Pot!” Those random instances when I’m pouring the words onto the keyboard and I suddenly remember that I forgot to get the chicken going in the Crock Pot: If you don’t stop writing and start the darn thing NOW, dinner won’t be ready in time! Again, another silly one, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets annoyed when they have to stop in a middle of a scene to go prep dinner. I’m not lazy, I’m just human…and I’m a writer.
2. “Speedy Delivery!” Ugh, the FedEx/UPS/Amazon courier. This is most problematic during nap time because those delivery peeps can’t knock quietly. They have to bang the door down, which sets the dogs off barking, which wakes the little one up, which heralds in the death of a quiet writing session.
1. Dog farts.The big daddy of all interruptions. This one, in all seriousness, actually gets under my skin. My nose is not very forgiving, and my brain is even worse. I have two, adorable Boston terriers that like to snuggle up next to me while I write. They snore, they stretch, they burrow into my legs. It’s fine, really. Buuuuut, if one of them lets loose, heaven have mercy. There’s only so much toxic gas that a nose can take. Sorry dogs, you are banished to a different part of the house until I am finished.
And there you have it. My not-so-uncommon list of annoying, writing interruptions. The best part is, this list is bound to change as time goes on. It’ll be amusing to keep it updated – to look back on my progression as a mother and as a writer and to have a good laugh.
People often ask me when my current manuscript will be ready to submit to the editor and agents who have requested it. This, in (large) part, is my answer:
While I know how fatal the “re-editing/over-editing” continuum is (it’s a rut that we’ve all been caught in at some point, likely on multiple occasions), there’s no harm in striving for a certain standard of perfection when it comes to writing a book. I use the word “perfection” objectively, of course, because what might be A-Okay for some won’t be the same for others. For me, I want to submit that manuscript and know that whatever the outcome, I did my very best to create a masterpiece.
For me, this involves heavy doses of: Research, Character Balancing, Story Structure Analysis, Collaboration with Alpha and Beta Readers, Intensive Character Studies and Interviews, Multiple Editing Passes, and MORE. It is insanely hard work to birth a book, so why not make sure you’ve done your best?
Shake that: “Eh, that’s good enough!” mindset and remember:
Check back soon for a follow-up post about the beauty of rejection…Yup, beauty coupled with rejection – you read that right!
Confusion, writer’s block, your Muse’s evil twin, dis-empowerment – call it what you will, but the writing demons are no joke. All writers/artists/creators experience it, but I had no idea to what extent until I joined the “inner circle” myself.
Growing up, I was always fascinated by author backgrounds: Who they were as real people, and how they came to be known. It’d always baffle me when a big author would reflect on their pre-published selves and say things such as: “I questioned if people would even like my story. I didn’t know if it would be good enough.”
Now that I am a young padowan learner myself, on my own mission to gain authorship, I understand this thinking entirely! The writing demons are just as real as the Muses, I feel. If any one thing is going to try and remind me about the Invisible Kid, it’s those pesky demons. So while I am no expert, I thought I’d mention some of the things I’ve learned to do when the “evil twin” comes a’ knockin’:
STEP AWAY from the manuscript.
It should be obvious, but I’ve been surprised at how hard this actually is. It’s actually a little ridiculous because usually for me, I don’t even have to step away for very long! Sometimes no more than a few hours, other times a few days. Either way, get your eyes off those documents. Just do it.
2. Hit up your friends for a morale boost.
Your writing amigos, your critique or support group, your mom, your writing coach, your social media supporters – anyone who is invested in your journey. I’m not saying that you should beg for compliments, flattery, or sympathy, but rather, engage with those who can relate to what you’re going through, even if it’s just for some comic relief. Heck, you don’t even have to talk about writing. Turn on a movie, break out the ice cream. Treat yo’ self.
3. Keep “writing” without actually writing.
I’m learning that everything we do is a form of writing. We live it. We breathe it. We sleep it. Often, to remain creative instead of staring aimlessly at a blank computer screen, I’ll put on a writing podcast or listen to an audiobook (often times I’ll even stay within the genre I’m writing). It keeps my creative brain active while my eyes are off the actual manuscript. I’ll also look for story structure in films, T.V. shows, commercials, picture books – whatever I’m surrounded by. In fact, I can’t NOT see story structure any more – ha! – A writer’s curse, I’m afraid.
4. Change settings.
Go on a drive. Experience the outdoors – even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Since I’m a stay-at-home-mom I’ll often hit up the park with the kids – something that both delights them and clears my head at the same time. It’s a win-win.
5. Return to your manuscript only once your brain is no longer a spinning hamster wheel.
Sometimes this is the hardest part, getting back on that horse. The writing demons are crafty. They play on our weaknesses and are well-practiced in the art of self-doubt, which ultimately leads to procrastination. If you try but still feel irritable/confused/frustrated/disinterested, revisit some of the above techniques. Don’t force the writing if your brain isn’t ready but also remember that it’s what the demons want. They don’t want that book completed…but the world does! Keep that in mind when you’re finally ready to saddle up again and “write” (see what I did there?).
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde
We all have different techniques when it comes to writing, so naturally I thought I’d share what gets my creative juices flowing. I’m finding that my preferences differ depending on what stage the manuscript is at so I’m focusing this first segment on the drafting process – a time in which my creative mode is in full swing.
Firstly, I ensure my children are safe, contained, content, etc. This usually means I write during my toddler’s nap time while my oldest is at school OR at night once everyone has gone to bed (Several of my fellow writing friends wake up insanely early each morning to write, something I have yet to accomplish myself. I take my hat off to them. They’re superstars).
So, writing during naps or at night. Sounds simple enough, right? WRONG. Things come up and I have to roll with the punches (it’s hard). The FedEx man may bang on the front door and prematurely wake my toddler from her nap, or my 4-year-old may turn Tasmanian devil right before bedtime. Or often, I work too late into the night and get run down.
The most ideal set up is if I can secure a babysitter for a few hours while I write. I’ll do “trades” with other moms during the week or take advantage when family comes into town – fun times and free childcare! (Hey, this novel writing business takes a village. No shame here.) But since these aren’t regular or consistent occurrences, I try my best to write around my kids’ sleep schedules. It doesn’t always work out and it’s definitely not fool-proof. But when the stars do align, I drop All.The.Things…and take advantage of Every.Single.Second!
Secondly, I gather my “supplies” and make sure I’m comfortable. I need my laptop, my notebook and a pen, a water bottle, some snacks (cashews, fruit snacks, cheese), the baby monitor to listen for the snoozers, headphones, and a blanket (I’m pretty much a reptile). I have an oversized armchair in my bedroom that I like to write in but I’m not overly picky (My favorite place to write? The library!). I do have a fondness for desks or tables – writing at a desk creates resonance with my college days as well as decreases the risk of me dozing off (hey, I’m a sleep-deprived momma. Also, drool on the keyboard is bad news). I also silence my phone but keep it within arm’s reach. That way it’s not overly distracting but I’m available if something urgent should arise. Basically I do everything I can think of to ensure I will not have to get up. And I do it swiftly. Because, like I said, every second counts.
A note on bad habits: I inevitably slip into some of my go-to “stress relievers” if I’m not properly prepared for a writing session, most particularly if I don’t have any “tactile outlets.” For instance, I have a bad habit of twisting my hair and biting the inside of my mouth while I’m deep in thought (HELLO creative thinking). However, tactile distractions such as petting my dogs or running my fingers across a hairbrush greatly minimize this. Another bad habit: I pull at my eyebrows…eek! Writing – especially plotting, drafting, editing, okay, all of it – is intense. However, if I have snacks, water, and even just a couple tactile tools, I can turn to those stimuli instead of giving myself dreadlocks and chewing the inside of my mouth into ground beef (which also keeps my dentist happy).
Thirdly: Music. Oh, it is so important for my creative process! My selection is based largely off of mood or the type of scene I’m writing – no surprises there. With the exception of Enya, I cannot draft with lyrical music. I’m too distractible I guess. Mostly, I listen to movie soundtracks. One that has surprised me: the official Edward Scissorhands soundtrack. It fits the middle grade fantasy/mysticism genre quite well. Who’d have thought, right? Also, Lindsay Stirling-esque styles are great but only for about an hour – so yeah, playlists for variety!
Lastly, I have to know when to take my hands off the manuscript. Sometimes this involves simply switching writing projects but usually a literal separation from the writing serves best. I can be a bit of an unrelenting work horse and have the tendency to drive myself into the ground. Usually this happens during my night writing. I’ll start writing in circles – my brain will run on repeat – in a continuous, pointless loop. It’s frustrating, tiring, and painful (like, I get nauseous). It took me a while to recognize what was happening, to let go of my stubborn: “Just one more paragraph, even if it kills me!” mindset. But sometimes enough is enough, even if it’s just for the day. Once the exhilarating buzz of writing departs and I start to feel like a mass of confused atoms, I know it’s time to temporarily retire.
J.R.R. Tolkien said: “Fantasy [and might I add, WRITING] is escapist, and that is it’s glory.” Indeed, I feel this to be true, but sometimes temporarily taking your eyes off of the writing and returning to reality is necessary for the magic to continue flowing!
Why does inspiration hit at the most inconvenient times?
We’ve all experienced the “shower wisdom.” The kind where you’re lathered in shampoo, unclothed, wet, and exposed, and one of your characters decides to pester you with the best idea ever.
“Please? Please let me bungee jump off the Eiffel Tower then mysteriously disappear at the end of Chapter Four. Please!”
OR, for you YA writers:
“I’m in love with Sydney. I know she belongs to Isaac and that they’re getting married in Chapter 3 but I just CANNOT shake my feelings for her.”
Then, if you’re a stay-at-home parent and are robbed of simple privacies such as bathing or peeing without spectators, your children (like, your tangible offspring, not your literary babies) barge in with a handful of “no-this-cannot-wait” requests. Your audience only grows from there and once all the characters have joined, it’s a full on rave in the bathroom. Par-tay in the shower!
Of course during all of this you’re trying to desperately hold on to that amazing idea before it washes down the drain or is shoved away by the dozens of demands pelting your way. It always makes me think of this meme:
Or there’s those times when you’re trying to get dinner on the table and that little voice says: “You need to have Jane turn left down the forbidden path – not right – because this would “up the stakes” even more, thus better catapulting the reader into Act III.” So in the time it takes you to locate a capture tool (it doesn’t matter how many notepads I station around the house, they never stay with their pens, and vice versa) and if you’re lucky, get that idea on paper, the marinara sauce has started to burn, the 4-yr-old is jamming DVDs into the Bluray player, and the toddler is dancing flamenco on the kitchen table. But was it worth it? Capturing that plot-changing idea? You tell your brain: YES, but can you please withhold any further inspiration until I’m sitting peacefully, uninterrupted, with notebook open and pen at the ready?
Another one we’ve all experienced is inspiration on the toilet. By the time you’re finished with your business the idea is already slipping down the U-bend with everything else that just exited your body (I promise that will be the extent of my potty humor on this one).
Or how about when your characters like to visit you during a medical exam? The doctor says: “Okay, you might feel a little pressure here,” and instead of nodding compliantly, you yell: “Not now, Esmerelda! I’ll help you storm the castle later!” Haha. I joke some, but seriously, those characters have no sense of propriety sometimes.
My poor husband has accepted the reality of having extra “guests” accompany us on our dates. Even if they’re not actively in our conversations, he knows when my characters are buzzing inside my brain because my conversational output will be conflicted with hiccups. For instance, I’ll randomly stop speaking to him mid-sentence because yep, you guessed it, little Timothy is inside my head, suggesting I give him a bigger role in the subplot.
The list is never ending. And it’s really amusing. But that’s what it’s all about, right? Maybe the writing Muses do it on purpose: spark our brains at the most awkward or inconvenient times so that we can experience some comic relief – so that we can survive the actual grind of writing when the time comes.