Toning the Writing Muscle

About a month ago, I blogged about creativity as a muscle and how my own personal slump had left me empty and unable to be productive. I’ve let that post sit far longer than I meant to, but for once my reasons were good ones. There are still some health issues in the works–mostly physical, thank God–and the onset of spring means I’ve started reorganizing my space and removing excess clutter. The biggest and best reason of all, though, is that I’ve been writing.

I haven’t reached my old peak of productivity and some days mean less forward momentum than others. That said, I’ve had more writing days in March than I’ve had non-writing days. When I’m in the middle of a MS, whether it’s drafting Amnesia Conspiracy or revising Facing the Music, the time I might’ve spent on other chores or tasks or whiling away of hours totally falls away. And so far, that’s been a great thing.

My moods and overall happiness have skyrocketed in the last few weeks. Reminding myself to stay positive, to not stress so much, has become more natural, and when stress does creep in, calming myself back to neutral has been much easier. No matter how challenging it can be for me to actually sit down and work, the overall benefits of  telling my stories really does outweigh everything else.

That said, it’s been a hard road getting my writing muscles back in this kind of shape. I’m not at where I’d like to be yet, hitting 1000+ words a day more often than not, but making consistent progress on both my projects still feels like a huge accomplishment.

Focusing mostly on Amnesia Conspiracy, since that’s the WIP I’m currently drafting, here are some of the tricks I’ve been using to get more work done:

1) Charting my daily progress.

I started an Excel spreadsheet a month and a half ago to keep track of milestones for each of my current manuscripts. When I started getting serious about Amnesia Conspiracy again, I began a whole new spreadsheet for keeping track of the days I’d written, the words written per day, and the story’s total word count. I never expected something so simple to be so helpful, but watching those numbers climb on the days when I write a bunch has given me more incentive than I would’ve thought possible. The extremely helpful Susan Dennard has been doing a series on Increasing Your Writing Productivity over at her blog that contains several other ideas I’d like to implement in the next few weeks.

2) Sketching out scenes in advance.

I’m a plotter by nature, and though an outline is the only way I can finish anything, I found myself needing a little more help with AC. One night before I went to bed, I pulled up my outline to look at what still needed finishing in that chapter. Though the individual bullet points were all clear to me, I wasn’t sure how to specifically fit them together or how much time to spend on each. Blocking out the scene in my head at work the next day–drafting and redrafting until I had everything laid out the way I wanted–made the actual writing process so much easier. When I sat down to work that night the words flowed out of me, and I finished the chapter within three days.

3) Taking well-timed breaks.

Thanks to my work hours, the majority of my writing is done in the evening or at night. I’m much more of an early afternoon writer, and getting tired when I try to sit down at my computer around eight or nine o’clock has been a huge issue for me. For a while I kept trying to plow through when I’d get sleepy, but keeping myself awake wasted the energy I should’ve spent putting words on the page. Lately I’ve been getting up when I start feeling tired to do the dishes or put away laundry. Tasks that keep me moving and alert for five or ten minute increments also give me the space to brainstorm so that I can come back to the computer refreshed.

4) Searching for inspiration.

In addition to writing as a muscle, I’m sure you’re all familiar with the concept of the creative well. Writing (or painting, or composing, or designing) drain your creative well and leave you devoid of ideas or inspiration. Refilling that well is an important step, but a challenging one. I’ve definitely struggled with it in the last year or so. And though stepping away from my story has been helpful on more than one occasion, I tend to seek out other places where I might find stories to provide me with inspiration for mine.

When the writing is going slowly I read a lot more. For a long time I thought that reading was–at least subconsciously–a procrastination technique, a way to focus on someone’s finished book so I didn’t have to actually finish my own. Now I’m not so sure. I love getting engrossed in other people’s stories for a variety of reasons, but the big important one is that reading an awesome novel inspires me to aim for the same level of awesome. TV has a similar result. I don’t have a long enough attention span for movies most of the time, but a couple kickass episodes of a show I’m really into has the same effect on me as finishing a good book. It makes me want to create something that will reach people in the same way. (Star-Crossed and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are what I’m excited about right now.)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for continued success on the writing and editing fronts, but just in case, I’m eager for more tips. What do you guys do to work the kinks out of your writing muscle, unstick your brains, and get back to work? Let me know.

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