Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rules for renegades: good housekeeping for writers.

Are you drowning in a sea of ugly clutter? Is your kitchen a dingy mess? And what about those annoying dust bunnies under the sofa? 

You know: when the plot mystifies even the author, when a character has all the charm and allure of a dead flounder, when verbs are passive, nouns meh and adjectives rust in the front yard. 

Take a hike/go to the gym/get on your bike. Or, God forbid, do the dishes, take out the garbage or get out the vacuum cleaner. Bottom line: get away from your desk and move. I’ve told my DH at least a million times that a body in motion is a mind in motion. (Who says living with a writer isn’t one thrill after another?)

 Coffee? For me, it’s tea. Freshly brewed Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun or Green Jasmine delivers a mild hit of caffeine. Leaving my desk, going into the kitchen, warming the teapot, boiling the water, measuring the tea, waiting for it to brew—often breaks the oh-shit-now-what? cycle. 

Switch to a pad and pen if you write on your computer. Or, if you write longhand, vice versa. Slowing down or speeding up makes a difference. At least it does for me.

Talk the problem out with someone. In my case, my DH (lucky man). Very often, it’s not what he says. It’s what I say. Turns out I had the solution all along; I just didn’t know it.

Read. Sports writers are great at describing  action. (Good verbs on the sports page.) Fashion magazines, style blogs and catalogs are filled with inspiring descriptions of clothing. Beauty and grooming sites focus on looks. The business pages are a source for occupations and careers. The tabs are an endless wellspring of sex and scandal. Niche magazines or blogs—bass fishing, ice climbing, stamp collecting, arctic biology—can jar you out of your impasse.

Blurb the book that’s giving you grief. Sometimes I get lost in the trees and need to step back and see the forest again. Writing the blurb is a way to re-focus.

Procrastinate. Seriously. Take a nap. Or a shower. Knit or crochet. Build a model airplane. Pull weeds in the garden. Try a new recipe. Go to a party. Watch a movie. Go to a concert or the ballet or a baseball game. Sometimes you get ahead of yourself and just need a little time (procrastination)  to catch up.

Kill your darlings—not. Every time I start a new book, I open a file called “To Be Used?” Whenever I wonder if a darling should be killed, I park it here so I haven’t actually killed my darling, just put him/her into the literary equivalent of a medically-induced coma. You never know when a darling is going to come to the rescue.

Hit the delete button. When your prose is lumpy and clumpy, when the plot grinds to a halt, when whatever can go wrong has gone wrong, don’t spend time/waste energy trying to fix the problem. Just cut that sucker and paste it in your “To Be Used?” file and continue. Either it will die a slow death in there or else the solution will pop into your head later. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Indulge. Booze, wine, chocolate have been tried and found guilty of putting that inner scold/second-guesser in its place and unleashing the imagination. Just don’t get so loaded you can’t read your notes the next day or so fat you can’t waddle to your computer. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Go back to work and give it another try. It’s gonna be OK. Really.

Buy one of my books. Because you never know where your next great idea will come from. ;-)


  1. This is such great advice, Ruth! (Especially about the chocolate :-)) Also buying your books, of course.

  2. Anne—Thanks. Buying your books wouldn't be such a shabby move, either!