Saturday, December 4, 2010

The art of motivation and capturing inspiration

Last night I did my best to fight off the bout of procrastination that has been plaguing me since the beginning months of October. a mere 300 words and several hours later, I gave up and surrendered to the doxycyclamine before crawling to bed with my little chihuahua, Macho.

While I wrestled the 7-pound, snoring bed hog for a spot atop the mattress, I began to ponder the reason for my mental block. What motivated me in the beginning to start such a journey? What was it that kept me going for so long? Made me proud? Made me believe in myself?

I know in my heart it's still there lost inside, that powerful motivation, smoldering and screaming at me to get to work, to put my many ideas on the page. To be happy. Why then, if the desire hasn't left me, can I not write? How does one sort and preserve the inspiration flitting around in one's head?

I fear I know the answer to my problem. I have so many stories running through my mind, that when I attempt to work on the novel, the others out shout it. Then, when I do silence all but the one little voice whispering ideas for my novel in my ear, they are so disorganized, I cannot think straight. They never come chapter after chapter in a neat little line, or fully developed. That would be too easy. No, they come in staggered blurbs, leaping from different scenes spaced throughout the novel.

Why can't writing a novel be like composing a short story?

I'm trying so terribly hard to be an organized, collected writer, but I know that isn't me. I am a pantser.

Still, there must be a middle ground.

If anyone is out there reading this and happens to be/know a seat-of-the-pants writer, what do you/they do to organize their thoughts without too much structure? How does one capture and tame inspiration without stifling creativity?


  1. I suffered through several mental blocks as I pantsed through the first draft of my novel. In retrospect, the blocks occurred because I often plotted myself into a corner. As a new novelist I did not account for the unexpected twists and turns my characters would take me through. Essentially, my story went in a different direction than I originally anticipated.

    After I completed the first draft, I discovered my novel had enough plot holes to fill a ton of Swiss cheese. Also, my characters were one-dimensional and my beginning was cliched. Several cartons of cookie dough ice cream later, I decided to start from jump street. First, I purchased and read several "how to" books. Then I completed an extensive outline. Pre-plotting has saved me so much time. Since I know the path each chapter is supposed to take, I am able to concentrate on writing the best draft possible without worrying about what comes next. I've found that my story flows better and is more cogent. Don't get me wrong, I still have to come up with the best approach to each chapter etc, but it makes a huge difference when I know where it's supposed to end. Best of luck with your novel.

  2. Thank you, Andrea. I totally agree on your approach, and the first draft of the beginning portion of the novel was just as you said: full of plot holes, cliches, and everything I cringe over each and every day when I slush through piles of sub par. submissions. I know I'm better than that, but unfortunately plotting simply doesn't work for me. Maybe I'll find middle ground somewhere.

    Thanks :)


  3. I loosely outline my plot. I almost always know the main plot points of the novel and how it ends. But I've found that some of my novels requie a lot of pre-planning while others sort of write themselves.

    Case in point: I worked on a WW2-era thriller (set in Washington D.C.) and although I thought I had things figured out, I was writing myself into a corner. I needed to put in clues and hints and all the other stuff a thriller must have, and without those, I simply ran out of steam. Since then, I reworked the plot and have it all pretty much figured out, but the process of fighting the novel got me so worn out that I put it aside and went back to one I'd started before.

    Now this one...totally different concept. It's still WW2, but it's not a thriller. I started with the germ of an idea and did something I NEVER do - I just started writing. No character profiles, no pages and pages of plot notes, nothing. I just let the story guide me.

    Eventually, the plot began to take shape and I've had to tweak it since then, but NOTHING like I had to do with the thriller.

    All this rambling is to say...for me, it's different for each novel. I usually have a loose sketch of the novel plot and write down a few pages of characterization for my characters. Sometimes I need more. Sometimes less. All depends.

    That probably didn't help you much! BUT...may I suggest reading The Art of War by Steven Pressfield? It is about Resistance...i.e. the mental thing that keeps us from sitting down and doing the work. It is an excellent little book. You can find out about it here:

  4. Melissa,

    On the contrary, it did help me! It's just nice to know that there is a middle ground. I think my problem is that after becoming a slush pile reader/editor in training, I've learned to scrutinize and pick at everything. I need to get back into my creative groove. Write first--edit later. :)

    I will check out that book! It sounds very helpful.


  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog Evelyn! I love meeting new people!!!

    I'm a panster... a crazy one at that. I have an idea and I run with it, takes me less than a month to write the novel and then the REAL chaos begins. Revising. Organizing my thoughts is extremely important so I take it one step at a time, allowing the manuscrip to rest, making character collages, writing up a tree of history, capturing pictures I think that would fit well in my story. Structure isn't something I've ever been very good at unless the book is written.

    Good luck! Great blog!

  6. I keep a small journal for different projects. So though it's not technically plotting, it's a way of getting those thoughts down on paper and out of your mind, safely clearing the way for your novel writing ... Good luck and happy writing to you!

  7. Hi Evelyn! I'm the complete opposite - I'm a plotterholic! (and I am just learning to unleash the characters) That middle ground you are after? I'll meet you there!

    My thought are like this. You want to drive from the top of your country to the bottom. You have three choices.
    1) Get in the car and drive. You'll find some amazing scenery, but you *will* get lost. You *will* be frustrated and it *will* take you forever! (You'll probably run out of fuel too)
    2) You go onto googlemaps and plan every single mile to the nth degree, breaking the journey into regular manageable chunks, all safe and *soooo* boring!
    3) You pick a chain of key places to visit along the way and you just find the route between them. Yes, you'll make some detours, make some surprising discoveries, but you will always know *generally* where you are headed at any one time. There will also be local signposts to keep you on track, which there won't be for your end destination.

    Hope it helps - it is the approach I am trying.

    Oh, one other thing I have found amazingly helpful: write a query letter first!


  8. I pants my way through all my novels first drafts. But I do make some notes/a loose outline before I start revisions.
    Sometimes you just have to figure out the feel/mood you want for the novel, find some good music to help you get in that head space...and then BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard)...and by that I mean you just have to write your way through the blockage. Free write with the feel/mood of the story and see where it takes you. (even if the writing is just loose outline type overview)


  9. thanks for the help everyone! It's all very inspiring.