allisonholz: Here I am in my writing cave, aka my basement (Default)
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I’ve been disappointed lately in the books I’ve read by some prolific veteran authors. I won’t name names because I don’t want this blog to be about bashing, but it is a serious issue and I see it all of the time. How do you keep your writing fresh and viable after 15 books? After 30? After 100? I don’t think I’ll ever make the hundred-mark; I’m a consistent writer but I’d have to write, revise, and complete two to three books a year between now and retirement age to become that prolific. I do plan to complete a book a year, which, if I live out the average life expectancy for a woman in America and keep writing until I die, will mean almost 50 books.

So I need to keep this question in mind as I continue writing. How do I keep from burning out, or worse, going on auto-pilot?

At this stage I have two completed novels, one completed novella, and three works in progress. (And an uncountable number of ideas that haven’t made it past a brief sketch and maybe a chapter). Each one has taught me something about the writing process and about storytelling. The first step for staying fresh as a writer is, in my mind, to never stop learning about writing. Part of that is to never stop reading; a writer who doesn’t read is like a chef who doesn’t eat. There are always nuggets of possibility to be gleaned from other writers. How do they hook the reader at the beginning of each scene? How do they build conflict? How do they show (rather than tell) character motivation? Obviously you don’t take details from the story, but the methods they use are up for grabs. One of the professors at SHU (Seton Hill, I’ll talk about it often) calls this “field reconnaissance.”

The second step is to set goals for your writing. I’ve read on several author blogs that this technique has helped established writers keep that spark alive in mid-career and later. It can be a craft-oriented goal, or a theme you want to explore, or some kind of statement you want to make (don’t go overboard on this last one- you are still telling a story, not writing a manifesto). Basically anything that keeps your mind and heart engaged while you are writing.

I imagine that with a few dozen books under your belt some things about writing just come without thinking. It isn’t entirely auto-pilot, more like GPS that occasionally steers for you. But just because you can write that way doesn’t mean you should. Story decisions should be made actively, not automatically. I think that is a huge problem with some mid-career writers. They stop being active in their storytelling process. They go with what has always worked instead of trying new techniques. The problem with what has always worked is that, although you would think that creates consistent stories, what it actually does is create stale and unpalatable stories. Readers can tell when a writer is “phoning it in.” They can tell if the heart of the story is missing, if the writer wasn’t engaged and didn’t care while writing it.

Not every writer falls victim to this kind of storytelling slump. I don’t want to be one of the ones that do. I’m making a promise to myself that is twofold. One, I’ll never to let the writing become a chore. Writing is hard, hard work and sometimes it is painful, but what thing of value is obtained without effort? There’s a difference between hard work that fulfills and hard work that drains. I don’t want to lose my joy in the craft, in the creation. I’ll be happy when the process becomes easier, but if it ever gets too easy, I’ll know something is wrong.

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allisonholz: Here I am in my writing cave, aka my basement (Default)
Allison Holz

October 2011

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