I was having tea with a good friend recently and the subject of my writing came up. She is aware that I’m preparing to go back to Tropea, Italy for two weeks (by myself) to finish my research and get back to writing my second book. My friend asked me a great question: “How do you psych yourself up to write when you’re going to be in such a beautiful location?”
I honestly don’t recall how I answered her at the time but her question has weighed heavily on my mind ever since. The truth is that this summer has been a particularly challenging time for me and for months I haven’t written anything new—not even blog posts, never mind worked on my manuscript.
Why? Quite simply, because life has gotten in the way!
How cliché is that for us writers? Life is always going to get in the way of our writing. The number one lesson in getting our first books written is to understand that.
How Do You Know When You’re Not Connected to Your Story?
Besides the obvious—that I haven’t written for almost five months (eek; really?) for me, I know that I’m disconnected from my story when I’m not making notes as I go through my day. I mean when I’m blow-drying my hair, cooking dinner, driving, taking the dog for a walk, waking up from sleep to make notes by flashlight. Just about everything I do, I’m jotting down notes and ideas to include in my book.
When I am truly in the groove and connected to my story, my plot, characters, scenes—virtually everything about my work in progress—becomes a running conversation in my head. I go to a different place and “live” with my characters constantly. When I’m not doing that I know I’m out of touch with my story.
Interestingly, it even affects my interaction on social media as well as my ability to write regular articles or blog posts. I’m guessing it even alters my mood and how I interact with others.
Because as a writer, I need to be connected to my world. And my world is making up stories in my imagination. I liken it to an interior designer whose universe suddenly becomes flat and depicted in black and white. I suspect she would crave the colors and textures and long for the vibrancy of her former world.
The Process of Reconnecting
Just as with the process of putting words on the computer screen, reconnecting to my writing begins in my imagination. I’m aware that I have many skeptics, including my husband, who doubt that I need to go to Italy in order to finish my current novel. Why couldn’t I just go to one of our beautiful nearby Gulf Islands and rent a cabin for a couple of weeks? I completed my first book by doing all of the research on the locales, by using the Internet. Judging by my reviews, it was accurate and my readers could smell and feel the charming little town of Tropea.
Eighteen days before I leave for Italy, unconsciously I have been visualizing my solitary progression to, during, and after Italy. I will be traveling for twenty hours and as such, will need to occupy my time. That means packing only carry-on luggage and having access to my journal, iPad and laptop. I’ve mapped out the courtesy lounges where I can obtain healthy sustenance (good wine counts, right?) and peaceful places to rest and work during layovers between flights.
I have rented a very small studio apartment in Tropea, where I won’t have the distractions I might have in a hotel or even a B&B. I haven’t rented a car, so I’ll have to walk everywhere—during which time I can think and keep my story in my head.
Find Your Sweet Spot
Biologically, I know that I’m more productive in the early morning. My creativity starts going downhill around lunchtime. Many of you write late into the night.
Knowing your best creative time is ideal but not everyone is free to write during those times. Perhaps you have job or family commitments, which require you to work in random bursts of thirty minutes. Super busy E.R. doctor and internationally best-selling author, Daniel Kalla, has been doing that successfully for years.
Personally, I cannot write in chaos. I need my writing space to be uncluttered. Otherwise, I tend to take that cluttered thinking into my writing. I’m already panicking about being away from my research-filled filing cabinets. I’m attempting to rectify that by using tools such as the writing software program, Scrivener (I’ve also used WriteItNow) where I have all my research inside that one application. Along with that, keeping everything else handy in the (free version of) Dropbox is helping me to get over my separation anxiety.
Use Rituals to Your Advantage
Many writers I know write a short story before knuckling down to their bigger work in progress. For me, knocking off a 600-800 word article or blog post does the trick. Even though one is fiction and the other non-fiction, I find the relative ease of banging out a quick article frees up my imagination to work on my manuscript. Do whatever works for you.
Some like to write to music; I like dead quiet. Having said that, I’m going to try listening to Italian music when I’m in Tropea, with the hope it will help give my story verisimilitude.
Before I begin writing, or when I’m stuck, I do something “meditative.” For me, that’s knitting. Yup! Who’d have thunk it? But if it’s good (or sexy) enough for the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johansson, it’s good enough for me!
Other times, I’ll water the outdoor plants. Perhaps you’re a tinkerer, or you feel better when you’ve baked a batch of double chocolate brownies. Whatever it is, find your “crutch” and use it.
So, Why Did I Write This Post?
Actors often say they give their best performance when they’re “in character.” As writers, we generally write more vividly when we immerse ourselves deeply in our scenes, live with our characters and mull over scenarios in our imaginations. As with any passion, when we eat, sleep and breathe our story, it takes on a sometimes, mysterious aura and life of its own. It’s only in those moments that we realize how incredibly lucky we are to be able to make up stories that people want to read, and then beg for more.
Selfishly, I wrote this for me—to keep myself accountable when I go to Italy and to begin the process of reconnecting with my story before I get there. If, in the process, I’ve provided you with some inspiration, I’m thrilled!
If You’d Like to Go With Me On My Journey…
…and keep in touch: I will be posting often, keeping it real, and holding myself accountable. I would love it if you’d join me!
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How do YOU know when you’re disconnected from your work and what tools do you use to reconnect? I’d love to know–please take a moment to leave a comment below.
Article written by Karen Dodd
Author of DEADLY SWITCH: A Stone Suspense
Notice: This article is copyrighted material. © Karen Dodd. Reproduction of brief snippets of this article with a link to this site are permitted, but it may not be reproduced in full anywhere without the written permission of Karen Dodd at KarenDodd.com
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