Sometimes I have to make myself write what I  don’t want to. The stuff that makes up the structure, but isn’t fun, or exciting, or what I’m in the mood for.

This last week, talking to Dorothy Grant about her latest (coming soon, I got an advanced glimpse) and thinking about how much she has improved as a writer, I was pondering my own work. Dorothy has gone from a solid, workmanlike writer, to something a leap upward with this latest book. Me? I haven’t been practicing the craft like I know I ought. Recently I’ve been doing more short works (it’s been the year of the anthologies, if I look back on the last 12 months). Those are more fun to create. They are, by their nature, shorter – so faster to the finish and that satisfying glow of accomplishment.

They are faster paced. I don’t need to worry about building the world, the characters, or a plot that will hang together in three acts (ok, not all full-form plots are tripartite, but you know what I mean). I can write just enough to flesh out the world and characters – relying much on the reader’s assumptions – and then it’s off to the races with all action, all the time.

The other thing I can do with shorts is be a little more zany. A novel needs more than ‘that’s funny!’ and a short can exist simply to elicit a belly-laugh. Which isn’t to say that humor can’t be in, and doesn’t have a place in long-form. But a novel needs a full range of emotions, just like a human being.

Which brings me back to writing even when I am not in the mood. As a writer, I have some tricks I’ve come up with to manipulate my own brain into doing what I want it to. Sometimes they even work. Music works for me, but it isn’t right for everyone. Taking a walk and thinking through the story/character motivations helps (see also: shower, washing dishes, any mindless task, really). Talking with my alpha readers/friends can jar something loose, but it’s not really a mood-setter. One of the things I can do, but hate making myself do, is to read over what’s been written so far to get back into the story.

This isn’t so bad if the WIP has been shelved for some time. But frankly, I only know one author who denies having a love-hate relationship with his own work. Learning that he always thinks his writing is the best thing since sliced bread explained so much about why I can’t read his stuff.

Self doubt, in reasonable amounts (too much is crippling, too little…) leads us to pursue better. Better word choices, punctuation, better whatever. If you seek feedback, thoughtfully, incorporate it when deemed valuable, and learn from your mistakes you come out on the other side a stronger writer. You grow. If, on the other hand, you are convinced that your writing is the greatest! It may be. Sure. I’m just going to wander off here and find someone else to read, someone who sought out editing, and made changes, and worked hard at their writing.

Maybe it is that. It’s work. Writing can be a lot of fun for me. I have a blast creating worlds with my words. If I didn’t, why would I do this?

But I’m not willing to settle for just having fun. I’m wanting to improve. And that means hard work. The end result? I have a product I’m proud of, and can confidently put my name on.

So I can make myself write like I am creating a product. Which means it’s a business-like endeavor, for the good and the tedious. Not tedious to read… it is harder to craft that ‘invisible’ writing where the words drop away and the story comes alive in the reader’s mind. And that’s worth working harder to achieve.


  1. I’ve found that having to alternate Day Job writing with fiction writing has made fiction a little easier. Not too much easier, because my brain is already tired from writing between 2K and 8K non-fiction words per day, but it is a relief to be able to make things up and to not be bound by curricula.

  2. Hey, no beating yourself up! The very fact that you have “the year of anthologies” when I haven’t gotten anything out in two years is a great indicator that you’ve been practicing lots! Maybe not the directed practice in the area you’re focused on improving, but that’s sure a lot of practice on a lot of other areas of writing and craft!

    And thanks for the kind words. It’s a hard and strange process, disentangling the story in my head from the words on the page, and your beta reading was a very valuable assistance seeing the difference between the world behind my eyes, and the world that made it on the page for the readers to see.

  3. And, in fact, you had better write no more of the background than the story needs. . . .

    I have the “sticky ideas theory of story length” — the length of a story depends on whether the idea it is based on sticks to other ideas and drags them into the story. Novels are like bags of marshmallows after they started to stick together so thoroughly that they blur — and series like BIG bags. Short-shorts are like ball bearings. (And in between you get different lengths.)

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