This Writer Is Always On Call

Most jobs come with a schedule. 9-5 is probably the most common. Some people punch a time clock, others just show up, put in their time and leave. If I had to describe my work hours, it would be easiest to describe them as ‘on call’.

I write for a living. So you’d think I can set my own hours. Show up at the keyboard, pound out a few pages and call it good. Right? Except it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me. I’ve read a lot of advice on the craft of writing that you should force yourself to sit down – and the words come out. Apparently my muse never got that memo. (Or she did and she’s too busy laughing hysterically to give it any credence.)

Don’t get me wrong. I prepare. I plot like there’s no tomorrow. I know what has to go into the scene I’m trying to write. I know the POV, I know the setting and I may even know whole snippits of conversation. But if it’s not ready to come out my fingertips…it’s not ready. No amount of sitting (or chocolate bribes) will get those words to flow if they don’t want to.

Here’s how my creativity works on call. I plot and plan and set up the scene…every weekday morning after the kids leave for school. Sometimes it comes right then. I write for a few hours, the scene is done. I call it a day. But sometimes (more often, lately, than not) it doesn’t. And I have to get up and do something else. Fold laundry, walk the dog, run a few errands. I’m giving it time to percolate.

I never know when it’s going to hit — that moment when the stars align and everything falls into place. It could be just an inkling, or it could be a fully mapped out, word-for-word scene. It starts in my brain, then my whole body is buzzing. My fingertips literally start wiggling. I can feel the words right there on the ends of them! The urge to run to my computer is a compulsion I cannot control. Nor, do I dare deny.

Now, unlike a surgeon who is on call…my situation gets a little more complicated. Have I mentioned I’m working on four books at once? Can you imagine an on-call surgeon with four different specialties? They’d never know if they were being called in for an appendectomy, a face lift, a c-section or brain surgery. I wait for the muse to strike, but I never know which book she’s going to hit me with. Keeps me on my toes.

Either I’ll keep my mind busy enough to ward off dementia, in my older years, or my sanity left the minute I decided to devote myself to a writing career. We’ll just pretend it’s the former. Ignorance is bliss, after all.

Anyone else have a schedule that requires them to be available on a whim? Tell us about it.

What’s My Motivation?

Have those of you who work outside the home ever called in and said “Sorry, just not feeling it today. I’m going to stay home and play games on Facebook all day. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.” Of course not. That would get you fired. So those of us who work from home should be subject to the same rules, albeit enforced by ourselves, rather than a boss. Right? Except writer brains don’t work like other brains. Some days (okay, in my case, weeks) the words just aren’t there. The urge to sit down and get creative is just…missing.

And because I see all these posts on Facebook about the super-productive authors with ten kajillion projects going at once, the ones who have charts and schedules for which blog post comes out on which day, and how many thousand pages they are going to edit on which book and all the new book contracts they’re signing this week…I feel guilty. I’m not working hard enough. Heck, I’m not working at all, so let’s call a spade a spade. I’m a fraud. If I’m not writing, I cannot call myself a writer.

Guilt turned to panic. I haven’t had a new release out in over a year. My readers are going to forget my name. They’ll have moved on to the next author who actually releases on a reliable schedule. Then panic to hopelessness. What’s the point? The first book in my latest trilogy has been rejected repeatedly. Why even finish the series? Does anyone really want to read this? It may be the book/series of MY heart, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is going to fall in love with it.

Writing can be a very solitary existence. And it’s easy to forget that there are others out there who might be going through the exact same thing I was struggling with. So I reached out. And it felt so good to talk with another author who knew just how I was feeling. She told me it was okay, healthy in fact, to give myself permission to take a break. To refill the creative well. She suggested I put a time limit on it, a deadline that would force me back into my chair and getting back to the business of storytelling.

I started to get excited. I thought about all the walks I was going to take with the dog, snapping pictures along the way. I thought of all the plant nurseries I was planning to visit, because something about nature and flowers is connected to my writing. I can’t explain it…it just is. I picked up a book I’d promised to read and review. I told myself that it was okay to put someone else’s book first for a change. I queued up Netflix and looked for a new bingeworthy series.

 

But while I was busy telling myself it was okay to step back, I was already feeling the stirrings of something new. And, let me tell you, the floodgates have truly opened wide. My head is full of blog post ideas, new series’ ideas, people I want to contact, publishers I want to query. I’m considering self-publishing for the first time in my writing career. This excitement — a reason to scramble out of bed in the morning and get to work — it had been missing for a long time and I was worried it would never come back. But I am so thrilled that it did. Yeah, it’s making me a little bonkers because I haven’t laid everything out in a “first this, then that” type of pattern, but I’m enjoying figuring out what fights its way to the top. Today the blog post. Tomorrow a little research, perhaps. But I’m back, baby! I’m not a fraud after all. Just a creative person who was in a bit of a slump. It happens to all of us, and it’s not the end of the world.

Inside a Writer’s Brain

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Some of you are going to be able to relate, nodding your heads and going “Exactly!”. The rest of you are going to be weirded out, and probably more than a little scared. But this is what being a writer is like. We’re a bit different than most people.

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I hear voices. No, they’re not dead people. They are very much alive – in my mind. They hold conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with me. I feel like I’m eavesdropping in my own head. And nine times out of ten, they start talking when I’m not ready to sit at the keyboard and get it all down. Usually when I’m just falling asleep or just waking up for the day. Or in the car while I’m running errands. They love to visit me in the shower.

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Now here’s a dilemma that is fairly recent. I have multiple projects vying to have their stories written, and they all think they should go first. I’m in the middle of book one in a new trilogy. Not only are the characters from the first book helping me write the current scene I’m working on, but they’ve jumped to other parts of the book that I’m not even ready for yet. Then there are the other two leading ladies from books two and three. They think it’s helpful to drop little tidbits about their backstories and what they’d like to see coming up in their own books. I can work with that. The other day I figured out who I would write my monthly short story (exclusive to newsletter readers) about. Yesterday was all about catching the zippy dialogue between the hero and heroine.

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I’m taking a course on strategic planning. I had mapped out a course of action that involved setting work hours. Okay, toss THAT out the window! I may set work hours. And I may work those hours. But this writer brain doesn’t turn off–ever. I have notebooks all over the house. In the car. A waterproof one in the shower (no joke!). I have a little notebook in a fanny pack (don’t judge!) for when I’m walking around the neighborhood or to get the kids at school and the gem of an idea strikes. Because if I don’t write it down the second it comes to me, it’s gone.

Bottom line: I feel like I’m paying rent in my own brain. It’s mine. But it’s really not. Isn’t there a saying about pets and homes? “It’s their house, they just let me live there.”

If you need me, I’ll be slaving away at my keyboard, racing to finish one book before the next one comes along. And btw, if you can relate, drop me a comment and commiserate. Because, while this is a pretty cool problem to have, it is EXHAUSTING.

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If I Could Write Anywhere

It’s summer. The kids are busy with their various camps. Folks are coming back with stories from Nationals. We aren’t due for our mini-vacation until the end of August. I’ve taken the summer off from writing to focus on the kids and a few projects around the house. But I’m restless. I want to write. I want to get away and write. So this morning I took a little virtual getaway to research some fun locales and play a game of “If Money Were No Object”. Here’s what I came up with:

Seriously, writing in peace would not be an issue here. Getting up the nerve to get in a tiny boat to row over, might be.

Seriously, writing in peace would not be an issue here. Getting up the nerve to get in a tiny boat to row over, might be.

I could spend all winter testing out the views from each window in this massive cabin.

I could spend all winter testing out the views from each window in this massive cabin.

I love reading books set in Ireland but never felt I could write one, never having been. Dump me off here and I have enough inspiration for a dozen books, at least!

I love reading books set in Ireland but never felt I could write one, never having been. Dump me off here and I have enough inspiration for a dozen books, at least!

And if we're going to exotic locales, Paris is a must for a romance author. Keep the cafe au laits coming, garcon!

And if we’re going to exotic locales, Paris is a must for a romance author. Keep the cafe au laits coming, garcon!

This would be perfect for my fairy series. If I sit quietly, who knows who might show up for a visit?

This would be perfect for my fairy series. If I sit quietly, who knows who might show up for a visit?

I'm not sure if I'd want to travel to this writing spot, or move in permanently. It's just...perfect.

I’m not sure if I’d want to travel to this writing spot, or move in permanently. It’s just…perfect.

Another pricey getaway, but well worth the $$$. Santorini views from a balcony. I'm picturing a tall, dark and tanned hero for the book written from this spot.

Another pricey getaway, but well worth the $$$. Santorini views from a balcony. I’m picturing a tall, dark and tanned hero for the book written from this spot.

And for a more permanent writer's retreat...a cabin for the backyard. I would LOVE going to work each morning!

And for a more permanent writer’s retreat…a cabin for the backyard. I would LOVE going to work each morning!

Write all morning, play all afternoon. Now *that* would be the life. Occupation: beach bum. I like the sound of that.

Write all morning, play all afternoon. Now *that* would be the life. Occupation: beach bum. I like the sound of that.

I don't know about this one. Part of me wants to write, but another part wants to curl up and read the day away. Ahhh...

I don’t know about this one. Part of me wants to write, but another part wants to curl up and read the day away. Ahhh…

What would your favorite writing retreat look like? Describe it in the comments. Or leave a photo. I’d love to see it.