“Who Dat?” for writers…

wherein I ponder the correlation between my writer friends who seem so discouraged this week, and the wild rumpus in Louisiana over the miracle that is the Saints headed to the Super Bowl.

Please notice that I put “Who Dat?” in quotes because I would not want some large sports entity to claim that I am claiming I invented that phrase. I didn’t–and I’ll just let the Louisiana governor, attorney general and other elected officials make a legal fricasse out of whoever tries to wrestle it out of the cold, dead mouths of Saints fans.

Anyway.

I have noticed a disturbing theme the past couple of weeks in emails and writer blogs that I regularly read. People are feeling low. Discouraged. Not sure where their plot is going. Not sure there is a plot to go anywhere. Sick of their heroines, tired of their heros. Sick and tired of this whole novel writing thing.

Since my sister has been sending me daily updates of the various parades, parties and fais-do-does from la Louisiane, it struck me that a little writerly pep rally might be in order.

Writing is like being a Saints fan. (Work with me here, s’il vous plait.) I can’t claim to be much of a football fan, or one of the johnette-come-latelies jumping on the winning bandwagon. But I did grow up in Louisiana, and I did graduate from LSU, so I hold those up as my qualifications to make this analogy.

Way back in 1967, the Saints started out in a blaze of glory. On the very first play of the very first game, a Saints player ran back the kickoff 94-yards for a touchdown. Yay!  After that shining unforgettable moment, however, it was years–no, decades–of losses. Losing season after losing season. Nicknamed the “Aints.”  Fans wore paper bags over their heads to show their disgust. The team’s record was so dismal at one point, a local sportcaster swore he’d walk down Bourbon Street in a dress if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl.

How is this like writing? How often do you start a new writing project, and it seems like it’s going to be a snap! The voice is right, the set-up is great, the first scene flows from your fingers like rum from Captain Jack Sparrow’s bottle. But then the momentum ends,  or the adrenaline rush is over, and you’re slogging through the great wasteland of Act II. Or, worse, you’re not even slogging so much as writing about how hard it is to write. And the next thing you know, you feel like a Saints player, like this book is never going to come together, you’re never going to get it finished, you’re never going to go on to the next project. The payoff for your hard work seems impossible–and it’s just not fun anymore.

This is what I kept hearing all last week. Why, I don’t know. Winter? The start of tax season? Post-holiday blues? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is to get the momentum going, the adrenaline pumping, the (choose football metaphor of your choice and insert here, because I’ve run out) and get back to work on writing.

For practical advice, here are a few ideas that work for me. I would love to hear what works for others.

– Change location: If you write at home, go out to a coffee shop, the library, your dining room table. Someplace where the scenery is new. Or someplace where there is no scenery, if that’s a distraction, and no Internet.

-Exercise: A walk, an exercise DVD, a couple dozen jumping jacks or sit-ups will get some endorphins going. I heart endorphins.

– Hands-on help: Try some (or all) of the techiniques in many, many how-to books on writing. A few I’ve found helpful are Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron; Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass; Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden; Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt. A background exercise might help you discover something new and interesting–and inspiring–about a character.

-Attend a literary function–a reading, signing, workshop. Be around like-minded people. Picture your book on the shelf. Picture yourself in the signing chair.

-Whine to friends and eat a lot of chocolate. If you do this one, you might need to follow up with suggestion #2.

-Go to a parade. I hear that, on Tuesday, a bunch of men in dresses will be marching down Bourbon Street.

The point is, not to give up. Not to stop writing. Because, really, in your heart of hearts, that’s not what you want. Right?

Anyone else have tips for the discouraged among us?

Bon chance.

Ramona

PS – Since I didn’t include any visuals above, let me include one here, the flag of Acadiana. See the pretty fleur de lis’ on it?








11 thoughts on ““Who Dat?” for writers…

  1. I’m blaming the depression on our gloomy Pennsylvania winter (although right now it’s sunshining…small consolation after a morning low of 2 degrees). Or maybe the miserable state of the publishing industry is grating on my nerves. Whatever…I’m starting to snap out of it. I keep reminding myself there is only one surefire way to NOT get published and that is to stop trying.

    Go Saints!

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  2. Hi Ramona, you ask if anyone else has tips for the discouraged. Giving writing tips is just what I do. This one is adapted to fiction from the advice given by marketing gurus to nonfiction writers. Picture the back cover or jacket flaps of your book in its about-to-be-published form. Make a bulleted list of the benefits your readers will enjoy by reading this book.

    For example: Thrill to the heartstopping panic of Jane as she confronts ____ and struggles to ____. Get in touch with your inner optimism as Jim struggles to __________. And so on. Make a long list, then pick one of the actions and start writing there, even though it’s not “next” in the sequence of what you’ve already gotten a great start writing.

    Don’t worry about merging out-of-sequence scenes. The idea is to write with excitement and deep involvement, to restore your love for your story and its characters, and to build up a series of chapters that come to life for you and for your model reader.

    I’ve more ways to overcome writer’s block in my faqs on http://writersinfo.info And thank you, Ramona, for recommending my book, Don’t Murder Your Mystery. Regards,
    Chris

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  3. Annette, pretend I am Cher: Slap! Slap! “Snap out of it!”

    That is the only time I channel Cher, I promise. I’m glad to hear you aren’t letting winter get you down anymore. The best thing you can do for the publishing industry is to write a terrific book. Right?

    I believe you mean Geaux Saints!

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  4. Hi, Ramona!

    I make a list of all the things I have already acomplished on my writing project and take a few minutes to recall encouraging comments from others about my work. Always make me feel better and keeps me going on my story.

    And to build on “write with excitement and deep involvement” — a phrase I also love — someone else said: “Write like writing is your lifeblood not your livlihood.” Works for me.

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  5. Ramona:

    It’s Monday and men are already marching down the streets of New Orleans wearing dresses much prettier than my own. (Sigh.)

    Thanks for the advice!

    xo,

    Pam

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  6. Hi, Ramona,

    It’s been a while since you first posted this. I’m feeling a little drag right now, which is why I was seeking out your expert advice.

    I thought I’d add something that’s been helpful to me. There’s a passage in my story that I’m very passionate about. I was practically crying when I wrote it, and I really feel the essence of the character every time I read it. When I’m having a hard time getting myself deep into the story, I read that passage. By the time I finish, I’m motivated to tell this story in the most captivating and impressive way possible.

    Looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks at the Sisters in Crime retreat.

    All the best …

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  7. Tamara, that is an excellent exercise–painful, but it says a lot about how you feel about your work if it can bring up that kind of emotion.

    I care about my mystery protagonist as if she is a real person. From time to time, when I have to do something unpleasant to drive the story along, I find myself apologizing to her! “I’m so sorry to do this to you…” just before I kill someone she loves.

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