Saturday, June 2, 2007

How to Get Your Creativity in Gear

Cynthia Baxter (Guest Blogger)

Cynthia Baxter writes the Reigning Cats and Dogs series featuring veterinarian Jessica Popper.

Chances are good that when I sit down at my computer to start working tomorrow morning, I won’t feel like it.

I won’t have an idea in my head, I won’t be able to remember which crisis I left my heroine in, and the lure of playing around on the Internet, searching for a good price on Rockports or a new chocolate cheesecake recipe, will be almost irresistibly strong.

In short, that famous quote that’s usually attributed to Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing but love having written,” could not be truer.

But deadlines loom, even if they’re months away. So over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks that I play on myself in order to get myself in gear.

1. Start with something easy. I find the best way to get going is to assign myself a simple, non-threatening task, one that’s easily achievable in a short amount of time. “Go back to chapter 2 and write that paragraph describing the living room” or “Check one of your past books to see what color your heroine’s boyfriend’s eyes are.” Here’s a favorite: Each chapter in all my books begins with a quotation, and a really good way for me to feel as if I’m accomplishing something important without having to tax my brain is finding clever little bons mots that other people have written – usually Mark Twain. Once I’ve spent some time doing that, I usually find I’ve slipped into a working mode.

2. Reread and revise. The more I write, the more I rewrite. Every time I go back and read something, even something I thought was pretty much finished, I find little things to change. A comma here, a stronger adjective here…it’s all part of the process of polishing my prose until it gleams. It needs to be done, but somehow it never seems as daunting as creating something new. Revising an old section or chapter not only gets my brain in gear; it’s also a task that I find can never be done too many times.

3. Set a time limit. It’s 9:42, and I’m staring at a blank screen. “Okay,” I tell myself, “writing is your job. You’re sitting at a desk. You are not allowed to get up from that desk until 11:00.” Somehow, the idea of writing for a finite amount of time doesn’t seem as horrifying as facing an open-ended challenge like, “Write a book.” I can usually make it to whatever time I’ve chosen – and on a good day I can get a respectable amount of work done. I also find that most of the time, I can’t help going longer, since by that point the creative juices are usually flowing with abandon.

4. Eliminate excuses to get up and leave the room. Before I sit down to work, I make sure everything I need for my personal comfort and safety is within arm’s reach. That includes a glass of water, a box of tissues, dental floss, lip balm, hand lotion, and a myriad of nail products, from nail polish remover to a cuticle cutter. If I try really hard, I can still come up with a million excuses to abandon my computer – put in the laundry, look up a phone number downstairs, all kinds of things that most people wouldn’t consider the least bit fun but which suddenly seem better than working. But at least I have the basic, most obvious ones covered.

5. Create a reward. “Just write 5 pages – and then you can go check the mail.” Or leaf through the new Chico’s catalog or call a friend or do something else that only takes five or ten minutes but which can break up my concentration. Somehow, knowing there’s something easier than writing in the distant future makes the process just a little less painful.

Once I get past my resistance and start writing, I usually find it’s easier than I thought – and much more fun.

Did I mention that a strong shot of caffeine also helps?


Lonnie Cruse said...

Ahhh, so I'm not the only writer who has to tie herself into the desk chair! Thanks, great advice!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I use a couple of tricks. One was a tip from SJ Rozan: Write two pages a day no matter what. Another is to say to myself: I'm going to write for one hour even if it takes me all day.