When I solicited blog post ideas on Facebook, my mom asked me “Are there days that you just don’t feel like writing? What do you do then?”
Since I’ve become a full-time writer, those days come a lot less frequently, partially because writing is my job now, and I can’t just not do my job. I try to write every day, but sometimes, especially if I’m otherwise very busy, and really cranking through, perhaps one day out of ten I will feel too burned out to write, and I try to give myself a break.
But I always like to make sure that I’m not writing that day because I actually need a break, not because something is wrong in the story I’m writing.
Because the feeling of not wanting to write, for me, almost always comes from wanting to avoid approaching some story problem. When I’m really into a draft, like I am now with the third book of my Viking trilogy, The Golden Wolf, I think about it all the time. I woke up at 5:30 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep wondering if I needed to make Ragnvald more proactive and less reactive in his arc.
When I’m really into writing, I feel like I’m engaged in an a wild, passionate romance with all of my characters. I love their flaws. I love their strengths. I picture them. I fantasize about them. I rush to the computer, or a notebook, to jot down snippets of conversation, scenes, which come to me at odd moments, though I also schedule a certain amount of writing each day.
When I don’t want to write, I need to figure out why, and usually I sit down with a notebook, and write questions to myself, and then the answers:
Why don’t I want to write today?
I am writing this scene with Character X, and it’s boring me.
Why is the scene boring me? What purpose does the scene serve? What is the conflict? What decision does the POV character make? How does the chapter fit into the story’s theme? How can this scene serve more than once purpose in the story?
I’ve written about these questions before, and I go back to them time and time again. If I can’t answer them, there’s something wrong with the scene, or the story overall. I write about these questions and their answers, and the questions they lead me to, and until I find the answers I need to keep writing.
Sometimes the answer is that there’s something wrong with the character. I have characters in this trilogy that are more and less interesting, and that’s okay. The nice thing about fiction is I can skip to the interesting bits, and slide over the times in between. I try to make every character at least understandable in her own right, if not interesting, but some characters just don’t merit POV chapters, or a lot of “screen” time. And every character can at least be made slightly more interesting. No one always reacts the same way, no one is just one thing.
I also frequently use the desktop app called “Write or Die”, where I set a time and a word count, and write until I hit that word count. Write or Die gives you unpleasant noises, a red flashing screen, and a giant spider if you stop writing for too long, and that keeps me composing without thinking too much. It might seem a little childish, but I’ve now written nearly three long novels using it, so it works for me.
My mom also asked another question: “At what point do you decide that something isn’t working? How do you fix it? When do you decide it cannot be saved?”
Those are harder questions, and while I do believe in finishing things, some stories, some novels can’t be saved, or at least not by me, at the time that I’m writing them. Sometimes the answer to “why don’t I feel like writing” is “I’m writing the wrong thing”.
I’m not going to answer those questions today, though, because right now I’m writing the right thing, and my characters want me back.