I love toys. My office is filled with action figures, stuffed animals, and just weird stuff. In my heart, I’m really a nine-year-old boy. Toys just make me happy, and I tend to be more creative when I’m feeling playful. Although I have toys scattered around the room, I keep three close at hand while I write. They are my super special writer toys.
My Hulk head is one of my favorites. I love the Incredible Hulk and will buy almost anything with Hulk on it. I had no idea when I found this rather gruesome ball in a drugstore just how much I would love it. It’s filled with liquid and is fun to smash and slosh around. This is what I grab most often when I’m reviewing my work. I bounce it from hand to hand as I read and mash his head when I’m frustrated. It’s a great editing tool.
Another drugstore find is my squishy Hulk body. This one is filled with some sort of sand and makes a wonderful “walking on the beach” sound when you smash it. His legs are floppy, too, which makes him fun to waggle back and forth. I grab him when I’m stuck on a scene.
My husband gave me my newest toy, a dragon fidget spinner. I’ve started playing with it when I’m filling in a scene or trying to figure out where else the plot should go. It’s a nice alternative to squishy Hulk body and has a completely different vibe.
So, if you’re a writer, try playing with some toys to get the creativity flowing. My other tools tend to be pretty boring–I write in MS Word, for instance, and use Excel to plan plots. I tend to jot notes in a spiral notebook, so there is nothing fancy about the way I actually write. I do everything, however, surrounded by a horde of Hulks, Lokis, cats, dragons, and foxes.
I don’t know if it’s because of NaNoWriMo or just that everyone likes quantifiable markers of progress, but writers–especially new writers–seem to place an extraordinary amount of emphasis on word count. This seems very wrong-headed to me for several reasons, but I’m only going to discuss one in this post.
It’s easy to let numbers get in the way of progress or become a false marker of it. I hate seeing writers (usually on Twitter) feel deflated because they didn’t reach their daily word count. Writing is a complex art. It’s hard enough without piling some arbitrary goal like the number of words one can click out on top of it. I don’t have a daily word count. I try to write a little every day, but sometimes “writing” means daydreaming about my characters while I do dishes or wash my hair, plotting scenes on a spreadsheet, or reading about writing. I’ve released two novels, a novella, and a short story this year and didn’t fret about the word count a single day.
Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. It just does. This is okay. Sometimes the words flow. Sometimes they don’t. To me, obsessing about word count can interfere with this natural rhythm, stressing out writers who need to relax so they can write more. I often see people setting their daily writing goals too high. So many people want to knock out 3,000 or more words a day. I often don’t write more than 1,500 words on “paper” per day. I write, however, in some form or another, every day.
Writing is too beautiful, too meaningful, to turn into some sort of drudgery. It should be something that is difficult at times, but mostly fun–like a thrilling, high-maintenance lover. It should never be like working at a factory turning out widgets. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your word count requirements, please take a deep breath and remember to ENJOY writing. If you have to back off and read about it, that’s time well-spent. Learning how to craft a story is far more important than banging out some arbitrary number of words.
And here’s the fun part–a good story will naturally result in a good word count. If you have interesting characters, a fleshed out plot with a satisfying resolution, a world of specific details, and stimulating dialogue–I can guarantee that story has a good word count.
No. There isn’t. There are as many ways of doing something as there are people on the planet. I hate writing instructors (or reviewers) who act as if there is only one way of writing or one kind of book. (I know, I know. You’re not supposed to get upset with reviewers. They are entitled to their opinions, and I believe that wholeheartedly. That doesn’t mean I can’t feel butt hurt when one doesn’t understand the difference between a character-driven story and a plot-driven story.)
But back to writing tips. Years ago, I was in a writing group where one writer berated another for saying she couldn’t control her characters. I knew exactly what the ‘I can’t control them’ writer meant. To some extent, that’s how I write. My characters come to me in an organic fashion. Writing often feels more like an archeological dig than a creative process. I feel like I’m discovering the characters, discovering the story. There’s something profoundly Jungian about it.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to step in more. I’ll have a flash of inspiration for a plot point or an attitude shift and insert them and watch the story reorder itself. Or I’ll give the protagonist a nudge in the ribs. I can’t even fathom the sort of rational mind who views the characters as chess pieces and feels in control of everything. I’m not arrogant enough to think that person is wrong. I realize they are different. It’s okay for people to be different. Why do so many of us have a problem with that?
I was thinking about Kite from Lover, Destroyer today. I pick on him a lot, but I feel deeply sorry for him. As soon as I thought that, I wondered what the Vulcan from that writing group would have said. “You created his backstory! You created him–how can you feel sorry for him? That’s insane?”
Well, yeah. But I didn’t intentionally create him. He came to me that way. Damaged, possessing a frightening power, manipulated into doing something that preys on his conscience for the rest of his life. Technically, I created him. But I swear, he was broken when I found him.
There are many ways to do the same thing. Mine just happens to be a bit insane. And I’m perfectly fine with that.