It’s Wednesday, hump day, the middle of the week day. For authors struggling with finding the right word, or even the motivation to sit down with your copy editor’s notes or to write, here’s some midweek inspiration. The video features interviews with best-selling authors Tomie dePaola, Diane Hammond and Ridley Pearson.
I’m a wannabee best-selling author who has written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. I’ve won a few awards along the way and remember as a Kansas City Star columnist, the struggle with coming up with an idea for the next great read. From my own experience, here are a few things that have kept my writing inspiration flowing.
The mortgage and my child’s tuition. Okay this doesn’t sound glamorous or ethereal but the fact that I need to pay for my child’s private school tuition has motivated me to hack away at the computer to write the article that pays $1 a word. Or to research telecommunications technology so I can ask questions and not look stupid to a developer or C-level executive.
The girl on the bus who thought I was a rock star. This really happend in college. I sat down next to a girl who saw my name written on one of my textbooks. “You’re Leilani Corpus?” “Uh maybe,” I replied moving away. “Omigod,” she screamed. “I love your columns. I read every one of them! I can’t believe you’re Leilani Corpus.” She freaked me out as she looked at me worshipfully. But the fact someone was reading my columns in the campus newspaper kept me typing away so I could pay my way through school.
Seeing my articles all over the Google search engine. It’s really weird to see articles I’ve written 20 years ago posted all over the place with commentary. I wrote an article on virginity that I didn’t realize was so controversial. It’s posted all over the place and has encouraged young adults to live a sexually pure live.
Some day I hope to be a best-selling author but for now I’ll settle for award-winning writer, journalist or whatever you want to call it. What keeps you going as an author? What inspires you?
August 16, 2010
“We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are very close to 100 percent that it wasn’t.” –William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Editing can be a traumatic part of the publishing process for any author. The reality is that there is not a book in the history of publishing that didn’t benefit from a great edit. Here’s what you can do to be prepared for your part in the process.
Yes, your first thoughts are fresh and alive. There is nothing you would change. That is why you need to put your draft away for a day, a week, or a month. Put it in a drawer and don’t look at it. When you return to your manuscript, you will have enough emotional distance to see what you need to trim and polish. And you will need to trim and polish.
The first thing to trim is any passive verbs. In non-fiction or fiction, people need to do things. Any time your subjects are “having to run” instead of running, you’ve got a problem. Look carefully at the verbs in each sentence. If you have more than one verb, chances are your characters are passive. They have eaten, have slept, have read instead of eating, sleeping or reading. Trim extra verbs and get to the action in each event.
Show, don’t tell. That’s the rule in writing. When you show a reader something, they engage in their imagination, but when you tell them what to think, you are putting your reader in a classroom. One way to make sure you are showing and not telling is to lose the adverbs. If you tell your reader that Sean “moved strongly,” then your reader has no need to picture it. If you write that Sean “pushed his legs against the current,” you see him moving strongly.
Your editor is there to help your voice sing. I know it can feel destructive, but if you know what you can do to make your writing vibrant in your rewrite and trust that an editor is there to build you up by removing the weeds from your prose, you will enjoy the editing process, and your book will sparkle.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqp7A0B7abc]Some of you may have already seen this hugely popular video that boasts over 174,000 views on YouTube. But the advice Stephen King gives to aspiring writers is to read. Seems to be an oxymoron because wouldn’t you expect writers to read?
I like what he says about how you know you’ve arrived at that process of being a creative writer when you read a book and realized that it’s bad. Have you ever had that moment when you read a book and think you could have done a better job writing it? And then you think, “It got published so maybe I have a chance!”
Have you every thought you could do a better job writing a book that you read? If you’re already a published writer, what’s your advice you would offer to aspiring writers?
Read Time: 4 minutes
Take Away: Giving you a system for mastering inspirational peak creativity and performance output.
I sat down with Kevin Weaver to talk about the writing process. Kevin is a songwriter and author, except that he’s not. Kevin is actually a businessman—the President and Chief Idea Evangelist for It’s Feasible™, a for-profit solution development company. Kevin is also Founder and President of An Uprising—A Call To Battle™, a non-profit, web-based, on-demand equipping movement. In the course of these endeavors, Kevin has written songs and in the spring of 2010 sat down to write his first book, Re-Orient: The 10 Most Misunderstood Religious Words Redefined for a Generation. He was immediately faced with the challenge most of us have wrestled with at one time or another: What do you do when you have an assignment and a message but you don’t know if you have the creativity to accomplish the writing?
Most people think creativity is gift-oriented and if you don’t have the gift, you won’t be able to develop the craft. As the Author Development Manager for HigherLife (Kevin’s publisher) and as the author of The Creative Life, A Workbook for Unearthing the Christian Imagination, I was more than a little excited to talk with him about what inspiration means and how to master not only the craft but also the creative process of writing. Here are the questions we wrestled with:
Is inspirational peak creativity a mystical event only for a special few, or is it something all of us have access to?
Can we extend our performance time, or are we stuck with only ninety minutes of productivity a day?
Are we slaves of inspiration, or can we be masters of inspiration and be inspired at will?
Is inspirational peak creativity a mystical event only for a special few? If so, is it true that we are bound to creativity’s schedule, or are we able to harness our creativity and use it as we choose? These questions created the first stumbling blocks to Kevin’s writing process. In order to discover whether or not inspiration is a mystical event only for the gifted, Kevin met with accomplished writers. Most of the authors Kevin interviewed shared with him how they arranged their day around their creative flow: I write best in the morning; I find the late evening most stimulating; Listening to music works for me.
As he analyzed his own creative process, he quickly discovered that inspiration was fleeting and would have to be mastered in order to produce a book. Kevin’s creativity flows through conversation. With an almost autographic memory, he remembers everything he hears. Writing, it seemed, was not going to be the best medium for him. Analyzing the creative flow of other authors proved that most believed they were slaves to inspiration and could only follow creative peaks and valleys. Digging deeper, Kevin discovered a simple reality to what we think of as the metaphysical event of inspiration. He noticed that what authors were describing as their peak creative period was not mystical timing but rather a result of nutrition, rest, and other stimuli.
All of us creative folk have to admit this is true. Inspiration comes when we have a good environment. Too much sleep = no creativity. Too many carbs = no creativity. Too much caffeine = no creativity. Not enough caffeine or not enough sleep and we’re grasping for ideas. Kevin decided not only could he but it was imperative that he master the inspiration cycles rather than become a slave to them. He chose to master his sleep and food cycles first. After a good night’s sleep and nutritious breakfast, he was then off to his office with plenty of small-portioned, protein-laden snacks throughout the day rather than a big meal that put him to sleep around 2 p.m. He got rid of his morning coffee and the type of caffeine that gives the appearance of energy but is really a crash-and-burn which causes a loss of focus. Instead, he used the organic drink Steaz, a combination of green tea, acai berry, yerba mate, guarana, and B-vitamins.
With this clean physical slate, Kevin chose three days a week as “white days” with nothing on the calendar and no interruptions: no e-mails, cell phone calls, meeting requests, or family events, all of which competed for his time. And it worked! He was writing. For about ninety minutes a day. Not surprising since behavior experts agree that the human mind can only sustain about ninety minutes of peak productivity a day. Encouraging, huh?
So unless Kevin planned on writing his first book on a ten-year plan, productivity was number two on the list of obstacles to overcome.
Extending the Time
So there you are at your desk, writing away, and every so often checking Facebook. Once in a while you are tweeting, “I’m writing!” Then an e-mail comes in and a child pounds on the door asking for a snack. If this were a manufacturing plant, shutting down all the machines to take a five-minute meeting would require a huge re-start to get everything running again. The re-start is what leads to only ninety productive minutes in an eight-hour day. Multi-tasking is a true myth. The minute you pick up a second task, your retention rate reduces by 80 percent. So how to tame the time?
Kevin decided to measure his productive time with a simple computer widget called Rescue Time that tracks your day. Tracking the writing activity led to increased productivity. Now Kevin was writing up to two to three hours a day. That wasn’t bad, but when he had set aside three ten-hour days, getting six hours of production a week was not going to be enough. Eliminating distractions and maintaining a steady stream of fuel could only conquer so much. A few hours into writing, his back would hurt, his arms would tense up, and his mind would wander.
Computer widget number two provided the next solution. A stretch time reminder went off every sixty minutes. “Time to stretch!” Using ten-dollar resistance bands from Wal-Mart, Kevin took a few minutes to stretch and work out. Replacing a big one-hour workout at 5 a.m. with intermittent five-minute stretches and strength training throughout the day produced a steady stream of energy and mental clarity. And the fruit of the effort was not only feeling better. Again, production was up, now to six hours a day.
Increased productivity alone isn’t exactly inspirational, especially to writers who feel a need to create. The beauty and the joy that fueled the production process had to be present in Kevin’s writing.
Accessing the Inspiration
Inspiration is powerful, but like emotions, it can be addicting and misleading. When we follow our emotions, we get off-track pretty quickly. But when we control our emotions, we enjoy the benefits without being on a roller coaster ride. Kevin found himself spending his writing time trying to wrestle the ideas, interpreting the inspiration in order to churn out pages. Rather than chasing the creativity, he needed to add ways he could access the inspiration on his schedule.
Kevin chose to start his day with a ten-minute imagination exercise. Letting his imagination take full reign, he allowed himself to meditate on what he wanted to write. He asked for inspiration. He imagined receiving it. Then he allowed that inspiration to flow through his now well-ordered day.
You can see it, can’t you? Kevin Weaver, sitting at his desk, no distractions, computer widgets tracking his productivity and reminding him to stretch, small protein-rich snacks evenly spaced, all after an imagination-rich morning. Sounds good, but the stillness and the structure could still wear down your creativity, leaving you stuck in the productive mode without being able to re-activate the morning inspiration. For Kevin, keeping that creativity flowing required one more element.
His answer came through another author’s advice: Listen to movie sound tracks while you work. Musical scores are designed to engage the viewer for two solid hours by lifting and inspiring. Music from cinematic dramas like Gladiator, Titanic, and Atonement filled in the structure of Kevin’s day and not only elevated the creative work but also, once again, increased productivity. Now Kevin was averaging seven to eight hours in a ten-hour day, and you will be able to read his book ReOrient in the spring of 2011.
“Whether the writing is good or not is a problem for another day,” Kevin laughs.
It was not an easy process for Kevin to discover how to order and manage his creativity, but it was simple and has produced the work he wanted to create. You can use the tools Kevin found and apply them to your process, tweaking as you go. Not only will you see an increase in your productivity but also you will be able to access your creative muse on your schedule.
Managing the inspiration requires:
1. Taking time to imagine and play with your creativity.
2. Providing a steady stream of protein-laden snacks already made and ready to eat.
3. Taking out the artificial stimulants like caffeine and sugar.
4. Setting aside distraction-free time.
5. Tracking your time to keep you on task.
6. Stretching every 60 minutes.
7. Adding inspirational music in the background to connect your productive mind to your creative mind.