Thursday, May 8, 2014

When You're Stuck, Relax ... by Orly Konig-Lopez

First posted, April 16, 2014 on Writers in the Storm

Last week my husband convinced me to go on a bike ride with him. My road bike has been in the basement on a trainer for well over a year. To say I was a bit nervous is an understatement. After all, in the basement I don’t have to worry about becoming a hood ornament or becoming intimately acquainted with a tree. But it was a gorgeous day, I was stuck with writing and it was time to squash that little negative devil in my head.

So off we went. A few minutes into the ride, hubby dropped back and said, “Don’t fight the bike. If you relax, it’ll be much easier.”

Okay. Relax. Easy. I can relax. Yeah, not so much.

Throughout the next two and a half hours, I’d hear “ReeeeeLaaaaxxxxx” from up ahead. I’d loosen my death grip on the handlebars and let the bike flow. And guess what? It got easier. And fun.

Somewhere around mile eighteen, and half way up a steep uphill, I started laughing. Can’t breathe, legs are melting jello, and I’m laughing like a lunatic. Hubby was sure I’d finally snapped. Nope. Well sort of. It was one of those, “how did you not see this answer before” moments.

One word … Relax.

Relax about process. As writers many of us become obsessed over the process of writing. Laura Drake even wrote a post about Process Envy (yes it’s a real thing!). Are you making daily word count? Should you have a daily word count or a weekly goal? Do you write every day? Are you writing at the same time each day? Do you plot first or dive straight into the deep end?


I’ll admit to process envy. I love reading how authors I admire do it. Maybe if I try it their way, I’ll find that elusive secret to writing greatness. This latest WIP has had a lot of starts and stops. I tried plotting. The story refused to be caged. I tried daily word counts. Life refused to cooperate. Guess what happened when I relaxed about the process? Yup, I was able to … are you ready? … write. Really write. The moment I released my death grip on controlling the process, the words flowed. And it was fun.

Relax about finding the words. Do you edit as you write or dump words onto the page without editorial censorship? What do you do when that perfect word is hiding behind some random thought?

This was circulating around Facebook several months ago. I had to print it out and paste it next to my desk. I’m not a clean first drafter. There are times I stare at the computer, cursor mocking me with each passing blink over that one word that will not come out to play. Yesterday when I realized I’d spent time counting 23 cursor blinks instead of moving the sentence forward, I wrote “something fresh here” and moved on. The rest of the scene flowed and a few paragraphs later, that “something fresh” showed up.

Relax about the ‘what next’. Do you have an agent “hit list” before you’ve even finished the first draft? Are you thinking about the best submission times before you’ve completed revisions? Do you worry about whether the book you haven’t started writing yet will sell as well as the one you just released? Are you worried about where the next idea will come from?

You can stress yourself into total paralysis. There are a lot of things that are out of your control. There’s no way to know what market demand will be in a few month, a year, two years. There’s no way to know if an agent will connect with your story even if she tweeted that she had a dream about purple flying unicorns and your book has purple flying unicorns.

Think about why you started writing. Let the love for telling stories be your motivation, not signing the agent or selling lots of copies. That doesn’t mean you abandon those goals. Not by any stretch of the imagination. If you give yourself permission to relax about the things you can’t control, the parts you do have control over – writing the best damn book you can – will be so much easier.

Relax. Such a simple word. So hard to do. I’ve found myself repeating hubby’s “ReeeeeLaaaaxxxxx” when the shoulders start to bunch up and slamming my head into the desk sounds less painful. I don’t always succeed. But when I do, it’s so much more fun.

What’s your solution to those “stuck” moments?


About Orly:  After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She blogs monthly at Writers in the Storm and Musings from the Mug.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Orly.

Orly - I think you've hit on one of the most important things about writing. Getting too anxious just makes it harder to write. Thanks for the reminder to relax.

RichardK said...

Orly, I don't think there was ever a time I put together an outline or set a word limit for my writing. I just let it all go. I know how it's going to end, I know some of the characters, so I just fill in the rest as I type. Being too rigid can stunt the creativity progress to the point a writer can have a continued block.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I love the idea of writing "something fresh here" then moving on. Such a great way to not get stuck or to not stay stuck in that sentence etc.

The more I tell myself to relax, the tenser I get - too much pressure! I'm not relaxing right! :) But shifting the thinking to relaxing specifically about the things I can't control might help with that.

Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

Stephanie Faris said...

It is easy to get so caught up in the pressure that we forget we actually enjoy doing this! We'd enjoy it a lot more if we could shut off all of those voices of doubt while we're writing!

Orly Konig Lopez said...

Thanks so much for having me, Pat!

Orly Konig Lopez said...

Thanks, Margot.
Now if we could only figure out how to make relaxing easier. ;-)

Orly Konig Lopez said...

I'm with you, Richard - I don't set word limits. I give myself two hours every day for writing. I know those two hours are mine and I don't worry about anything else or what will come out of that time. Well, in theory ... always easier in theory. :-)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Orly, you're a welcome guest. If there was ever a post I needed to read over and over again, this is the one. Currently, my favorite activity to relax is working in my garden. Yesterday's downpour and hail storm (and the promise of more rain today) is not helping. Maybe a little (cringe) housework?

Orly Konig Lopez said...

Madeline, the hardest part for me, was giving myself permission not to worry about everything. I worry ... it's what I do best. So telling myself to relax was beyond amusing. Sometimes it even works.

I've used "something fresh here" or "research this" or "flush this out" when I find myself obsessing about something for too long. Just remember to highlight that phrase. If you're anything like me, you'll forget then be totally stumped when you're revising and come across it again. :-)

Orly Konig Lopez said...

I've often wished the mute button would work on those voices, Stephanie. :-)

Orly Konig Lopez said...

Oh, Pat, back away from the mop! Although I'll confess that a good scrub to the shower, while not necessarily relaxing, is a great way to relieve stress. Added bonus - you can mutter about plot problems and no one will hear you.

Julie Luek said...

Boy this is advice I need to read over and over and pin up in front of my face. I get so uptight about my writing- it's not good enough, word choice, ideas, that I think you're spot-on: I freeze.

Thanks for this reminder.

Eileen Goudge said...

Baking is my hobby and I've found there's nothing like mixing cake batter or pounding on bread dough to get the ideas flowing in the creativity department. Not everyone likes to bake - or garden - but the point is, we need both the yin and the yang. I used to stress about word count and beat myself up because I wasn't writing books in my sleep, like Stephen King and Nora Roberts apparently do. These days my goal is simply to write SOMETHING every day. Even if it's just a page or only a paragraph, I've achieved my goal. And, lo and behold, somehow books get written.

Jan Morrison said...

Oh Pat, thank you bunches for hosting Orly! Orly - this was very helpful. I'm always trying to compare my process to others and it doesn't do me a bit of good. I need to relax and ride my bike - no, wait - I don't - I'll fall. I need to relax and write. That I can do. By the way, Orly, have you ever heard of a record popular in the early fifties for children called "Little Orly"? Our favorite was 'Little Orly and the Happy Bird'. Totally hilarious.