Life is very busy. There are to-do lists and daily chores. That’s everybody’s life.
Then there’s the writer’s life. When I decided to make my work about words, I added to my to-do list things to do about making my income as a writer. If I want income that suggests this is me “making a living as a writer,” then I have to produce work that translates to books and then to sales. While I have three novels, it’s been two years since the most recent was released. Other writers look at me and wonder why. Most writers make a living by writing and selling stories constantly.
I’m not a fan of rapid-release. I think it would diminish the quality if I focused solely on quantity. So I plan my to-do list for a happy medium: writing a draft until it’s finished. Not aiming for a particular deadline, but simply producing regularly, finding time in as many days as possible to creatively write. I write most days now, maybe just an hour or so, but I sit and sift through ideas, and thread words together. I’ll play with an idea – pair it with something odd that happened to me or someone I know – and a story will eventually form. But I also am present for my family. You may ask: how?
Early in my writing I always wrote inspired. And like a lot of writers, I personified that inspiration as a muse. In fact, that led to my first pen name: LZ Clotho. While Clotho wasn’t a muse per se, she is one of the three Fates described in Greek mythology (appropriate since my first writing to appear online was Xena fanfic). She was the youngest, the one who saw possibilities in Chaos, plucked through the miasma, and pressed interesting bits together to make a person’s life thread.
As stories go, it was the personification of my creative drive. I loved finding random bits of inspiration and telling the stories inspired by mixing together these bits. It made sense to me.
But I couldn’t write if I couldn’t be inspired or find random bits to hang stories on. So I found prompts. I read other stories. I asked what-if questions. That gave me material to write. I also started working with other writers, not collaboratively exactly, but workshop-style, sharing bits of our writing back and forth, looking at issues together, brainstorming, having conversations. These fed my inspiration too. And I kept writing. But shows end, and fandoms fade away. And real life returns.
When the muse leaves
As the desire to write fanfic faded, I wanted to move on to writing original stories. Original stories must, by nature, be inspired by original things. I knew I needed a new pool of Chaos to draw from.
This is when I hit upon my mantra: in order to write real life fiction, one has to live a real life.
I led what, to me, was a relatively boring life: work, house, marriage, family, managing a home, raising a child. I sought out new experiences, joined clubs, changed jobs, changed up my routine. I paid closer attention to the what-ifs in my day. I wondered, and asked, about my spouse and child’s days, concerns, happiness. I became more aware, took my head out of writing and focused on living. It helped that life was throwing my family several curve balls, but no matter. The bits and bobs from all of this, I was unaware that I was filing them away. Until one day I was gripped to write – without stopping – I was possessed by an obsessive need to convey a story. Once started, I wrote around the clock, every spare minute. What unfolded on the page over 5 months eventually became the draft for Turning Point.
When I was done with it, I was drained. My beta readers wanted more. I wasn’t sure I had any more stories in me. But I put pen to paper (yes, I fall back to the “old ways” all the time) and had a horrible period of time when I wrote nothing that I liked. I thought it was all terrible. I was forcing writing I didn’t feel. I had to pull away from writing when several family crises occurred. That turned out to be exactly what I needed. I didn’t write anything for almost 5 years. I kept my hand in the writing world by helping others. I became a beta reader then an editor. I would occasionally try to pull out my folder of ideas, then, disappointed at the lack of spark, put it away again.
But throughout it, I was actually refilling the well of inspiration – with living my life, again changing up routines, living in the moment, paying attention to the what-ifs and everything else. My third book We Three came out of the next dramatic shift my life took.
Many times an author in a Facebook group has asked, “What do I do now that the story’s finished?” Whether it’s off being edited, or queried with a publisher, or being read by beta readers, there’s a lull at the end of the first draft that most writers want to fill with either anxiety about their work – or they ask “what’s next?” and dive right into another story. Just like I tried to.
My advice has become “take a breath, live your life for a little while.” I read the phrase “refill the creative well.” I firmly believe that. If you’ve poured all the bits of chaos you found up to now into a story – all of yourself – then your well of inspiration is a little low, maybe even dry.
Take the time to fill yourself up with more chaotic bits. Reconnect with your family, your friends, your children. Reconnect with a favorite place, music, a game and simply absorb it. Sleep, eat, dance. Do all the things you didn’t have time for when you were frantically using every spare minute to write your story.
But this is important: Do not judge the bits. Simply soak them in. Journal about them if you want to, or just take lots of photos or video. Or sleep and dream about them. But don’t judge them. Don’t say “this will be useful in a story” or “oh god, talking to that person will be such a waste, I’ll never want to use it in a story.” There is no order in Chaos, by definition.
Once your creative well is full again, you’ll find you can’t stay away from the pen any longer. THEN you will naturally sift through everything you’ve accumulated and see in it new possible settings, characters, and plots.
You’ll begin weaving from the refreshed pool of Chaos.