Setting Aside Time for Your Muse
As writers, we often feel the only way to measure our productivity is by how many words we get down on the page every day. The Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard approach is helpful if you’ve already planned out what you’re going to say. Sometimes forcing yourself to write something, anything when you’re not sure what to put down can help you get back on track. But then what happens during the revision process, when you have to rip out all of those words? Sure, removing unnecessary words and scenes will improve the story, but at the same time it can make you feel like you’re going backwards instead of forwards.
Furthermore, the time spent typing words is only part of the story-generating process. You need some time to get to know your character, the events of the story, and (depending on your genre), maybe even creating the setting. Sometimes this can be done in idle moments when you’re daydreaming while performing some mindless task. However, given the way technology makes us more accessible and allows us more access to others, idle moments can be hard to find. This is especially true if you have a day job and/or others to take care of. How do you find time to do your pre-writing then?
The answer is clear: you need to set aside time for your pre-writing, just as you have to set aside time for the actual writing. Sometimes that can mean instead of having a regular writing session, you have a brainstorming or outlining session.
I’m a panster. Usually I know the beginning, ending, and a few key middle points when I start a story, but the rest tends to be spontaneous. However, I’ve tried outlining drafts after I’ve written them, and that helps me identify scenes that are too similar to others I’ve written or ones that go nowhere. I’ve also sat down and wrote out all the worldbuilding or character details that I normally keep in my head. I’ve found even though I may have been writing about a particular world or character for years, formally writing things down will uncover aspects that I haven’t explored. The process generates questions and ideas I can later bring back to the work.
Does this mean I’m changing from a panster to a plotter? I have tried outlining before writing for a NaNoWriMo project. It helped for a while, but when I veered away from the outline, the novel stalled. (I have made some slight progress since then, but other projects are currently a priority.) I’ll have to try it again to see if this method will work consistently for me. I think instead what I’m doing is finding another way to accomplish my pre-writing. What I would like to do is set aside one or two blocks of time each week to focus on pre-writing instead of writing. It may sound odd to schedule inspiration and imagination, but the muse is more likely to show up if you’re ready—or at the least not distracted by your child, your job, or your never-ending To Do list. And if scheduling pre-writing can help me get to a final draft sooner, then it’s worth doing.
About the Author
Sandra Ulbrich Almazan started reading at the age of three and only stops when absolutely required to. Although she hasn’t been writing quite that long, she did compose a very simple play in German during middle school. Her science fiction novella Move Over Ms. L. (an early version of Lyon’s Legacy) earned an Honorable Mention in the 2001 UPC Science Fiction Awards, and her short story “A Reptile at the Reunion” was published in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. She is a founding member of BroadUniverse and a long-time member of the Online Writing Workshop for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror. Her undergraduate degree is in molecular biology/English, and she has a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. Her current day job is in the laboratory of an enzyme company; she’s also been a technical writer and a part-time copyeditor for a local newspaper. Some of her other accomplishments are losing on Jeopardy! and taking a stuffed orca to three continents. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, Eugene; and son, Alex. In her rare moments of free time, she enjoys crocheting, listening to classic rock (particularly the Beatles), and watching improv comedy.
Sandra can be found online at her website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Upcoming projects from Sandra include a standalone fantasy story called “The Fighting Roses of Sharon”; Twinned Universes, the second book in the science fiction Catalyst Chronicles series; and Scattered Seasons, the first book in the fantasy Season Lords series.