Read an extract of Crystal's debut novel Bird here!
Taking a break. You’ve probably heard that it’s good to take a break with your manuscript, to step back, put it away for a while so you can see it with clearer eyes. And sometimes you need to take a break from your life for a while, get some perspective so the insignificant things don’t drive you up the wall, or get some clarity on big next steps you need to take. It’s not a luxury or a “nice thing to do” – it’s a needed thing to do, just as is taking a break from your manuscript. So, go on a retreat. It can be as simple as a half hour in your favorite chair or a week in a hut at the top of a mountain. You need to give yourself time for rest and reflection, to cultivate that inner life, for you can only put down on paper what’s inside of you. Let me repeat that: you can only put down on paper what’s inside of you.
Backup your document. We all know the fear of the blue screen, the wiped-out hard drive, a frozen window. The wise writer backs up their writing using all of the various ways available to us these days for back-ups. Why? Because what we do, what we produce is important to us. Similarly, you need to back up the qualities within that are important to you – your values, your dreams, your loftiest aspirations – because life will come and try to steamroll them over, people will try to get you to veer off onto their agenda, or people might have very different expectations of who you are and who they want you to be. Keep your dreams safe, keep them close, and if you get derailed by life, make sure you have a way to get back to that person you are at heart.
Let go. We have all read books that feel forced – that is, the dialogue is controlled by some “other” hand and characters don’t do things are, well, true to character. We need to let go of our controlling hand and let these characters say what they want, move where they desire – even if it freaks us out (“But what if she chooses to do XXX and dies? Where would the story go then?”). We can hone our letting go for our characters by practicing letting go for ourselves. When was the last time you skipped in public? Seriously. When was the last time? Or played on a playground? Or made snow angels? When was the last time you broke from your ruts and patterns and let go? Because writing is a holistic act – what we do in one part of our lives affects our writing. The more you practice letting go in your daily life, the more you can sink into letting go while you write.
Don’t be afraid of emotions! You know the critique: But how is (character’s name) FEELING about what just happened? It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the mechanics of plot and forget about the emotional life of our characters. And maybe it’s easy to forget that because it’s easy to forget about our own emotional life and needs when life gets crazy. Some people run away from their emotions; others deny them; others numb over. There are tons of ways to avoid feeling what you’re feeling – but I can’t encourage you enough to take a deep breath and dive right in. For if we don’t get into the habit of analyzing our own feelings – really digging in deep and exploring those uncomfortable feelings of shame, rage, embarrassment, and fear – how can we possibly write about them? How can we possibly imbue our characters with the very emotions we’re avoiding? The better you are at accessing these different parts of you, of becoming aware how these feelings make you react, both emotionally as well as in your body, the more “real” your characters will become. Before you know it, they’ll be slipping off that page.
That being said, writing is a journey – and so is the path of life! Travel well, don’t travel alone – and by all means, take a pen and pad of paper with you. You never know when it’ll come in handy.