I do my best writing while also doing the laundry. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the sound of the washer? The hum of the dryer? The scent of fabric softener? Or maybe it’s that women are built to multi-task.
If my husband is making a sandwich, even if he’s finishing up, setting the top slice of bread into place, he can’t talk. He’s deliberately mute. Focused and on point with his bread and cold cuts. Talking and cooking don’t work for him. But I can’t make a sandwich without also washing the dishes or chatting with the kids, filling a glass with milk or talking on the phone. Because women are multi-taskers!
When I realized that, my writing life became a lot easier!
Many times when writers tell me they have writers block or they can’t seem to come up with the next chapter or plot point or interesting scene, I ask them what “else” they’re doing as they write. Most think I’m being critical of their focus, accusing them of letting their minds wander. In truth, I’m trying to show them that sitting down, staring at a computer screen isn’t what most of us were made to do and that’s why we aren’t very good at it!
Ask my husband how many times I’ve written a new scene on our church envelope and then had to take it home with me and sheepishly drive the money to the rectory the next morning!
How many times have you been at a movie, reading someone else’s book, showering, driving, cooking, attending a child’s ball game (or ballet recital), singing happy birthday, chatting with a neighbor, cleaning a toilet…and had the perfect idea come to you?
Probably lots! LOL
Because we’re not made to sit and stare at a screen. We get our ideas from living life.
This actually takes me to my two points for this blog. First, never leave home without a pen and paper. Trust me. It’s incredibly embarrassing to have to explain to your pastor that you are handing him cold hard cash without a church envelope because you scribbled all over it during his sermon. He will not be amused.
Second, get out and live life. Seriously. Silence may be golden and we may actually need silence to get the words on paper (or screen)…but you’re not going to find the answer to anything staring at the blue and white screen in Word.
You need to watch kids play. See the very old interact. Watch a new mom with her baby. Study the color of the sky. Observe a mailman on a familiar route. Scrutinize lovers. Watch a gaggle of teens. Oh, dear heaven, do watch teens! They virtually speak another language and they are so up on technology they will force you to either keep up or die! Star Trek has nothing on teens when it comes to boldly going where no one has gone before! If you want to get up to date on anything…just interact with a teen!
So watch people, but then listen. Eavesdrop on conversations. (Carefully and with discretion.) Listen to sales clerks in stores, parents disciplining kids, married couples making decisions or talking about their days. Listen. That’s how you learn.
Many years ago, I attended my first conference with two authors who were already published. Sitting in the restaurant dinning room on Saturday night, the one author pointed around us at the tables, most of which were filled with multi-published authors. She said, “What do all these women have in common?” My friend said, “They’re all published.” I (being in my very early thirties at the time and very stupid about how short of a time span youth is) said, “They’re all old!”
I can laugh now…at the time I was rewarded with a cross look and a scathing tone when my mentor said, “They’re all over forty. They’ve got some life under their belts. They’ve learned some lessons. They have something to say. That’s why they’re writing the bestsellers.”
Yeah. That about sums it up.
But you don’t have to be over forty to have something to say. Simple life experiences of winning and losing will teach you lessons worthy of being shared. So will secondhand knowledge of someone else’s pain, heartache or joy. (Watching a friend or loved one go through a life trauma…even something as simple as getting his or her insurance company to pay for damages in a fender-bender!)
More than that, life experience isn’t merely about having good lessons for your heroes or heroines to learn in your books. The things you see and experience are also fodder for scenes, character, stories.
Mining your real life for sad, funny, infuriating situations is the best way to come up with scenes and chapters that resonate with real people!
That’s not to say that you copy events. That could get you sued. It’s the underlying core emotion of the experience that resonates. Names and details can be changed if the emotion rings true!
So today, instead of sitting at your computer angry with yourself because you can’t pull something out of thin air, get up…go outside, peek at your neighbors (discreetly)…Better yet, talk to your neighbors. See what’s going on in the world around you. Look for emotions behind actions – the stuff that connects your make-believe people to readers.
Your story will probably be richer for it!
Susan Meier is the author of 40 books for Harlequin and Silhouette and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, The Kindness of Strangers. Her books have been finalists for Reviewers Choice Awards, National Reader’s Choice Awards and Cataromance.com Reviewer’s Choice Awards and nominated for Romantic Times awards. They have been published in over twenty countries, touching the hearts of readers of many cultures and ethnicities.
MAID IN MONTANA, 6/09, Harlequin Romance