The following is the third in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.
Mark: One last thought. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. I’m convinced — you’re torn so many different ways. You’re expected to blog, you’re expected to tweet and Facebook and all these different things. But every time you do that during the day, I think you use up a little bit of creative energy. Maybe not a lot, but a little bit. And then you have to wonder, is there any left over when you actually go to write? So my question is not whether that’s worthwhile or not — because it’s probably necessary — but rather, how do you refill the well after you’re tapped out, after a long week or a month, or even when you finish a long project? Because with a book, you might be committing to a year or two’s worth or work.
Tony: And that last push leaves you with the thousand-yard stare.
Mark: And by the end, you’re a zombie. How to you refill the well? What goes into that to bring the water level back up? ... I find that I do a flurry a reading as soon as I’m done (writing) a book. All the stuff that’s been piling up on the Kindle or in stacks, and not just fiction, a lot of non-fiction. When I’m working, I might be reading about 50/50. But afterward, man, I’ve got to fill my brain back up. There’s wanting to catch up on all the TV shows you missed and all the movies you didn’t see. So, for like a month, I go nuts. But then, pretty soon, there’s that itch like, man, I’ve got to write something. You can’t wait until you feel full again to start writing.
Tony: For me, there’s a couple of things. One is, I give myself permission not to be obsessed or upset that I’m not writing. I didn’t always do that. I don’t really do a lot of reading while I’m in the middle of a project. I’ll read a comic book, or magazine articles, watch TV for an hour or two — during the writing process. After the writing, I want to go somewhere.
Mark: A change of scenery, literally, to refresh the brain.
Tony: Clear the palate, yeah, and I think that’s why going up to visit Birmingham even jumpstarted that (steampunk novel) idea. I was in the middle of a project, and it was driving me crazy trying to finish it so I could start the new one. I was writing notes on one and working on the other. That’s one thing I do, even if it’s just taking a day, me and my wife going to Apalachicola (about a 90-minute drive from home) and walking around. Just something to change the surroundings for a few hours and get your head out of the space it’s been in.
Mark: Get away from the computer. Plus, you bring up the point: Even though you have a new idea in your head, the discipline — the part that’s the difference between being a professional and not — is that you finish the project you’re on. And then you start the next one. You don’t get distracted and start something else. It’s a small point, but important for other writers out there, and readers.
Tony: Yeah, there’s really only two rules: (/Holds up one finger/) Sit you’re @$$ in the chair and write. (/Holds up second finger/) Finish what you start. Even if that means just getting to a stopping point. I spent too many years dropping a project and starting something new, just to drop that too.
Mark: I think that happens a lot.
Tony: Somebody said it’s like being in love. You’re committed to this project, and all of a sudden you see this nice shiny new idea over there. And you’re like, this project is just not as pretty as I thought she was. She makes me work too hard. But this idea is exciting. I think I’ll go play with this one a while.
Mark: I think it’s fear. I think people fear finishing. When you’re done, the dream is over. Now it’s time to let go. I really do think fear plays a big part in that. It’s easier to tinker than to finish.
Tony: Today, that fear goes even further. I can submit to all these (traditional publishers) and if they say no, then in the old days that was the end of the story. Now you can publish yourself so fairly easily that you don’t have any excuse to keep it hidden away in a drawer.
Mark: You can’t say, “Well, they kept me out. I never got my shot. I never had a chance.” Now, your baby has to get out there and compete, and it might get beat up on the playground. Those are my deep thoughts I had recently.
Tony: I appreciate it, because I had no deep thoughts to bring to the table.
Mark: You’re good at spontaneous deep thinking.
Tony: Or bull*******.
Mark: It’s a craft.
Tony: It can be learned.
(Check out Tony’s stories, available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.)
(Photograph is “Lazy River” from Peter Griffin at PublicDomainPictures.net)
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