Some writers create playlists for their books.
Some do elaborate interviews with their characters.
Some just can’t get started until they come up with names: name of the book, name of the setting, name of all the characters.
Some speak aloud to the imaginary people in their heads.
Some writers can only work with total quiet while others actually thrive in locations full of sound and bustle.
In all these different quirks, authors are trying to flip the switch that turns on the creative flow, the switch that turns writing from labor to thrill ride.
The truth is that you can complete a work (or at least power your way through large segments) on labor alone. That magical creative flow where the world fades and the story takes over is lovely and certainly less uncomfortable, but it isn’t the only way to get the job done. Deadlines do a marvelous job of making an author realize that doing the hard work will also get you to the end of the book. But for all of us, that creative flow is the most enjoyable way to write. So how does one turn it on?
Falling in love with the story.
One of the best ways to get the creative flow going is simply to love the story.
When we’re telling ourselves a story that interests us, we get caught up in it. And the more we allow a story to turn in a direction that doesn’t work for our inner reader, the more we choke off that flow. “The flow” can never be our real barometer of whether a story is good (because there are so many things that can break the flow including distractions around us, our physical health, and simple worry), but when the story is really pouring out of us, we’re probably in love with it.
So how do you fall in love?
One way is by writing things that work for your inner reader rather than trying to write what you think the market demands. If you love stories full of action and heroes and deep soul searching but you’re writing a light romance because you think that’s what will sell, you’re likely to have a harder time connecting to that flow.
Sadly, those of us who do work-for-hire books don’t always get assignments that are subjects or genres that we would choose to read. This is why, when choosing whether to take an offered assignment, I will look at the specs and ask myself, is there something here I can love? I’m curious about all sorts of things, so feeding my curiosity can make me fall in love. So can opportunities to try something completely new. I try not to be picky but if I really cannot find anything to love in an assignment, I’ll pass, because it’s likely there is another writer who could do a much better job.
Guarding Your Story Energy
One of the key elements to protecting that love for the work in progress is not to allow your emotional investment in the piece to bleed off. The way I avoid this is to keep myself from talking about the story too much.
For me personally, I can talk all my energy away simply by telling the story to other people. I can tell myself the story (during the outline phase) and I’m fine. I can tell myself the story while I’m showering or cleaning or taking a walk (to work out a kink in the plotting) and I’m fine. But if I tell it to someone else, my investment in the story quickly bleeds away.
I suspect this happens for me because I’m very invested in storytelling to an audience. Writing is my means of doing that. But I can also do it through speaking and when I’ve told the story, I’m done with it. I’m ready to move on. And so the book will become a lot more like work. I can still do it, but it will hurt.
Sometimes you can’t know what will drain your own well of story energy, but think of the stories you started and then dropped. Was the reason for dropping the story a matter of plot problems or was it because you somehow drained the energy of your connection to it? It’s something worthwhile to ponder so you can guard against it in the future.
Making it Real
One element that is nearly always part of losing yourself in the story is making the story’s world “real” for you. When the story feels real to you, you invest in it and you get that drive to know what is going to happen to these people in the story. It’s the same investment you get in your favorite movie or television show. When you’re in the flow, the characters matter to you.
Flat characters will not matter to you.
Skimpy motivations and convenient character actions will not make a story matter to you.
Stories come to matter to you as the characters in them begin to live and breathe inside of you. This is the reason why some authors do these elaborate character interviews and profiles: these are tools to make the characters live for them. So if you find you cannot get into that story flow, stop and see how well you know the characters and how much they matter to you.
Getting into the writing flow, the zone where it all becomes easy is a wonderful thing and it is achievable. It’s not essential, but it’s always the ideal. And as magical as it can seem, it’s valuable enough to do what you can to help it happen. So I hope we’ll all find the magic the next time we start writing.