I’ve always been fascinated by people’s philosophy about writing. It seems everyone has a different opinion: even when people agree, it seems as if everyone’s method is just a little bit different. I tend to ignore advice about when to write – what time of day is best, for example – because I feel that it is entirely subjective according to a person’s schedule. When I was in high school, the best time for me to write was at 5 PM until 8 PM every day because that was the time after I got out of school and before dinner. On weekends I tended to write at the same time because I’d grown used to it. When I started college, my hours were a lot crazier so I tended to write later at night – around 7 PM until 9 PM since we ate dinner later. When I went to grad school, my five month old puppy woke me at five in the morning every day to go out, so I tended to be awake a lot longer so I wrote from 8 AM until 10 AM, when I needed to either play with her or go to class. Also, because I tended to have very late classes, I tended to go straight to bed after coming home instead of staying up to write.

So I never put much stock into “ideal” times for writing. My mind tends to come alive in the early morning or late at night, but I think that has more to do with the silence than with the time. When everyone else is asleep and I don’t have the annoying white noise of the television or drifting conversations, it’s much easier for me to focus. So I think that’s the important part – finding what kind of work environment works best for you (I know some people who cannot do absolutely anything without the television on, even if it’s on mute) and then finding the time of day (that fits into your schedule) when you can write. For some people, they write any chance they get because they’re too busy otherwise to do anything.

Some other things I’ve heard and read over the years is that people have different philosophies on inspiration as well. When I was younger, around 12 or so, I never ran out of things to write about. Up through high school, the only thing that initially slowed me down was a writing method that could keep up with my thoughts. When I finally taught myself to type properly, I was cranking out 50 pages a day of writing (mind you, it was double spaced and in 14 point font – but I spent more than five hours a day doing nothing but writing). When I burnt out in high school and later in college, that slowed down tremendously but I’ve gotten back to writing at least ten pages of text a day, either through blogs, notes, or creative writing in general.

That being said, I understand what it is to suffer from Writer’s Block. I’ll have a post about that later but for now, let’s just say that Writer’s Block is a significant deterrent from getting things done. And I’ve heard the philosophy “Just Write” applied to curing it for a long time.

Funny how that phrase “Just Write” is so brilliant and so completely unhelpful at the same time. If you could “Just Write,” don’t you think you’d have already done it? Most of the time, the problem isn’t just an inability to think of what to say. You probably have some sort of vague idea of what you want to say but either the words keep coming out wrong or you stare at that little blinking curser on your screen and go blank. Sometimes it really is the beginning that scares people.

I’ve recently discovered Jordan Castillo Price, now one of my favorite authors and a really cool lady. She had a podcast a while back called Packing Heat that I’m only now getting through. I heard the last episode last night (I’m going out of order right now) and she talks about a book called Accidental Genius by Mark Levy in which he talks about directed freewriting. That got me to thinking about freewriting in general.

I always thought it was a “sit down and write whatever pops into your head” exercise. But in actuality, freewriting with direction can be very helpful – I do it all the time. If I get a little stuck on a story, it’s usually because I don’t have enough information about whatever I’m working on. Either I don’t know enough about the characters involved or the situation. If it’s a personality thing – that is, that I don’t know the character well enough yet – then I have several tricks I do to help me get to know them better.

Character backstory: I tend to think like a journalist sometimes when it comes to this technique. If I don’t know enough about a character to know why they are in a scene, I will write a summary of their lives on one page, usually by hand. I will include things like number of siblings, parents, occupation, and then expand into why they’re involved in the story. It doesn’t have to be information the character knows but rather things I need to know in order to write them properly. Again, I limit myself to a page and by the end, I have a clearer picture of them in my head.

Situation: sometimes, if I don’t know enough about what’s going on, I’ll oversimplify an issue. “He is jealous of his brother’s success and so does this awful thing” or “Because they’re magic users, people don’t trust them.” While that sort of information is fine for summaries and place-holding, writing scenes with such sketchy motivation usually gets me stuck. To fix this particular problem, I tend to go creative. Instead of writing a block of text, like I would with a character’s backstory, I tend to draw pictures and create mind maps. I link events with arrows and draw little figures to represent people and places. This way, I detach my mind for a little and focus on the bigger picture: literally, the bigger picture. I look at my story as if it were a series of drawings and I need to find the defining point between all the pieces. Usually, the solution presents itself before I finish drawing on the page.

Personality: character backstories are great for finding out all the components of a character’s life that makes them who they are today. But it is also limited because it’s a background check, a list of things that happened in the past – kind of like a resume. But to know what a character would actually say in a conversation, I need something a little more aggressive than a character sketch. This is when I do a little interview for the character. I’ve seen some authors post interviews between their characters (as if the main character was interviewing her best friend, for example) but I tend to be more reporter-style. Having a stranger interview my characters helps me understand how they react with strangers. It also helps me understand how they may speak differently to people they’re close to. I tend to ask questions in my mini interviews about how they feel about other characters. When I freewrite, the characters tend to say very surprising and interesting things. I can then go back into the story itself and write that character with a much stronger voice.

I know it all sounds crazy: shouldn’t you already know all of this information? You created the character – you should know! What non-writers don’t realize is that yes, we as the author do know our characters, but a lot of that information is not immediately apparent to us. It’s like saying, “Yes, I’ve read that book. Yes, I remember a lot of it… but I can’t remember that one scene you want me to remember.” I remember almost everything that I read but even I need to be reminded of a scene I just read before I can discuss it. So find the tricks you need in order to get at that information.