April 16th, 2014

When You’re Stuck, Relax

by Orly Konig-Lopez

Last week my husband convinced me to go on a bike ride with him. My road bike has been in the basement on a trainer for well over a year. To say I was a bit nervous is an understatement. After all, in the basement I don’t have to worry about becoming a hood ornament or becoming intimately acquainted with a tree. But it was a gorgeous day, I was stuck with writing and it was time to squash that little negative devil in my head.

So off we went. A few minutes into the ride, hubby dropped back and said, “Don’t fight the bike. If you relax, it’ll be much easier.”

Okay. Relax. Easy. I can relax. Yeah, not so much.

Throughout the next two and a half hours, I’d hear “ReeeeeLaaaaxxxxx” from up ahead. I’d loosen my death grip on the handlebars and let the bike flow. And guess what? It got easier. And fun.

Somewhere around mile eighteen and half way up a steep uphill, I started laughing. Can’t breathe, legs are melting jello, and I’m laughing like a lunatic. Hubby was sure I’d finally snapped. Nope. Well sort of. It was one of those, “how did you not see this answer before” moments.

One word … Relax.

Relax about process. As writers many of us become obsessed over the process of writing. Laura Drake even wrote a post about Process Envy (yes it’s a real thing!). Are you making daily word count? Should you have a daily word count or a weekly goal? Do you write every day? Are you writing at the same time each day? Do you plot first or dive straight into the deep end?

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-it-s-only-a-first-draft-2/

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-it-s-only-a-first-draft-2/

I’ll admit to process envy. I love reading how authors I admire do it. Maybe if I try it their way, I’ll find that elusive secret to writing greatness. This latest WIP has had a lot of starts and stops. I tried plotting. The story refused to be caged. I tried daily word counts. Life refused to cooperate. Guess what happened when I relaxed about the process? Yup, I was able to … are you ready? … write. Really write. The moment I released my death grip on controlling the process, the words flowed. And it was fun.

Relax about finding the words. Do you edit as you write or dump words onto the page without editorial censorship? What do you do when that perfect word is hiding behind some random thought?

This was circulating around Facebook several months ago. I had to print it out and paste it next to my desk. I’m not a clean first drafter. There are times I stare at the computer, cursor mocking me with each passing blink over that one word that will not come out to play. Yesterday when I realized I’d spent counting 23 cursor blinks instead of moving the sentence forward, I wrote “something fresh here” and moved on. The rest of the scene flowed and a few paragraphs later, that “something fresh” showed up.

Relax about the ‘what next’. Do you have an agent “hit list” before you’ve even finished the first draft? Are you thinking about the best submission times before you’ve completed revisions? Do you worry about whether the book you haven’t started writing yet will sell as well as the one you just released? Are you worried about where the next idea will come from?

You can stress yourself into total paralysis. There are a lot of things that are out of your control. There’s no way to know what market demand will be in a few month, a year, two years. There’s no way to know if an agent will connect with your story even if she tweeted that she had a dream about purple flying unicorns and your book has purple flying unicorns.

Think about why you started writing. Let the love for telling stories be your motivation, not signing the agent or selling lots of copies. That doesn’t mean you abandon those goals. Not by any stretch of the imagination. If you give yourself permission to relax about the things you can’t control, the parts you do have control over – writing the best damn book you can – will be so much easier.

Relax. Such a simple word. So hard to do. I’ve found myself repeating hubby’s “ReeeeeLaaaaxxxxx” when the shoulders start to bunch up and slamming my head into the desk sounds less painful. I don’t always succeed. But when I do, it’s so much more fun.

What’s your solution to those “stuck” moments?

About Orly

Orly Konig-LopezAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.  When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

 

41 comments to When You’re Stuck, Relax

  • lorispielman

    Great post, Orly, and especially timely since my unruly story “refuses to be caged” too. I will follow your wise advice and try to relax. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Lori.
      Mine refused to be “caged” as well at the beginning. Took a while to stop fighting it. My problem was trying to force a couple of original ideas into a story that had taken a different path. Once I wrote those ideas down and promised them another book, hello flow.

      btw, brainstorming (or BS as we call it) with an oh so patient writing buddy helps too! She helped me talk through those parts that just weren’t cooperating and figure out why. 🙂

  • Awesome post, Orly. I’m SO glad to hear that I’m not the only one!

    You and I are very much alike, in that stillness and relaxation are foreign concepts. To me, relaxation is like happiness, found in unexpected places, and comes in fleeting moments. Elusive.

    The only time I’m able to relax in my writing is when a door somewhere opens, and I’m in the scene. I mean, I’m right there, experiencing the POV character’s reactions and emotions. Don’t you love that feeling? Writing is effortless. You’re in (pardon the irony and the plug), The Sweet Spot.

    The bad news is, I can’t force it. I’ve tried, and it shows in my writing. You know, you’ve seen it and nailed me on it lots of times.

    The only thing that seems to help is to be sure I’m writing every day. Like something in me warms up, and the relaxed moments happen more often.

    Hang in, Orly, your new WIP is going to be an AWESOME book!

  • Loved this post, Tweeted it to my followers. Relaxing is hard when you have characters running around your head refusing to co-operate! Good luck! 🙂

  • Relaxing: marvelous concept, fleetingly captured, much too illusive in my world. Thanks for the reminder to strive for it…oh, right, striving puts me on the other side of relaxation. Ah, well. Deep breath.

    • Oh, Normandie! I was laughing the other day at myself for that exact same thing. Part of that elusive “Relaxing” is also knowing when to give yourself a break. Hugs to you, dear friend!

  • Just lovely, Orly. I’ve completed two first drafts of novels in the past four months- the first (really, a moshed-up collection of two or three drafts) took me eighteen months to write, the second, less than three. I’ve learned so much about myself as a writer and in which sort of process I thrive. I think where I’m headed is a loosely-plotted first draft written with inner-editor locked away in the closet. No revisions, just flow. As I tackle rewrites of the first novel, I can see the confidence I’ve gained in the past almost-two years as a novelist. I hope that confidence grows and carries me through as I seek representation or decide to launch on my own into indie publishing. But your message–remembering why I write, for the sheer joy and peace it brings me–is paramount.

    • Thanks, Julie! That last part – remembering why you write – is the key for me when I get my knickers wadded up. Sounds to me like you’re definitely on the right path to success!

  • thank you, Just what I needed as my WIP seems to fight me at every turn.

  • Thanks, Orly. I needed to be reminded to relax and concentrate on where my project is today, rather than worrying about where it could be next year.

  • jillhannahanderson

    This is perfect timing for me as I’m working on my second book and it’s rougher than sandpaper! After trying to make sure every word was perfect last month before sending my first book out into agent-world, I have struggled with just letting the words flow on my current WIP. It’s too easy to start sweating over finding the perfect word to convey what I mean instead of allowing my story to be imperfect – which is what a first draft SHOULD be!
    Thanks for reminding me to just relax and pedal away and enjoy the ride instead of stressing about it. 🙂

    • That’s why the “Keep Calm It’s only a first draft” is taped where I can see it as I’m writing. I have another quote next to it – “Before there was order, there was chaos. No editing yet!” 🙂

  • Oh, Orly, I understand this so, so well. I’ve found myself gritting my teeth while exercising, trying to force relaxation, trying to force story from my subconscious. I’ve listened to the husband telling me to relax.We need to get our outdoors guys together. They seem to intuitively understand how much certain sports have in common with writing. It’s all a head game.

    • “It’s all a head game.” <– That's exactly what it is. The harder you force something, the harder it is to do. It's counter-intuitive – especially for us control freaks – but if you stop over-thinking/over-trying it becomes so much easier.

  • Holly Robinson

    Orly, your post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I, like many of the writers here, am working on a new novel while launching the novel that was just released, and it’s so hard not to feel like I have some horrible multiple personality disorder–walking the dog or running on the treadmill at the gym to release pent-up energy has become an essential ritual before I start writing, just so I can relax enough to focus.

    • Oh Holly, we all have some horrible multiple personality disorder. Just tell yourself you’re normal with that. 😉 Walking the dog is a great way to relax. I love watching them as they explore – everything is new and exciting and they have all the time to sniff every stick. Letting go of the “need to get back” and just enjoying their enthusiasm is great therapy.

      btw, saw your book in a Barnes & Noble in Missouri today and squealed. 🙂

  • cherielanglois

    Wonderful post, and as a cyclist, I loved your bicycling comparison (and way to go, getting out there!). Each spring, I initially battle this when I hit the trails/roads again after a winter off–tightening my shoulders and neck muscles, gripping the handlebars too tightly, stressing about cars, etc. Once I let go and relax, bicycling becomes a joy and, as a bonus, I’m much less sore. Now, if I can only apply this to my writing! Thank you 🙂

  • Great blog Orly and you’re absolutely right. I’ve often turned to a different task when I’m blocked but they are not always relaxing. I like your idea much better. Hubby always says he can’t understand why I get stressed. Maybe it’s because I’ve forgotten “how” to relax. Time I start to learn it again!

  • I tried this advice today and it did help. Thank you.

  • Super post, Orly. Unfortunately, I’ve been relaxing waaay too long on my WIP. But you’re so right; getting the mind onto something else for a bit can often bring that ‘aha’ moment in the story.

  • […] Apparently the key to succeeding at almost any activity is to persevere and RELAX. […]

  • Great advice and much needed for me at the moment. Thanks for this 🙂

  • Great advice and much needed today.

  • Relaxation is probably the gateway to excellence in any endeavor… sports, acting, music, writing, gardening, cooking, and on. My writing flows the best when I am not thinking about anything other than the sentence I am typing at the moment.

  • Such a great post! As a former yoga instructor, I totally agree with relaxing into, well, anything. However, as a former yoga instructor I’m a bit like a doctor, where I can give great lectures on how to be the most healthy, but that doesn’t mean I follow my own advice much of the time! It’s a continual journey!

  • Excellent post! I’m learning to relax about everything, especially writing. Life is a lot less stressful, that’s for sure.

  • Cecilia

    Oh thank goodness someone else writes like I do. all those PLOT PLAN scene breakdown skeleton things that keep cropping up stress me out. Relaxing about the way I write is a good bit of advice can live with. Thank you

  • I feel guilty for playing games in my phone and Kindle but I find my mind circles around things I’m trying to grasp to make the story work better.