Breathing in the story

Since I set aside Saving Tomorrow, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why I was struggling to write it. Well, to write anything at all, not just the novel. I was stifling my creativity with the desire to be further along the path than I was. I was frustrated with the lack of time, and the lack of progress, ending up in me being blocked and unable to make any forward motion.

So I quit.

I want to be very clear about something here – there is a HUGE difference between not writing because you are blocked, and not writing because you’ve made the decision not to. The first breeds irritation and kills creativity. It causes a negative loop which can be really hard to break out of. A surefire way (in my experience, anyway), to free yourself from this is to quit writing. Set everything aside and say ‘to hell with it. I’m not doing this anymore.’

Of course, you’re usually fairly sure you’ll be back sometime, but you have to say ‘NO’ for awhile. You take a breather, relax, fill yourself with books or conversation or music – whatever works for you. The guilt disappears, because you’ve quit. You start to feel the pressure dissipate. And then one day, you wake up feeling like you want to write.

During my rest and relaxation period, I read Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg. For a huge chunk of the book I wasn’t finding anything new. It’s a meandering writers guide, blending chunks of her life with writing advice. It wasn’t until I very nearly reached the end that I started to grasp the revelation that has helped changed my mindset – the realization that is now allowing me to write without the pressure, to breathe in the story and exhale it onto the page.

My best writing comes when I write the story from beginning to end. When I write it full, when I infuse it with the details that make the characters and world come to life, those quirky things that are vital to the who and the where.

And the problem is that I have so little time, and I have been in such a rush that I have been skipping through my stories. Writing the bits I thought were important and glossing over everything else. I’ve been sketching scenes, not breathing life into them. It’s the difference between drawing stick-men and creating a full colour masterpiece. The stick-men may get the point across, but it’s not as rich, as full of life and wonder as the masterpiece.

It’s no wonder I was feeling dissatisfied.

So now I am writing slow – not in words per minute terms, but in that I am stopping to smell the roses. I’m breathing fullness into my world and while the progress is decidedly slower, I can SEE it in my mind. I can hear my characters and imagine the smells that permeate this world that I am creating. It is vivid, and real to me, and the writing is working better because I’m not skimming. I’m diving headlong into each scene instead of just skipping stones across the surface, trying to get to the other side as quickly as possible.

So, my true issue WAS to do with time. But it wasn’t that I have so few minutes available, or that I can’t type fast enough, it was that I wasn’t going slow enough. I wasn’t stopping to breathe in the story.


12 thoughts on “Breathing in the story”

  1. so little time to write, that is all one needs. Fifteen minutes a day, every day.
    Of course it is easy to write straight through and usually when one does that, it is because they know the story.
    So, in order write straight through, it is imperative to make a plot plan before heading off into the forest. The plot plan is your compass, your map and your Sherpa.
    Good luck on finding your way.

    1. I’m enjoying the process, and that’s the main thing – and this time, going back to my pantser roots! lol letting the characters guide me. I find it a more organic approach, and one that works for me. Every writer is different, and we’ve got to do what works for us. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I’ve been relying on cowriters to write my fiction – I am unmotivated and suffer constantly from writer’s block but I still have ideas and plots in my head. I can sketch things out paragraph by paragraph and pass it on to someone to fill the blanks. I still haven’t gotten over my block though, and I wonder maybe if I should try doing your “breathing technique” instead.

    1. That’s rough, RJ! I hope you can find a way through the block. ‘Quitting’ always works for me πŸ˜‰ I have to banish all the negative crap in my head before I can get back to just writing because I enjoy it, because I want to see what unfolds in the story.

  3. It’s funny what a change in–well, in anything–can do for your writing. I’ve almost fully reverted to writing by hand (and I don’t like it, but it’s necessary for now) which creates a slower look at the story. On a keyboard, my fingers used to get ahead of my mind…the story felt out of control, or at least out of my control. Blurry images like snapshots out the window of a speeding car. Ugh.

    Glad you’ve found the window back into the story–and to the roses, too.

    1. Thanks, Texanne! I’m pleased you’ve found a way that is working for now, too. I think handwriting can really help – though I struggle to read what I’ve written, lol my hand writing is that bad! – and a slower pace does sometimes seem to allow one to connect with the words and story better. Whatever works, right?

  4. Oh my gosh, Cassie–this is so very much exactly what I needed to read today! “Breathe in the story”–YES! That’s what I’m missing. I got so wrapped up in getting it right that I forgot to savor it. I have to remember–one does not gulp good wine or swallow dark chocolate whole. One inhales and savors.

    Thank you for the encouraging words!

  5. I used to plow through the words. Word sprints were King. But as I’ve grown as a writer, I find myself settling down and enjoying the words. “Breathing life into the story” is such a beautifully, perfect way to say it. It’s slower, but it’s so much more satisfying.

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