By Erin Cashman
I am a person who loves making lists. Sometimes I add things to my list that I have already finished, just so I can cross it off. I love finishing things. I love painting rooms in my house, because in the course of a couple of days I can start and finish it. I can walk into the room and see that it was green, and now it is yellow. It is tangible.
While I write, I am not someone who feels terrified by the blank page. Once I have an idea for a book, it takes all of my self-control not to start writing it. I literally have to force myself to wait, take some notes, and let the idea germinate inside my head for a while before I start writing the story. I also never get writer’s block. If I can’t think of what to do next, I write in caps PUT SOMETHING INTERESTING HERE or FIGURE THIS OUT. And then I start a new chapter, or I write another part of the book. I am so eager to finish the book once I start it. I always know generally how it will end, so I want to hurry up and get there!
But as all of you writers know, writing a novel is neither a quick nor an easy process, and when I try to make it one, it shows. During my journey from aspiring published author to published author I have learned so much. For me, the hardest lesson has been this: when you aren’t sure where your story is going, or how to handle a character or a relationship, STOP WRITING. Shut your computer and walk away. Literally. Take a walk, take a nap, go for a long drive, bake cookies. Do something that does not require thinking at all. Don’t go on the internet, read a book or watch television. Let your mind wander. I find my best ideas almost always come when I’m walking my dog. I usually start out thinking about an issue with one of my kids, or a problem with work. But soon into the quiet rhythm of the walk (no ipods!) my mind wanders. Within a few days of NOT thinking about my book, the solution almost always simply comes to me. It may be on the walk, or it may be as I lie in bed somewhere in the never-land between dream and reality, or it may be as I’m driving alone in the car (no radio or cell phones!) In our very busy, hectic lives, we have so few times when we allow our minds to wander freely. And yet -- at least for me -- these are the times when my imagination takes over and inspiration hits me like a lightning bolt.
If you’re like me, and you set goals for yourself like x pages a day, or so many words a week, or a first draft by a certain date, my advice might be hard to take. It will take you longer to finish that first draft -- to cross it off your list. But sometimes the best ideas come not when we are sitting in front of the computer screen, or with a pen perched in our fingers, but when we tune everything out and listen.
Inspiration often whispers softly in our ear, and we may need to tune everything else out to hear her.