Floon and Flying

My second published book, THE DEFIANT HEIR (sequel to THE TETHERED MAGE), is now out! YAAAYYYY!!!!!!!!!!! I absolutely love this book and am so thrilled to share it with the world. I am super proud of it!

The process of writing it was very different from my previous (usual? former?) writing process, mostly because deadlines change everything. Before, I could revise and polish to my heart’s content before showing my book to anyone, and go at my own pace. Now, I had to finish my first draft and each round of edits by a specified date, no matter what.

There’s a myth out there that you can’t force creativity. That you have to wait around for your muse to show up. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA oh, wow, if that were true, let me tell you, I would be SO SCREWED.

Luckily, being creative on demand works just fine after all—at least for me. If the reviews I’ve seen (and my own feelings) are to be believed, THE DEFIANT HEIR (which I wrote under heavy time pressure) came out even better than THE TETHERED MAGE (which I initially wrote at my own pace).

So, yeah, I learned a ton from writing my first deadline-driven book. One of the things I learned was about the strange and complicated relationship between creative enthusiasm and creative success. Spoiler: IT’S REALLY WEIRD and doesn’t work at all like I’d thought it did.

First of all, I need to define a term. In one of my circles, there is this fantastic word for creative energy, inspiration, and enthusiasm: floon. When you’re all fired up to work on a creative project, you have floon for it. When you stare at your screen like ugh, and wander off to catch up on laundry instead, you’re low on floon. Or you might have floon for a specific thing, like dinosaur floon or drawing floon.

Every writer grapples with the capriciousness of the floon fairy, whether they use the term or not. Some days you sit down to the keyboard bursting with electric enthusiasm, and other days…not so much. Or you might be staring down a deadline on Project A when you actually have huge floon to work on Shiny New Project B.

It’s easy to believe that if you’re not feeling it, your writing will be crap. That maybe you should just wait for an hour or a day when the juice is flowing freely, or you’ll wind up writing uninspired sludge.

Well, when you’re writing to a tight deadline—as I was with THE DEFIANT HEIR, for the very first time—you don’t have that choice. You have to write anyway, floon or no floon. And I learned a couple of interesting and seemingly contradictory things:

Thing 1: It’s a myth that your writing will be crap if you force it when you’re not feeling it. You can write great stuff on days when you’re dragging each word out over a bed of nails, and you can write garbled drivel on days when you feel like you’re channeling the primal font of divine inspiration.

Thing 2: If you’re feeling persistent reluctance to write a particular section, listen to it. Your instincts are trying to tell you something.

This second one turned out to be really important. With both THE DEFIANT HEIR and with my first draft of Book 3 (which I just turned in last month, wooo!), I got pretty far in—like 50K words—and hit a wall. I had absolutely no floon for the thing I needed to write next. I had plenty for stuff later on, and for stuff earlier, but this whole big middle section was proving to be torture.

In both cases, I stopped and listened to my own reluctance, and realized that I was instinctively digging in my heels because I was trying to force the story in a direction it didn’t want to go. There were structural problems I needed to address before I could continue. With a deadline looming, it’s hard to make yourself go back and rewrite, eating up valuable weeks, rather than forging ahead to finish a draft—but that’s what I did, and it was a huge relief. It made the story so much better, and I could continue with much more momentum.

On a day to day basis, however, I’d often wake up and feel like I couldn’t possibly write—the kids and pets were being too distracting, I was too tired or stressed, I wasn’t feeling the passion I needed. I didn’t have the floon. But I made myself write anyway, because AAAAAH DEADLINE is a great motivator, and more often than not it turned out just fine.

So when the embers of floon are burning low, ask yourself: Why is this hard? If it’s just the blahs, or self-doubt, or stress, you can keep going (unless you need a break for self-care, in which case absolutely take that). Your writing will not automatically be crap just because you feel like it’s crap. If you can’t light the fire, travel in the dark, and you can still make it to wonderful places.

But if you’re reluctant because your instincts are resisting where you’re taking the story—if your feet are dragging because they don’t want to go into the writing swamp ahead which you could avoid if you backtrack and take that bridge you saw—then listen. Figure out what the problem is, and fix it before you continue.

Of course, figuring out which is which can be tricky. But if it’s just a vague “eh, I’m not feeling it today,” don’t let that stop you!

Weirdly enough, you don’t actually have to believe in yourself to fly.

About Melissa Caruso

I'm the author of the Swords & Fire trilogy from Orbit Books, including Gemmell Morningstar Award shortlisted THE TETHERED MAGE (October 2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (April 2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (forthcoming April 2019). I love tea, adventure, and the great outdoors, and I've been known to swordfight in ballgowns. I live in Massachusetts with my husband, two amazing daughters, three cats, and a Labrador. Represented by Naomi Davis of BookEnds. View all posts by Melissa Caruso

2 responses to “Floon and Flying

  • Lise

    This seems consistent with my own experiences with writing stuff (not under deadlines), as well as what I’ve heard from other authors writing under deadline. It can tricky, however, distinguishing “I am a writer and therefore everything I do is anxiety-ridden” from “there is a genuine problem with this story.”

    This is one case where I don’t necessarily think outside eyes help. Before a story is finished, I’m not sure readers can really give you the amount of perspective to make this decision.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Melissa Caruso

      Yeah, I agree this is one where you have to go with your own instincts and beta reader feedback won’t be as helpful. And I have had it take me, like, 20K words to figure out the difference between a story problem and general low energy. I think in the future I’m going to ask myself “How would I feel about jumping to a different place in the story?” and if my enthusiasm goes up, then I know it’s a problem with the section I’m writing. Not a catch-all, but a clue.

      Liked by 2 people

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