Today’s Guest Blogger is Rachael Herron, one of my favorite writers. Read one of her books and you’ll know why. More on that later.
For now, you get to sneak a peek into how she gives priority to the problem, rather than to the answer.
I spent yesterday morning in the tub, thinking about writing. It wasn’t procrastination, I promise. It was actually the most delicious thing ever.
Usually, I get up and have coffee and do yoga and write in my journal, and then I jump into work. I work all morning on writing and revision, and I use my afternoons to answer email, record my podcasts, teach, and coach.
Yesterday, my “writing” took the form of thinking.
And I was cold.
So I got in the tub at ten in the morning.
I lit a candle to help me think, for something to stare at. I brought in with me a notepad and a pencil (I love the Aquanotes waterproof writing pad) but I turned to my phone instead, making voice memos in Evernote. I didn’t look at Twitter or Facebook, I just thought. I allowed myself to go down deep internet rabbit holes (when was the last orphanage in Venice closed? What’s a debilitating disease that requires care but doesn’t immediately kill?).
I paddled. I splashed.
It was, pretty much, heaven.
And it was part of the job.
I want right now to remind you of that. If you’re stuck in the middle of something, PLAY.
Write out all the frustrating questions you can’t figure out answers to and get in the bath with them. No bath? Go (alone!) to a hot tub place, bonus points if it’s outside and you can see the sky. Or go to the beach or lake, bundling up if it’s cold. Get your favorite splurge-y coffee drink and drive to the best view you can find. Tilt the seat back and just think.
Meander in your mind. Wander around. If the answer stumps you, go in a different direction.
Give priority to the problem, and not to the answer. I felt that yesterday — I kept trying to latch on to the “right” answer until I realized there wasn’t one, not really. I can write a book about anything. Poking around and trying to grab the “correct” book idea wasn’t going to work, but letting myself play with the problem did work.
What you’re doing when you do this is priming your mind to keep working on it in the background, while you go to work or feed the kids or sleep at night. Your brain will keep working on this, the more you play with the ideas, and then one afternoon while you’re searching for the Tom’s of Maine that doesn’t suck (spearmint), the answer will drop into your mind. A flash of inspiration, yes, but it’s a flash that you set yourself up for.
Remember to play. Writing is hard work, yes. I spend a lot of time acknowledging that it’s often a painful thing to push yourself to do. So if it’s been awfully hard lately, or if you just haven’t been getting anything done, give yourself permission to play.
See what happens.
Rachael’s Bio includes my favorites of her books.
Rachael Herron is the bestselling author of the novels The Ones Who Matter Most (named a 2016 Editor’s Pick by Library Journal), Splinters of Light and Pack Up the Moon (all from Penguin), the Darling Bay and the Cypress Hollow series, and the memoir, A Life in Stitches (Chronicle).
Rachael’s latest book, Fast-Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours, is about writing quickly while still creating a compelling narrative arc out of the story only YOU can tell.
She received her MFA in writing from Mills College, Oakland and she teaches writing in the extension programs at both UC Berkeley and Stanford. She’s proud to be a New Zealander as well as a US citizen, though her Kiwi accent only comes out when she’s very tired. She’s honored to be a member of the NaNoWriMo Writers Board. She is currently a Writer in Residence at Mills College.