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Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing Mojo on a Monday

It's my turn driving carpool and as I sit waiting outside the school in my car, I tune in to a saved copy of This American Life, episode 476, "What Doesn't Kill You." Ira Glass explains that the show will focus on people who have experienced serious brushes with death. And then I'm listening to Tig Natoro deliver a stand-up comedy routine about just having been diagnosed with cancer, about losing her mom tragically, breaking up--this whole insane list of horrors in a crazy short time. And I'm laughing. Out loud. She speaks of how tragedy plus time equals comedy. Even without time, she creates something deeply touching--and funny--and heartbreaking. When the junior high's final bell rings entirely too soon, I hope the kids will take their time getting to the car...

Home at last, I buy the mp3 of Natoro's whole set. I want to own it, to know how she has the courage, the mojo, to pull that off. It's a lesson I could use.

A few years ago, I began writing in earnest after a dear friend of mine suffered this unspeakable tragedy in her life. Even from the sidelines it was devastating, and I channeled  some of the feeling into  a story that centered on ways people cope with tragedy, with how they more and less successfully carry the pieces of life they wish they’d never been handed. The words came so quickly it almost felt like actual channeling.

This year, though, as I try to finish other stories, the challenges have been closer to home, and writing has been anything but fast. 2012 has brought job loss, robbery, injury, illness, and the all-time low of losing a child, my niece. I sit in front of the computer and want to breathe heart and humor into my characters, but I'm not sure I have any to spare...I’m not carrying the pieces as well as I’d like to.

It’s been five months since the worst, and it's time to reclaim some writer mojo.
Where to start?

There are plenty of things a writer can get “stuck” in—sadness, life overload, fear, doubt…  Maybe there are as many ways to get unstuck.

So, I put out the call to friends, asking how they get the writing flowing.

Get OUT.

Run out of that fog, girl.
Some suggested stepping away in order to get closer to a story. Jackie Garlick-Pynert finds creative inspiration in coloring her own setting—painting a room to the hum of favorite tunes. The plotting seems to come easier for her when distracted by other artistic endeavors. Similarly, Keely Parrack suggests a run or a read while the subconscious does the work of unraveling the story. So many writers seem to value actual stepping--walking--to loosen up the words. Raymond Inman even said, "Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk." Let's find out.


Ask for help. Bill Jones finds a list of talking points and a good conversation  helps put things right. Craig Lew offered up how in the process of just describing a story block he tends to find the solution. I need to remember that one of the best things about writing friends is how readily they will hold a hand or kick a butt, and, if they're anything like my writing pals, they're capable of both at once. Ask for it.


Virtual writer friends help, too. Luann Grace Moore recommended one of my favorite books for writers, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (perspective, humor, and help). Marilyn Hilton mentioned The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (full of tools and routines). Amy reminded me that favorite authors are also "virtual writer friends" in that great stories well told inspire us and remind us why it's all so very worth the effort. Take time to read and reread. And read favorite writer and author blogs, too. Splatter your world with sticky notes full of favorite writing inspiring quotes from virtual writer friends. Here are a few to get you started:

Wise folks reminded me to honor the percolating, the cooking phase of writing (the one that looks like you're just petting a dachshund or staring at a picture of Ryan Gosling). Monkeys Ellen and Craig both visualize story scenes like a film, revising and redirecting before hitting the page. Marilyn wrote to me about the value of brainstorming possibilities without censor. She advises throwing out the predictable and entertaining those more promising paths that only come with the freedom to explore.  Sure, writing is butt in chair, but it’s also head in clouds.  I appreciated the reminder that not all writing shows up in word counts.

Just be sure to pull your head out of those clouds and schedule some guilt. Friends were quick to point out the value of pressure in writing. Sarah and Marilyn both see the effectivness of deadlines—paid critiques, a critique group commitment in person or on-line, contests, NaNoWriMo (as discussed by our Amy Cook a couple weeks back), a mentor program like the one offered by Nevada SCBWI—whatever it takes to guilt/pressure words onto the page.
NaNoWriMo (take on 50k with friends)
SCBWI  (look for regional and national events)
Verla Kay's Blue Boards  (find critique partners and camraderie)
Get CREATIVE with process.
Tools for the job:  Invigorate your process with something new:
Write or Die  (because the inner critic/spastic self-editor needs to shush)
Mac Freedom  (because the Internet is so such a time-suck, and not just for Macs)
Alexandra Sokoloff's index card plotting method -- good stuff for making progress
Scrivener (organization, anyone?)
Inspiration Software (a great intro by Kristen) (and do check out her take on collage!)
Ellen's post on Pinterest (inspiration through images!)
Just don’t let the search for new toys get in the way of actually getting down to business. I might know something about that.You gotta USE those tools, grasshopper.

God knows, I hope you aren’t suffering with any personal or professional tragedy, and I hope your creative mojo is a force to be reckoned with, but if it’s not—I hope one of these ideas will be of help to you in getting it back.

In a nutshell,

Get walking. And friends. And books. And tools. Maybe a glass of merlot. But mostly--get to writing.


Write through the tough stuff. Write into it. Write because of it and in spite of it. Make it not for nothing.Write it.

 So, how's your mojo?  Any tips on its care and feeding?


  1. As Austin Powers knows, mojo is a terrible thing to lose! Luckily, writer mojo never really goes away. It stays with us, even when it's sleeping. Thanks so much for giving us all these great new ways to WAKE IT UP!!! <3

    1. Love that idea that it might just hibernate sometimes! :)Thanks, Amy!

  2. Thanks for this post, as it truly hit home. Seems like it's so easy to lose track of one's mojo, and it is awfully hard to get it back. Am now sitting at my desk with my broken foot on a stool, and it's proving very hard to focus on rewrites. Thanks for the reminders!

    1. I'm so glad it made sense to you, Verbenabeth! Wishing you fast healing for the foot. Ugh. I hope I'll get to read something that comes out of your "confinement." :)

  3. A great post, informative and uplifting...and always with a lot of heart. It's difficult to lose one's Mojo with Turbo Monkeys like you, but Mojo loss does happen. Great, great, great hints of getting it back.

    Cheers my dear Julie Bear!

    1. Can you imagine? I shudder to think of the mojo hit I'd take without monkey support. :) Thanks, Craig!

  4. I'm always happy to hold your hand or kick your butt. And I love knowing that you'll do the same for me!

    1. You know it, KCH! I'm just a short drive away and at the ready.

  5. Julie, this is such a heartening post! Thank you for sharing it with us...

  6. This post was so up-lifting, Julie. Thank you! We all have our moments of doubt, but after reading your post I had to smile. I feel like the Little Engine that could . . . I think I can, I think I can . . . Thanks for the Mojo!

    1. I love that it gave you a little boost, Ellen! Your friendship and feedback does the same for me!

  7. Hi Julianne,

    This is such a moving post. I began writing when my first child was very poorly and I was in a lot of pain with my own health issues, It really helped me to cope with everything that was going on to function. However over the years writing had dropped from time to time as life took over - a narrow miss whilst on the operating table for instance, and yet it still comes back the need to put pen to paper. I don't think it ever leaves you, but steps back when you need time and space.

    Best wishes

    1. Thanks so much, Sally--your connecting to the ideas means a lot to me! I love your point about how resilient the need is, even if it has to step back at times.

  8. Thanks for sharing this post. You have had a difficult year. Unfortunately difficult often make's us deeper writers and more emotionally connected artists. It's a pain we have to juggle. I often don't know what I would do with pain if I couldn't release it through creativity .. or at least find the zone in creating that lets the mind be somewhere and someone else for a while. However hard it is to summon our MoJo (and frustrating when it eludes us) .. when it's with us, it makes everything worthwhile.

    1. Such an important point, Hazel. Experience offers the possibility of bringing more to the work--to everything. Love that reminder! Thank you, dear Hazel!

  9. I walk as often as possible and do most of the other things already commented upon but another thing I do to get the mojo back is to FORGET entirely about "getting published." I forbid, ban, dismiss any thoughts about that side of the process and focus like a preschooler playing with blocks on stringing words together, playing them into life.

    1. That's really terrific, Linda. I'm adopting that. It really is a joy when the pressure takes a back seat to the process of making something cool. :) Thank you, Linda!