We humans are comfort-seeking creatures. Being a Virgo, there’s nothing I find more comforting than a routine—unless it’s the thrill of checking items off a list. My writing days are marked off by coffee in my favorite mug, peanut butter on homemade bread, reading the comics in a specific order, walks in a counter-clockwise pattern, water aerobics, cheese crackers, and a set number of pages written by nightfall.
• Write in new and unfamiliar places. Leave that cushy chair, the coffee shop, the air-conditioned office. Drive to the airport and write in the lounge, cram yourself into a bathtub, pick out a park bench, writing standing up beside the washer. (Legend has it that Thomas Wolfe wrote in longhand, using the top of a refrigerator as a desk. Granted, refrigerators were shorter then, but he was 6’ 6” tall. I’m 5’ 2”. That’s why I suggested a washer.)
• Write with new materials. Shut down the computer and grab a legal pad. Toss aside the legal pad and pen and write on a paper bag with a nub of a pencil. Try finger-painting your next novel or grab a stylus and a clay tablet or a chisel and a block of stone.
• Write hungry. Skip breakfast and forego that cup of coffee.
• Treat food as a reward for meeting your writing goal, not an entitlement.
(But set small goals. Try to knock out 100 pages before breakfast and your blood sugar will be lower than the winter temperature in
• Start a conversation with a stranger. Make it even tougher—pick out someone with a scowl, someone who appears unapproachable. (I suggest a well-lit public area for this one. Approaching the wrong person on a dark street could result in more pain than you bargained for.)
• Read challenging material. Pick up something by Henry James, James Joyce, or Stephen Hawking. Get a copy of the health care bill and take Cornell notes.
• Create artificial deadlines. Set an oven timer. Tell yourself you work for a newspaper, you’re on deadline, and the editor is breathing down your neck and checking his watch. (Use a hairdryer aimed at the back of your head to simulate that breath. Use the scent of your choice to further enhance the effect. Back in the day, many of my editors carried the scent of cigarettes or adult beverages.)
• Change critique groups. Group members can become too supportive or too snarky. Find a group where you’ll be “the new kid” and see what a fresh audience has to say.
• Invite a reader to beat you up. Ask for criticism from someone who will mangle your manuscript—an ex-lover, the neighbor who complained when your dog pooped on his lawn, a politician you heckled.
• Try a different style or voice. Write in the style of William Faulkner or Jonathan Lethem. Write in the voice of Huckleberry Finn or Stephanie
• Try a different genre. If you write science fiction, try romance. If you write romance, try your hand at a western, if you’re all about mystery, try out fantasy.
When you challenge yourself, you’ll challenge your characters. When you ratchet up the tension, they could surprise you by how creative they become. And, after a few weeks of pain, you’ll look in the rearview mirror and see that the rut is far behind you.
Bio: Carolyn J. Rose grew up in
She is the author of eight mysteries,
Following her own advice, she and her husband co-authored a young-adult fantasy, The Hermit of Humbug Mountain. In this epic battle between good and evil, the fate of the world depends on a teenage boy with a flair for drumming and his precocious sister.
Visit her virtual home at www.deadlyduomysteries.com