Rusty Gas Can

What’s your writing fuel?

Whenever I hear that question, I think of a big mug of black coffee perched precariously by the keyboard or an IV drip of tea plugged right into a vein. Some writers might suggest a good bar of dark chocolate (with sea-salt on top) or a ginormous hunk of pie.

In short, when discussing what makes good writing fuel, most of us think of the good old standbys — caffeine and sugar.

(A not so good standby is alcohol. While I clearly don’t have a problem with imbibing, I caution any writers against thinking of booze as fuel. But that’s a whole other blog post in itself.)

Well, my tank’s been a little dry of late. I’ve been cranking on my first novel and working on various bits of short fiction at the same time. (Focus problems? No I don’t have them, why?) I’m passionate about all these projects or I wouldn’t be working on them, but they each demand a certain amount of energy. I have to be careful not to deplete myself or every project suffers.

So I have Five Re-Fueling Tips. Your mileage may vary, but these techniques work for me.

1) Reading

This one’s kind of a no-brainer, I realize. If you want to write, read, right? Reading a thrilling novel or gripping short story is a great way to get you fired up about writing your own stuff. “I love what he’s done with his characters here! Her worldbuilding is awesome! I can do this, too!”

It’s easy to be so caught up in telling your own stories that you don’t make time for reading. I’ve been through a couple of periods of that in the last year or so, I’m ashamed to admit. My attention span was frayed, life was distracting and I was so impatient to launch my own writing career that I didn’t have “time to waste” merely reading. Obviously, this is a bunch of crap. But that doesn’t mean your sense of urgency won’t make you think things like this sometimes.

By the way, don’t just read in-genre. Don’t just read fiction, either. Read everything you can get your hands on. You never know what will percolate to the surface later.

2) Artist Dates

A long time ago, I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the main things that really stuck with me about the book was her concept of “Artist’s Dates.” This is taking yourself to a museum an art gallery, a park, or a performance as a deliberate attempt to open yourself up to your own creativity.

Find a local gallery or museum and see what’s on exhibition there. Sit in a park for an hour or two. I find the results are best when you

A) Go solo. Having a companion can be fun, but you won’t be listening to your own responses to what you experience.

B) Make notes, sketches even, but don’t try to write. It’s really better if you don’t try to create at all. Absorb. Reflect. Relax.

C) Don’t expect immediate results. This stuff slumbers in your psyche for years sometimes.

3) Conversation with Other Writers

Writers Groups aren’t for everyone, but I think it’s absolutely essential to have regular interactions with other writers, especially those who work in your genre. We have it lucky in the spec-fic community. We’re all plugged into Twitter, Facebook, Livejounal, Google+, not to mention various blogs. We’re generally a welcoming, conversational community, eager to share triumphs and struggles freely.

Take advantage of this. Find the folks you get and who get you and engage. Your writer friends can be a wonderful support network and keep you going when you think you are out of gas.

4) Exercise

I’d heard other writers tout the benefits of exercise, but I could never bring myself to believe it. I’m a fairly sedentary guy, and my interests have mainly been of that stripe. Writing, reading, watching TV, video- and role-playing games. That’s on top of the 8-10 hours I spend sitting at a desk at my day job.

Not too long ago, I decided to take a serious stab at changing my slothful ways. I got on a bike for the first time since I was 15, and now I’m biking to work 2-3 times a week. I love it. I completed Sandra Wickham’s “Virtual Boot Camp” (Thanks, Sandra!), and while I didn’t lose tons of weight, I started some habits that are sticking. Exercise has become a part of my day in a way that it wasn’t before.

Besides the obvious health benefits, I’ve found the exercise critical to my writing. If I’m stuck on a story problem or need to think a character through, there’s nothing like getting the blood pumping to work it out. Exercise clears the mind.

5) Writing

Finally, paradoxically, writing more can help you recharge from all that writing. Momentum is an amazing thing, and excitement over a good 500 words written can help you write the next 500 words when you didn’t know you had anything else rattling around in that gas tank.

What fuels your writing?

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  1. Erika Holt
    29/07/2011 at 3:09 pm Permalink

    I LOVE this! I’m totally going to take myself on artist dates!

  2. Anthony Lanni
    29/07/2011 at 5:19 pm Permalink

    Yeah, artist dates sound good.  The other four I manage pretty easily (although I don’t read a lot out of my own genres).  I’ve found biking to be a fantastic way to plan out scenes in my head before putting them on the page, too.

  3. Wendy Wagner
    29/07/2011 at 11:06 pm Permalink

    Time in nature really fuels me.  A hike or a trip to the beach or even just puttering in my planters can really recharge my batteries.

  4. Galendara
    30/07/2011 at 1:57 am Permalink

    Andy, this is very timely for me. I’m in a bit of a dried up and frayed thin spot myself and my only fuel has been polishing off that bottle of Patron.  So.. thank you!  I absolutely endorse every single item you have mentioned here (so why am I not doing any of them??? /sigh)

    thank you, for these reminders.


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