Thursday, February 07, 2019

Follow Me to the Playground! The Merry-Go-Round Way of Writing

By Tiffany Reisz

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Common "wisdom" says writers should write every day, but that's not always feasible (or even accurate). Tiffany Reisz takes the podium today to share why keeping momentum going is more important that writing every day. 

Tiffany Reisz is the USA Today bestselling author of The Red, an NPR Best Book of 2017. She has written over twenty novels that have been published in over a dozen languages and twenty countries. Her books have won a Lambda Award, a RITA®Award, and two RT Editor’s Choice Awards. She is married to New York Times bestselling author Andrew Shaffer (Hope Never Dies). They live in Lexington, Kentucky with their two cats. The cats are not writers.

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Take it away Tiffany...

Do real writers really write every day? Really? A tough question. Certainly some do.

The legendary Walter Mosley champions the idea of writing every day in his book This Year You Write Your Novel.
“In order to be a writer, you have to set up a daily routine. Put aside an amount of time (not less than an hour and a half) to sit with your computer or notebook. I know this is difficult…All I can tell you is that if you want to finish your novel this year, you have to write every day.”
A favorite author of mine, Ray Bradbury, implies daily writing is good practice in his book Zen in the Art of Writing.
“Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.
A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.
But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.”
I’ll die?! Really? But a lot of writers don’t write every day. Don’t or can’t or won’t and yet they still manage to finish writing books without dying. How do they do it?

Recently, a writer I was helping mentioned he was struggling to finish his book. He wrote every Sunday, that was his writing day, but he wasn’t making much progress. He was a full-time professor and couldn’t allot hours every single day to writing his novel. What did I suggest?

I’m fairly qualified to answer this question. In the past nine years, I’ve written, completed, and published over twenty-four novels in several genres including a couple bestsellers and six award-winners. Finishing the books I start is about the only thing I’m good at (other than petting kitties, and there’s no money in that, dammit.) And no, I don’t write every day.

Instead of telling my Sunday writer to write every single day, come Hell or high water, I explained to him the concept of the momentum merry-go-round. I learned about this merry-go-round reading Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, and Your Success. The merry-go-round refers to the momentum you need to start a project, any project, from a new fitness routine to a new business. Since we’re all writers, we’ll talk about the merry-go-round and books.

Follow me to the playground!

Imagine the book you want to write, the characters that are in it, the scenes you can envision, then place them onto your average playground merry-go-round. I can picture my characters now—two 34-year-old men who were best friends at fourteen, but they haven’t seen each other in twenty years because of something they experienced back then that they haven’t dealt with in two decades. Now they’ve got to deal with it. Two grown men and the weight of history between them—that’s a lot to push on a merry-go-round.

As their writer, it’s up to me and only me to get them going. So I grab the bar of the merry-go-round, dig my heels into the dirt and start to push. And push. And push. And it’s hard. These guys are heavy. Why don’t I write picture books? Kids weigh less than adults. And I’m only five feet tall. I gotta go back to the gym. But here we go…the merry-go-round is starting to move, starting to creak, starting to turn…Somebody oil this thing. I’m sweating. This is not fun.

But wait! What’s this? The merry-go-round is starting to move now, starting to spin. We’re going a little faster, a little easier. Guys? You having fun yet? Hope so because I’m doing all the work over here. Such is the life of a writer. Books don’t write themselves. Woo-hoo! The merry-go-round is going so fast I have to run to keep up with it. It’s really spinning. I can jump on it and ride for a bit.

But only for a bit. I’m coasting, spinning, getting a little seasick but in a fun way. Oh great, the merry-go-round is starting to slow down. I have to get off again and push. But what’s this? It’s so easy now! Once the thing is already up and running, it takes a lot less effort to keep it going.

The writer I was helping wrote only on Sundays. His merry-go-round with all his plot points and characters and scenes was grinding to a complete standstill every single week and that meant every Sunday he’d have to dig in his heels, bend his back, push-push-push, just to get his story up and running again. He’d have to re-read everything he’d written before to remember where he was in the book. He had to work himself up to writing because it was such a monumental chore. But, I told him, maybe if he wrote a little every day or every other day or even just jotted down ideas for his book in a notebook or read his own book every day to do minor edits…maybe that would keep his merry-go-round from coming to a complete standstill. He’d only have to put one foot down and kick a few times to get it up and running. Routine wasn’t his issue. Just his momentum.

In January I spent four days in Seattle for the ALA Midwinter Conference. Didn’t have the time or mental energy to write, but I did take my notebook with me wherever I went and jotted down notes—scene ideas, funny lines, plot points I wanted to explore (apparently in this book I will be making a Yakov Smirnoff reference—What a country!).

Taking notes was my way of kicking the ground a few times to keep the book up and spinning. I think a lot of writers imagine their book as a big rock they’re pushing up a hill and the second they stop to rest, that enormous rock will roll back down and they have to start all over. Or writers have to be sharks and when we stop writing we drown. What miserable metaphors. How exhausting and disheartening. No wonder writers are so grumpy!

Instead, imagine your book as a merry-go-round. Sometimes the momentum is strong and you can coast a little. Sometimes you have to hop off and push. There’s no set number of times you have to hop off and push to keep it going. The important thing is simply to keep the book from grinding to a stop whether you’re writing every day or not by staying present in your book, taking notes, re-reading, day-dreaming scenes like your book’s a movie in your head. Back when I had a full-time day job and a book due, I could only write in the evenings. I’d spend all the work hours daydreaming the scenes I wanted to write and when I got home, I was so backed-up with words, they came spilling out the second I turned on my computer. What else would you daydream about? Taxes? I think not.

And, of course, writers should always remember that it’s not a crisis if and when (definitely when) your book does grind to a halt. It’ll happen. We all get sick, get busy, get tired, hit plot walls we can’t beat our heads through for days. Take a breather. Hit the slides and the water fountain. Then when you’re rested, get back to the merry-go-round, dig in your heels a little, and push. Soon enough you’ll be spinning again, wind in your face, words in your hair, even if your characters are still too lazy to help you push.

Guys? Guys! A little help here, please?

About The Red

An NPR Best Book of the Year - USA Today Bestseller - iBooks Romance Bestseller - Smashwords Bestseller

Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise that she would do anything to save her mother's art gallery. Unfortunately, not only is The Red painted red, but it's in the red.

Just as she realizes she has no choice but to sell it, a mysterious man comes in after closing time and makes her an offer: He will save The Red if she agrees to submit to him for the period of one year.

The man is handsome, English, and terribly tempting...but surely her mother didn't mean for Mona to sell herself to a stranger. Then again, she did promise to do anything to save The Red...

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |


  1. This was great. Thanks. Personally, I've always thought of that Newtonian law, a body at rest tends to stay at rest...but this is more fun and even better. Awesome analogy and a pleasure to read.

  2. What a great presentation. For religious reasons I can never write every day. Lately, physical problems have depleted my energy so even my usual 5 days of writing aren't always accomplished. But I have started taking little notes, using my novel's characters to create scenes in short exercises for classes or writing exercises from Ursula LeQuin's book Steering the Craft. These little bits keep me from despairing when my regular practice is interrupted. The merry-go-round is the perfect extended metaphor. I'll be keeping it in mind.

  3. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! When I (finally) made the decision to move from hobbyist to 'serious' writer, so many things I read out there were extremely judgmental towards those who didn't write every day. If you really, really wanted it, you needed to ignore your family; allow your house to become a health hazard; phone in your performance at your day job that paid the bills. After all, this was for art's sake, dammit. (Lil bit o' hyperbole.) This year I committed to writing consistently without flogging myself on word count. Some days, it's a few drip, and other days it pours.

  4. THe merry-go-round is a fitting image, much more enjoyable than being crushed by your story-rock as it rolls over you!

    It's the push start that's hardest especially when I'm not in a writing routine. Writing regularly and guarding that time has proved to be the best method for me.