Pressure

KiteI put myself under a lot of pressure. People have pointed this out to me my entire life. It used to always be a warning—I was about to crush myself, and they wanted me to ease up to avoid it. I didn’t usually listen, and often ended up running myself into the ground.

As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve started understanding where to draw the line. It’s hard for me not to run full-tilt until whatever project I’m working on is completed. Yard work, home improvements, learning a new song, finishing a scarf, etc.

I still run myself into the ground sometimes, but those occurrences are the exception now. The fundamental change in how I operate came to me through my writing.

You can’t sit down and write an 80,000 word novel in a day. Or even two days or three. Continue reading “Pressure”

First Drafts

I just finished the first draft of another full-length novel. Toward the end, I could see that I wasn’t going to make my projected word count. It wasn’t that any particular chapter was too short. Most of the chapters came in right about where I would expect—a good sign that the book is balanced and the pacing is where I want it. They’re all just a little light (it’s about 5k short at 72,000).

Toward the end of the piece, I read an article. A particularly ill-timed article about first drafts. It extolled the virtues of cutting down a first draft to make the piece stronger. I went back to the page nervous, watching the words not add up to my initial goal of 77 or even 80k—where I expect the finished novel to land.

It psyched me out. As I wrote, it lingered in the back of my mind, distracting me, pulling me out of the story. Not good for the process. Pushing the book aside to deal with it, I thought over how I write from nascent idea through finished product and compared it to the process the author of the article described. I recognized a vital difference.

The author is a pantser—someone who comes up with the story at the page as they’re writing. I am an outliner.  Not just an outliner, an OUTLINER. I pore over my stories for weeks before I sit down to write, making calendars of events, tracking where characters were leading up to the first moment of the story, thinking out all their back-story, doing the freaking math, for crying out loud, to make sure my pacing stays right. on. target.

Do my characters or plots still surprise me? All the time! Both while outlining and at the page. But with all this background work, those ecstatic moments of realization don’t derail the story—they enrich it.

When I sit down to write, I expand on my outline, getting down dialogue, key setting elements, actions, and the big overarching thoughts and emotions driving everyone in each scene. I don’t go into detail. I don’t spend words on description. That comes in the first edit. The result? My first drafts come in light. The first edit pads them, and then the second edit cuts them down.

I lost valuable time thinking that I was doing things wrong because I was comparing myself to someone else. I think that’s a trap writers often fall into. How do we best get these ideas out of us and into the world? We look for ideas from fellow writers, and that’s good. I’ve learned so much from others. But in the end, it’s how I synthesize all that knowledge and put it into creative practice that makes me the unique writer that I am.

What about you writers out there? Are you pantsers or outliners? Do you live for those moments of epiphany that strike your story ideas like lightning? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

To Write, or Not to Write

I’m finding that I can either write or edit, but not both. Different parts of my brain engage for each activity. When I’m editing a piece, my critic is in the forefront. This is when she gets to do her thing. But it takes time to get her to stop when I sit down to write. The words don’t flow when she’s standing at the edge of my brain, saying, “That could be tighter. That’s a weak word choice. You’re using the same word too often.” Ugh. Helpful during edits. Not so much during a first draft.

So here is my new plan: when editing, give myself time to refill my creative well instead of continuing to pull from my reserves. Go for walks, draw, rest. It will all help prepare me for when edits are done and it’s time to write again.

The Merry-Go-Round

I finished editing Wandering Soul recently. Again. When I reached the end, there were a few concerns I needed to check (such as, I thought I might have removed too many dialogue tags – nope, it’s all good). During that final check, I noticed more things I could fix.

A very dangerous thought presented itself.

I had edited another book. Which meant I was now a better editor. If I went back and edited the book again, it would be even better. But at that point, I would have edited another book. Which would have made me a better editor. It didn’t matter that it was the same book. The experience would still fine-tune my editing ability. I could edit that book over and over again for the rest of my life, never writing another word.

At what point do I stop?

I have been on that merry-go-round before. There will always be things I can fix (or think I should fix) in my novels. Wandering Soul is ready for my editor’s red pen. If I keep working on it now, I risk being too familiar with the words to see further things that really do need to be fixed.

I realized that I could keep polishing the same shiny bumper, or I could go design and build a new car. At that point, the decision became obvious.

I’ll be in the garage.

“In Time”

I’ve often heard the expression that things come in their own time. I’m not always the most patient of people. Lady Wafflenose (my inner critic) takes this to the next level. She has a schedule, and she expects my creativity to reach maximum velocity at specific intervals and make stops at all the right stations precisely on time. A few days ago, I realized I (she) was beating myself up over the fact that my new project, a 20,000 word sci-fi romance novella, wasn’t completely mapped out and I hadn’t figured out all the scenes for the story yet and all the characters and their motivations. The idea had come to me less than 48 hours before.

What. The. Hell.

Creativity doesn’t run on a schedule. Thinking as hard as I possibly can in an effort to squeeze ideas out of my brain is not productive. And berating myself for the fact that ideas aren’t coming to me faster only makes things worse. The best I can hope for is to set up a routine of writing every day and give myself experiences that support, nurture, and foster creativity. A walk in a park, a trip to a museum, watching clouds slide across a blue spring sky, laughing with friends.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do the work. Of course I do the work. Writing is work. Amazing, fun, frustrating, and magical work. The only control I can exert over time is how much I spend in the chair, hands on the keyboard or paper and pencil. And that time is the most important of all. The more I let my brain, my body, my soul know that this is the work I need to be doing, the more ideas will bubble to the surface. That time in the chair smooths the way for ideas to come for the current project and all that will come after. When my creativity knows that it’s welcome in my life, that I’m making room for it, then the ideas will come more freely. And in the meantime, I can practice developing my patience as well.