There are phases that the process goes through. We have those days where our hands or fingers cannot keep to the same frenetic pace that our internal narrator wants to dictate with, and we rush through the scenes as quickly as we can, lest we lose that inspired spark.
It needs to be capitalised on before it fades, whether we were already at our desk, in the middle of a commute, or in the shower.
There are also the days where the pace flags, and we push through the doldrums that seem larger in time than the output deserves. We may not feel that the quality is there, to the point that there are passages we feel are unprintable at best, possibly merely terrible, or worst of all, boring.
This writing thing, it used to feel easier. Honest.
A convenient excuse would be burn-out. The schedule last month was very filled with writing to the point of bursting, but it never caught the same pace that previous years had. Writing every (almost) day while maintaining full-time work, and doing organisational things, and also trying to keep up some reasonable level of cooking, cleaning, social engagement with family, and sleeping? Yes, those things do wear time down. Individually they’re fine, but doing all of them within the meagre twenty-four hours offered by our fast-spinning planet is draining. Making it a choice to do this doesn’t make it easier.
Another reason could be that every start at a novel has raised the stakes in complexity of the story being told. Maybe having three concurrent storylines interacting and converging isn’t something that lends itself to going off on tangents. New or unexpected characters have appeared, but the events have followed most of what was had originally intended in the outline. Previous attempts have had storylines split across time periods, an overall adventure through a set of locations, and finally, a simple search for a missing character that gradually became about something bigger. The details were easier when they were spontaneous, and required no forethought. World building was easier when it was a blank canvas with hints of details, instead of needing to feel authentic to specific locations while maintaining a future-like vision of said locations. Hopefully that will translate to richer worlds, but it’s clearly more laborious.
There is probably a minimum of 30K more left to write on the first draft, at which point a proper break from the story can be taken, and then after an as-yet-unknown amount of time, structural editing can commence, moving bits around to facilitate some of the ideas that came about while writing. They’re not major, but it does require some change in the timeline of what happens. A main needs to meet a supporting character earlier, so that the supporting character has a plausible amount of time to disappear in. Another supporting character needs to show after a different event. Small things like that. There’ll need to be some rewriting required to give the story proper coherency, and that’s before a true second draft takes place.
It’s always been a kind of work. Writing has had its days where it comes easily, but most of them lately are effort-intensive. Maybe that’s a sign of what’s being written being better, but I don’t feel it. I’d rather not stop, because I’m wary about trying to pick this up at a point where I don’t remember where I was going with it.
So, what to do?
Enthusiasm for the overall story is great. Where it is and where it’s going, they’re huge and I’m really keen to have them done. I’m really looking forward to the stage where I have to make things better, rather than making things up. If I wasn’t excited, I’m not sure what I’d do. I’m only considering what I could do in that circumstance, in case on of those reading it is in that situation.
Revisit the reasons why you’re writing the story, and what made you fall in love with the idea to begin with. Read little bits each day, maybe – not with an eye on the quality, but looking at the events that unfold. Let little bits and pieces sit on your mind. If you have a writing playlist, listen to it as you read, so you can recapture the tone of what you were shooting for. It’s really, really not about quality, but feel, and inviting your muse to take a second look at the path of the character.
For a general sense of stagnation, it’s often about direction. Some people advocate jumping to the bits that you want to write, but my own personal attempts at that approach have led to lots of one-off scenes that are still not tangibly connected to any of the others. At least in the first draft, I need to approach it in the same way that a reader would. If those bits are unredeemable and need to be excised from the novel, then it can happen once I know where everything sits. I need to move things forward to the bits that add, but sometimes that involves getting through the ones that don’t come so easily.
If there’s a lot of mystery as to the path the story will take, you may need a brand new writing plan. I love the uncertainty that’s there in the early stages of writing, when your story can go off on exploratory tangents that uncover facets of the setting or story you hadn’t planned on. It’s fantastic and often leads to some great spontaneous events, but it doesn’t lend itself to closure. A story needs closure, and the ending needs to be reflective of the elements that are already present, not relying on new shifts or information. You’re not setting out to trick the reader. I’m in the midst of the bits that are planned, but between the current scenes and the known ending, there is a grey field of mystery waiting to be explored. It needs a plan, a clear purpose for being in the story, and must continue to push the characters into their respective breaking points.
Habit is a harder one to reign in. With the deadlines of November met and gone, the accountability has disappeared. It’s also a simultaneous crunch/rush/lull at work, there’s lots of end-of-year/Christmas festivities taking place, and we promised people that we’d only be antisocial (with them) for November. There’s too much uncertainty in the schedule at the moment, but whispers of writing groups are around. Most of those are To-Be-Decided. It’s not quite the same as setting aside a certain time/place. I learned during November that home is horrible for writing, since there’s just too many things to distract from writing – not all of them inanimate.
I don’t know. Yeah, I really don’t. I don’t see much happening with writing groups during the next two weeks, though there are some openings in my schedule where I can write outside of my brief habit-born periods of time. Online organisation of the writing groups has started, but it will be slow to get people grouped together, and then for suitable meet-up times to be worked out. My daytime writing is almost exclusively during my lunchtime, and the allotment of everything else on a weekday is meant to fit into the 7pm-Midnight window (other than weekends). January is looking for better, and I do have some time off work on the way that can be spent writing. A slowdown was inevitable. Shrinking writing time from a minimum of twenty-six hours a week to something a bit more sane does that. Alright, maybe this. Don’t leave writing for more than two days, and aim for a dedicated two hour period twice a week until the first draft is finished.
It’s not a tough schedule, but seems to be necessary. The dedicated period seems to be the key, instead of trying to fit into a rush for food, coffee and sunlight.
If you’re reading this, and you have your own methods for keeping focused when your concentration is dimished, or when every word feels like it needs to be forcefully extracted, please – genuinely please – comment and tell me what you do.