Free to Be You and Me for Writers

I had plans, big plans. I would be a paragon of writing diligence and finish my novel by Easter, come hell or high water (I love that saying). I had ambitious daily word count goals, a decent outline, and a lot of chocolate. My family had agreed to writing days where they couldn't speak to me - and they even kind of stuck to it. It was my own personal NaNoWriMo.  

And a week before Easter, my outline was more fully realized, the chocolate was significantly depleted, but responsibilities had popped up causing my daily word count goals to crumble and the novel was no where near done. I had failed.

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So what happened?

 

I had managed to keep up with my goals for a week, then my brain froze. Every idea I had, every word I typed reeked with suckitude. I didn't make any progress. My daily word count goal had risen to scary numbers. I freaked because I could never meet them and the Work In Progress was awful anyway, so why bother. I spiraled (we’ve talked about the spiral before).

 

Now, let’s be very clear here - I didn’t meet my goals because of me. I am my own worst writing enemy. I either set goals  too high or not high enough. There’s a balance to doing this writing thing, where you can maintain steady progress, keep your writing tools in tip-top shape, but still enjoy the rest of your life. I’m trying to find that perfect balance of writing, family, house, and me. Here's the important point in all this - my perfect balance is different than your perfect balance. When it comes to writing habits, only yours matter - or as Marlo Thomas taught me - I'm free to be you and me.

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Not only will my balance be my own, but it will also be no better or no worse than other writers. I know people who frequently crank out three thousand words a day (I’m side-eyeing you, Mark), and I know people who will make their daily word count even with children vomiting on their laptop (I bow to those dedicated folks). We all have a different formula where we find happiness and fulfillment and mine hovers around 1K a day.

 

A thousand words seems about right. On a good day, I can blow by that in 90 minutes and turn my attention to the laundry towers of doom. On a slow day, I can squeeze out those words between youtube videos, dream vacation planning, and scouring the internet for adorable corgi pictures to send my agent.

corgiMerrygoround

So, dear reader, there are no right or wrong writing habits. We're free to be you and me. I’m finding my balance. Share yours in the comments - I’d love to hear how you make it work.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_26FOHoaC78

 

Sucking and the Second Book

If you've been anywhere near me in recent weeks, you know I'm struggling with my work in progress. I mean, really struggling. Like, why am I even doing this kind of struggling. Like, I could be reading instead of feeling like a sucky loser with no ability to string two words together kind of struggling. It's been fun. legoguythrowscomputer

I know I can write a book, so what's the big deal? What if my first book was an anomaly? A one off? What I can't do it again? My current WIP has no focus. The characters are flopping about like netted fish on a dry boat deck. The plot flounders in the middle, then fizzles into nothing. I have no idea how I'm going to achieve a satisfying ending. It all feels like scrabble tiles tossed onto the floor. While each story element is a separate something, they aren't making anything cohesive.

johnFrustrated

I know this type of struggling is common. I've been reading other posts to find some reassurance that I'm not alone. And I know I'm not, but that knowledge isn't helping.

I've forgotten that The Cake Effect took almost 2 years to write with long stretches of no progress. I've forgotten the many, many (at least ten) revisions I did. I've forgotten that the layers weren't there in the first draft (or the second, third, or fourth), the symbols weren't there, the focus was not there. I've forgotten all the sloppiness and only remember the delicate tweaking of the later drafts, where I could play with the language rather than shovel in plot holes. I've forgotten how much it sucked in the beginning. I've forgotten that I wrote that first book just to see if I could, just for the fun of it.

So, with my selective memory being selective, I've fallen down the pit of writer despair. I see a lot of old friends here. There's self-loathing, insecurity, and procrastination (we go way back). In that corner waits self-doubt, jealousy, and fear. It's a party down here.

On top of my struggling is the never-ending parade of colleagues whipping novels off like sticky notes. How do they do it? Why can they do it, but I can't? What is wrong with me? Why are they all so much better, smarter, faster?

nothingwrong with me

I'm reminded I know nothing about how to write. I've never taken a creative writing class (wait, I think I did, but I can't remember anything about it). Everything I do is intuitive, based on years as an avid reader. Sure, I've read a few books on writing, but I really don't understand the craft and art. I have no idea how to pick up the storytelling legos and build a Death Star. I only build the cliched crappy houses with no windows or doors. I can't even build the double-decker couch from The Lego Movie.

The-Lego-Movie-Double-Decker-Couch

So what now? First, I can't compare myself to other writers. I gotta do it my way. Second, after reading  those many, many posts hoping for some information, I am reminded that sucky first drafts are a writerly right of passage. We all do them. Let me repeat that. We ALL do them. I read an interview with Wally Lamb in the newest Writer's Digest. He said his first draft is telling the story to himself. He doesn't know who the main characters are going to be, he doesn't know what they're going to do, he goes with it.

And I think that's my problem. I know I want all the wonderful layers, I know I want meaningful symbols, witty  dialogue, and relatable characters. But I can't write them now. They need a base to attach them to. I need to start with the story, then add  each element in one at a time. A great puff pastry isn't just butter and flour added together at once. You add in some butter, fold, and roll it. Then you do it again, then you do it again, then you do it again (this is why I buy pre-made puff pastry - it's a lot of fucking work). And that's how writing a novel works. You start with the core, add a little more and work with it. Then add a little more and work it in. Then add a little more and work it. It's a lot of fucking work, but unlike puff pastry, I can't buy my novel in the freezer section. It will only come out of me.

sherlockpopup

I wish I could write with focus and efficiency - but that isn't how I work. It needs to be sloppy and muddy and messy. I need to let the crazies loose on the page to dance and twirl and tear up the scenery. I need to explore the silly, delve into the drama, and pursue the illusive. I don't know what madness will eek out - but I need to let it. Because when I get out the soapy water to clean it all up, that's when I'll find the beauty hidden in the muck.

SherlockandJeanine

So there it is, dear reader. I've granted myself permission to not only suck, but to suck with abandon. I'm putting it all out there. I can always fix it later.

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Ahem, this gif is purely gratuitous (because all the other Sherlock gifs are absolutely necessary).

mollykiss

Recipes and Revelations

I'm in the midst of writing book 2, and I'm struggling, a lot. I know kinda where I want to go and kinda how I want to get there, but it isn't clear how to do it. When I wrote The Cake Effect, I had months of notes, a detailed outline, and then more notes on top of that. I'd been writing it without actually putting words on the page for months, so when I typed out chapters, I knew exactly what I was writing. No one knew what I was up to yet, so there was no pressure if it never went past the planning phase.

With WIP2, I had an idea combined with the self-proclaimed title of Writer. That was it. I sat at the computer with an idea which evolved into an opening scene, then a few more chapters to meet the characters. Then the brick wall.

wallslam

Since then, I've  fumbled to get to the other side of that damn wall. I jumped ahead and wrote some scenes where new characters are introduced and a bit of the denouement. But it wasn't helping me get the story rolling. I was missing something important. Combine my floundering with seeing all my fantastic writing friends posting astronomical word counts and failure began stalking me (never mind how cute and fuzzy it is).

stalking

 

Fortunately, I already had the answer in my other passion, cooking. When I cook, I always start with a recipe - my plan to get me started. The first time I make a new recipe, I follow it perfectly. Then the next time, I make tweaks until it's what I want. This is what I needed for my writing; I needed a recipe, something I could tweak as needed but got me started.

Unfortunately, if you google my book title plue recipe, nothing useful (or even gifable) comes up in the results. And then my second revelation - the January 2014 Writer's Digest magazine (so new I couldn't find an image of it online). It has spectacular articles about writing your novel in 2014. One article has a handy dandy chart laying out the plot beats and what they need to include. It was the recipe I needed.

Using their fantastic chart as a guide, I mapped out my novel on the dry erase board. I know what I need to accomplish to get my main storyline cooking. As I go, I can sketch out the sub-plots to revise later.

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So, dear reader, with a little help from Writer's Digest, I have the recipe I need to finish my novel. Perhaps I should make some cake to go with it.