All Thinking and No Typing Makes Me Not A Writer

I had a blog post written for this week. Several actually. They’re still waiting to be re-read and polished into something coherent in Microsoft Word. But, somehow, I couldn’t muster up the will to actually re-read anything that I’ve written, let alone, clean up a draft. Lately, I’ve just been in the mood to type type type all the random (and not so random) little things that flit through my mind, and though I know this is my blog, and I can post whatever I want on it, I respect the general blogosphere enough not to throw out word vomit just for the heck of it. Believe me, no one needs to see what my unfiltered, newly awake, pre-coffee mind is capable of. (No, it’s not anything negative or controversial. I just don’t want anyone to question that English is my native language.)

Unfortunately, my type type type disease hasn’t translated to my WIP2 very well. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. I will re-read and tinker with the bits that I’ve already written, and yet d.r.a.g. my metaphorical feet to get to the next step in the action. It’s not procrastination. Not really. Nor is it a “what happens next?” thing. I think honestly, I over analyzed the story, and now I’m too bored (for lack of a better word) to continue.

I like my story. I know I do. But, I think that I’ve spent a little too much time thinking about The Story and writing about it via plotting methods of all sorts that I’ve lost touch with my MC, who, I admit, is the main reason why I like my story in the first place. After all this time, MC started to feel like, well, a character and not a real person. Well, I know MC isn’t real, but I started to think of the story as scenes that would lead to other scenes, and things that MC would need to do to get to those scenes, etc, that I lost sight of my recently learned lesson: story comes from the choices that the MC makes.

Random Interjection By My Brain Elves

Thinking about cardboard characters kind of reminds me of the flannelgraph stories I used to sit through during Sunday school.

The teacher would change the main elements of the story on a flannel board as she told the story. So, I would sit there, listening to her words, and yet, mostly stare at a static scene. Sure, sometimes she’d wiggle the characters if they were supposedly walking across the room, or a desert, but ultimately, the characters were lifeless, and no amount of moving by the teacher convinced me of the actions they were supposed to convey from the story. (Story time is definitely best served with an animated voice fueling a listener’s imagination, no visuals necessary. My two cents.)

Anyway, that’s how I’ve started to feel with WIP2. That I’m just pushing this cutout of MC around varying backdrops, which all amounts to a big, fat “So what?”

/End interjection.

Looking back, I can see where I’ve tripped myself up. I probably should have kept working on it privately first, before letting alpha readers give me initial feedback. After all, the Almighty Stephen King proclaimed that writers should write first with the door closed. That first drafts were a time for exploring and uncovering the story; a time to wallow in back story, adverbs, and tense shifts (oh my!). First drafts are supposed to be a free-for-all creative time, without that nagging feeling of “I hope they like this” poking at me.

And, for me, the “door closed” would also apply to reading anything to do with the publishing industry at all. It’s too discouraging to see books being sold and/or released that are too similar in concept to anything I’m working on. I know, I know, I’m supposed to read a lot and research widely, etc, and I do, believe me. But, I shouldn’t during the “door closed” phase. I know this about myself now, and I won’t waste time trying to convince myself that many books with similar concepts are published all the time, blahblahblah. It’s easier just to avoid news of that sort all together. Besides, there are plenty of non-adventure, non-science-fiction books out there to satisfy my reading addiction. (Sidenote: currently reading Kirsten Hubbard’s Wanderlove. LOVE IT. It releases March 2012. Mark your calendars!)

Another thing that I must must must remember: even though I enjoy planning and organizing my day, week, month, year, and have been encouraged to do so in my pay the bills job with extremely positive results (no surprise, running a business requires thoughtful planning and preparing for the unexpected), when it comes to writing a novel, pre-planning just doesn’t work for me. It’s hard for an uberplanner like me to admit that, but it’s scarily true. I hit my stride with my story when I just wrote it all out, no outlines or anything. I was always able to push through a “writer’s block” by thoughtfully considering next steps, and then writing them out. But, thoughtful consideration should not equate to plotting out my novel scene by scene. My muses, aka the above-mentioned brain elves, simply don’t work that way, and I have to accept that. I need to stop trying so hard to conform to a random ideal of how I should work, and instead, embrace the process that works for me. Because, this trend of barely writing a (ridiculous, word vomit-y) page during each writing session is getting really tiresome, and it’s not moving me toward my goal.

One highlight in all this self-reflection is that I re-discovered my original author role model, Dean Koontz, whose writing process and mindset resonates with me greatly. He shared this on his website:

On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad. And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions.

Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece–and therefore entertained.

The part I truly loved reading (apart from his tireless work ethic) is the idea of a low-boredom threshold, and keeping himself entertained by being mystified about the direction his story is going. Knowing that, was an A-HA! moment for me. I realized that I stopped looking forward to working on my story because I took away the fun factor, that motivation to keep working on it.

To that end, I have reverted to earlier versions of WIP2, and have reacquainted myself with that MC and storyline to recapture that sense of mystery again.

Stuck

Tapping a Pencil

Image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr

Confession: I’ve never experienced “Writer’s Block.” At least, not the way other writers have described it. Sure, I’ve had to grasp for the right words sometimes, but in the end, I’ve always pushed through and found something to say.

And, I think that’s been part of my problem with my WIP now.

In favor of getting the full scope of the storyline, I just scraped the top of the story, and didn’t really dig in and get to the meat of anything. For added whimsy, or perhaps because I was so sleep deprived I didn’t know what I was writing, I even threw in some scenes that I thought may work, but didn’t really fit in with the story as a whole. The result? I got a rough draft really fast, and a WIP that hardly makes sense to me now.

Forward motion is lauded during the rough draft stage, and of course I agree that rough drafts should be about unedited words spilled onto the page. While writing the rough draft of WIP1, I just wanted to go, go, go, and thought I was doing the right thing, because rough drafts are supposed to be done fast, right? Well, the caveat that I missed was that rough drafts also need to be coherent so that I can understand what it is I wanted to say when I come back to the project months later with fresh eyes.

I haven’t thought about what an advantage it is to just stop, reread my work, and gain insight into what the people in my story will do next and why. I didn’t get the chance to really know the characters, know their motivation, and really, the Story in the WIP. I raced so much toward The End, that I didn’t allow myself to appreciate being stuck, and really think about a scene and explore it. If I had, I may have more of a story to work with now.

Some food for thought:

In the first moment people get stuck they get scared. Inexperienced writers fear being stuck means they’ve done something wrong. I know the opposite is true. This is where the real work begins. When you’re stuck, you’re forced to think and thinking is good. Thinking is the entire point to the enterprise of writing. To think and feel and, through writing, express those thoughts and feelings to others. You’re being forced to reconsider what you’re doing and good writing demands consideration.

Scott Berkun

Please visit the full blog post, “How to write 1000 words” here and also, watch a five-minute video of his writing process here.