I’ll try to get a post up sometime this week, possibly, but for now I have some time to write, and I am using it. I hope you’re all having a lovely Monday, though, and that you have a wonderful week!
There are a whole lot of other things I wanted to write about today, but I kept running into the same problem: basically, I kept freaking out.
It’s the same thing that’s been happening to me with writing fiction lately. I’ve sort of talked about it before. I’ll sit down to work on this one interminable chapter, and immediately start attacking the words I already have, attacking any new words I try to put down–it’s not good. It’s not fun. It leads to a kind of dread, where I don’t want to work on this chapter anymore because every time I try, it’s awful.
I actually did make what I hope is some progress on that chapter yesterday, so you might think I have a solution. But no, not really. All I can say is that I think sometimes we put imaginary pressure on ourselves. In the case of this chapter, I was pressuring myself to make it perfect–it’s a rewrite, not a first draft, so I should be allowed to expect instant perfection, right? (No.) And with this post, I was pressuring myself to come up with something coherent about books and reading, and that pressure was making it impossible for me to come up with anything coherent at all.
The thing is, the only person holding me to either of these expectations was myself. (Well, maybe some of you are expecting books/reading stuff on Mondays. I don’t know. Sorry about that, if that’s the case.) And I’m not saying we shouldn’t expect things of ourselves. Setting standards and goals is a good thing. It can be a good thing. All I’m saying is that there’s a difference between the kind of pressure that brings out the best in people, and the kind of pressure that’s so intense that it completely immobilizes you.
I’m still working on how to handle that line. Right now, it involves lots of deep breaths, drinking water, journaling, and some prayer. (I know faith may not be part of everyone’s life, but it’s part of mine, so it’s part of my process.) And reminding myself to do things like find the fun in the project, the thing that made me love it in the first place; and also to focus on the small steps in front of me, instead of the giant ones that often freak me out.
It’s not exactly new advice. Maybe because it works? But the good news, anyway: I did have some fun working on that chapter last night. So it is possible to find your way back to that. And if you’re reading this, I managed to finish a post, so there’s that, too.
With that in mind: on to today’s adventures with The Chapter. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it.
I love worldbuilding. It’s one of my favorite things about writing (and reading) fantasy. But every now and then, I get sucked into a vortex of tiny details. Like, for instance, figuring out where *every single one* of my extras lives in a town or something, so I can figure out where my protagonists might realistically live. Or figuring out all these extras’ job histories, just to satisfy my curiosity about the demographics of said town. (ETA: Also for minor plot points/characterization/whatever–things I think I’ll use, but often do not. Building imaginary places. It’s not always clear what will help.)
Necessary? Maybe not. But ridiculously fun. And good at practically any hour–it hits just the right level of engagement. Demands some involvement from my brain, but is also a lot of simple mechanical stuff. Scribble here, copy and paste that name onto the floor plan. That sort of thing. Which kind of explains how I can so easily end up worldbuilding into the early hours. (Note to future self: Worldbuilding Energy is not the same as Real Functioning Person Energy. For that, you need to sleep. Trust me.)
So this past week I fell into a Worldbuilding Vortex. It would be a terrible thing, if I were doing NaNoWriMo, but since I’m not…
…it was just fun. For anyone who is doing NaNoWriMo, though: don’t worry. Odds are the worldbuilding stuff will wait until December.
And that’s all I have for this week. Join me next week when I tackle the deep, soul-searching question of who does live on Floor 78. And what job s/he has been holding for the last 50 years, because demographics.
P.S. These questions will not actually be answered. I suspect you knew that already, in your heart, but I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.
“In hindsight, it is obvious that my drawings were result oriented. I wanted to render a specific image I had in my head. When I failed to attain it, the frustration would freeze me for days or weeks on end. . . . I had not yet learned that the process of drawing was what brought me real fulfillment.” France Belleville-Van Stone, Sketch! The Non-Artist’s Guide to Inspiration, Technique, and Drawing Daily Life
This quote is from a great book that I’m slooooowly working my way through. I don’t usually read books about art, but I’m glad I picked this one up, because there are some insights in it that are really applicable, not only to drawing, but I think to any kind of art. This quote was certainly applicable for me, since a year or so ago, something strange and unpleasant happened: I largely stopped enjoying writing.
There were lots of reasons, but I think a decent part of it was that I’d stopped seeing the process. All I could see, when I sat down, were problems. Plot holes, narrative missteps, superficial characterization. The inevitable rewrites up ahead. An endless trudge through what used to be a fresh landscape.
I’d lost the joy of wandering into a new world, meeting new people, discovering things with my characters, waiting to see what would happen next. Writing was turning into a chore. And the more that happened, the harder it got for me to open up that Word document and get to work.
I’d love to say it’s all better now, but as with so many things, I’m still figuring it out. Writing can be difficult; though you may not think so, starting out, it can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of the things you love. In a way, this quote prompts me to get back to my writing roots–to stop putting so much pressure on myself, stop treating the blank page as a horrible burden, and instead welcome it as an adventure, an opportunity to be surprised.
So as NaNoWriMo heads into its second week: here’s to writing, and its whimsical ways. And for those of you who are participating: I hope you’re making progress toward those 50,000 words. But maybe even more than that, I hope you’re enjoying the whole beautiful, annoying, rewarding, and perhaps-mildly-but-not-dangerously-sleep-deprived process of getting there.
I haven’t done NaNoWriMo since I was in high school, when I wrote a novel that I have never since felt compelled to revisit. (What was it even about? Blah, blah, something about ships.) I like the idea of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve definitely written novels in a month (or less) since then. That month just doesn’t seem to be November, most times. I think it’s something about being told “you must start writing on November 1st, and only on November 1st.” It pretty much guarantees I’m going to start writing before then.
But the spirit of NaNoWriMo isn’t a bad thing. NaNoWriMo forces you to hunker down and focus, to push past the nitpicking inner editor’s voice and get words on the page. It forces you to finish something. All of that is good and useful.
So that’s my NaNoWriMo goal: not to write 50,000 words, but to finish something. It could be the research for my big WIP. It could be the first draft of my other WIP. It could be the short story I’ve been promising myself I would write for ages and ages. I don’t care, as long as something gets done.
… this blog post counts, right?
Seriously, now, back to work. And good luck to everyone tackling the NaNoWriMo challenge!
I feel like I should write some kind of update following my last post. So here are the goals I set last weekend, and how they panned out:
- Finish novel draft. Didn’t finish by Sunday night. Did finish a few hours into Monday morning. This was before my self-imposed deadline, so I call it a win. Also I’m an owl, so it felt like part of the same day.
- Write blog post. Obviously check.
- Tumblr post. Totally did not do this. The perfectionist part of my brain hates that, but I’ll live.
- Actually leave the house. Yes!
Predictably, the biggest time drain was
#3 #1. (Though it does sometimes seem that the thing you don’t finish takes the longest. In this case, I chose my battles and jettisoned the Tumblr post pretty early.) If you’re curious about what I learned, here are some things that worked for me (or didn’t):
- No: I lost a lot of sleep, pushing past the point where I would usually have been happy to turn in, because I was determined to write as much as I could before my brain turned to oatmeal. This probably influenced my productivity on subsequent days.
- Yes: I had an outline. I’m not always an outliner, but the outline was tremendously useful for this draft; being able to see where I was going helped me avoid getting stuck.
- Yes: I revised my outline as I worked, to reflect changes/surprises. That meant my outline was a pretty accurate summary of what I had as well as what came next.
- Yes: I took breaks when I needed them. I wasn’t about to kill myself for this. On a similar note, I didn’t set a lot of rules for myself. As I said in my other post, I had some material to pull in from previous (incomplete) drafts; I sometimes read through that and edited it, sometimes not so much. I didn’t bother tallying up how many new words I typed each day, though I know it was a lot. Basically I did what I could to keep my stress levels low.
I can’t guarantee that any of this will work for you. Patricia C. Wrede has a great post about different kinds of writers; we all thrive on different methods. All I can say is that this got me what I wanted: my first complete draft, over 50,000 words, with no scenes to fill in later. (Scenes to flesh out: definitely. But no blanks.)
Despite my love of ripping through drafts at high speeds, I didn’t find this the most enjoyable way to write a novel. Typing until you fall asleep at the keyboard is fun when you’re doing it on pure inspiration. It’s less fun when you refuse to let yourself sleep because dang it, you’re determined. But on the plus side, at the end of three days, you have a novel. If you’re lucky, you’re pleased with the draft, proud of yourself, and for once in your life, actually ready to rest for a while before jumping into revisions. Which brings us to a last note.
5. Yes: I knew I had a low-key week coming up. Was thus able to spend it recovering.
Note to self: As much as you may think otherwise, sleep is not optional. If you’re going to demand a truckload of work from yourself, your body is going to demand rest. Grant this demand. Just do.
I set a lot of them. If you want to see my take on unrealistic vs. realistic goals and staying sane, skip to the end of the post. There is a point to this. I know because I tripped over it as I was finishing up.
As for why I’m thinking of unrealistic goals today: no, it’s not because of my plan to post here twice a week, thank you very much. That would normally be doable (I think). But this week my words have been going into story, with good reason. I’m trying to finish a novel.
“Didn’t you just finish a novel draft?” you might very reasonably ask. And yes, I did. But it’s usually good to take some time off between drafts, and I’m using that time to work on something else.
It started off innocently enough. The draft was partially done, since it had been a fun “work on it whenever I feel like it” project for a while. All I had to do was tidy it up and add some stuff. (*Cough.* Tens of thousands of words.) I wanted to do this in a week, which was a bit of a stretch, but manageable.
I procrastinated. A lot. Suddenly I was facing the weekend, with my draft maybe slightly over halfway done. “More of a stretch, but still manageable,” I figured. When things are going really well, I can write over 10,000 words a day, so I can finish a novel in a week. But before you hate me, I don’t mean I can blithely knock out 15,000 words a day, sitting at my computer with a glass of wine held lazily in one hand. I mean if I do nothing but type, giggle maniacally, and type some more–if I barricade myself in the house, barely stop to eat, and essentially live in the world of my story, I can write quite a lot.
There is absolutely a degree of burnout from writing that much that quickly, and it’s not as if it produces first drafts perfect enough to make unicorns cry. But I still love those crazy weeks, when I can get them. Every writer is different, and I’m extremely grateful to be the kind of writer I am. Most of the time.
This was not a crazy writing week. Which was fine. I figured I could finish the draft next week instead. There was no rush.
Then something came up, and now all of a sudden my brain is saying, “No. This weekend.”
So here’s my unrealistic goal list for Saturday and Sunday.
- Finish novel draft. Never mind that I just drew up a new outline last night/early this morning, and I’m only about 10,000 words into the current version. Some of the stuff from the old draft is still usable. I can totally do this.
- Write blog post. (Ha! Take that, goal list.)
- Tumblr post. Which probably means drawing something. Or finding something in the sketchbook that I don’t mind posting.
- Actually leave the house.
There’s a part of my brain that’s done some math and determined that there are not enough hours for me to accomplish all these goals. But the odd thing is that even though I can see those calculations, the rest of my brain remains optimistic about my chances. I’m not even worried enough to rush. In fact, I may take a nap.
Now would be the time to say something about the importance of setting realistic goals, I guess. And it is important. Constant failure is extremely depressing. A lot of times, I consciously pare down my goals to a realistic level. But that can be depressing, too–seeing a giant goal turn into something “realistic.” There’s no adrenaline connected to it, no ambition. Maybe because to me, “realistic” means “something I know I can accomplish,” and how much triumph can I really squeeze out of that?
So here’s to the importance of unrealistic goals. I think part of the key to setting unrealistic goals and being happy with the results is just that: knowing they’re unrealistic, and celebrating whatever progress you make toward achieving them. Not fake celebrating, either. Genuinely celebrating that you did something awesome.
And if you reach the goal, so much the better.
With that, I’m off to finish the novel.
I was all set to talk about apathy. I had a draft. Then I published my last post, and got so freaked out that I ended up writing over 10,000 words (not in one day!) of the current work in progress.
That’s great, of course–those 10,000 words were almost welcome enough to merit their own 10,000 little party hats. But now the draft is done, and I’m down a blog post.
Fortunately, since I spent my last post talking about spiders, I owe this blog a mission statement.
It’s short: I hope this blog will be fun for me. I hope it will be useful for anyone who stumbles across it. (And fun, too. Fun is important.)
I think I’m going to try to post something twice a week, but it may only be once. I’m still figuring out exactly what schedule is likely to work best for me, so we’ll see what happens.
That’s not enough for a blog post, so here’s a random doodle-comic from a very long time ago. (I’ve forgotten a lot of my Japanese, and probably most of my Spanish. Please do not test me!)
It seems relevant, sort of. And it is kind of how it feels to learn a language. You start off so excited to be able to speak *another language,* but it’s a while before you have enough vocab to talk about anything fun.
P.S. I would apologize for the… um, simple… doodliness of the doodle-comic, but hey. You might as well know what you’re getting into.
P.P.S. If you really have to know what the comic says:
Face: Good morning.
Bug: Good morning.
Face: We need more words.
Bug: (more or less) Yes we do.
That was a lot less entertaining than you imagined, wasn’t it? You should see the comic that’s basically me trying to learn Japanese numbers. That one’s hilarious.