I’ve decided to stop pushing myself so hard to get the first draft finished. Although I’m worried that this could be a bit of a creative u-turn.
On one hand, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. I’m a single mother (to an incredibly engergetic and sparky six-year-old boy) and I work full time. I have a house that needs cleaning and decorating along the lines of the Forth Bridge. And then on top of that, I’m writing a novel, trying to keep posting in a blog – not to mention attempting to keep up with my professional development and fit in a little social life.
I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the line, I need to fit in a little bit of relaxing!
So I’ve decided to ease up with the novel and let my batteries re-charge. I’m not going to be giving it up, though – just not punishing myself to get it finished. I don’t think that forcing myself to try to meet deadlines is helping me in my writing. I’m getting bits done, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I should be.
Having said all that, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me that I should keep going and not stop. That I’m giving up and I will regret it later.
I’ve read about it – but not really ever experienced it in any meaningfully creative way until yesterday.
I wrote a post about how I find it hard to get into a writing frame of mind. Then I had a look a website that I’d seen earlier on – the Learning Space from the Open University. There are free modules that you can study at your own pace, and I’d seen one that I fancied called ‘Writing what you know’.
And one of the first things I came across in this module was an interview with Andrew Cowan (author of several novels) talking about how he finds it hard to get into writing. He has to ‘circle the nest’ first – that is get all the jobs and distractions out of the way before he can write. He talked about putting his first novel Pig aside for weeks at a time while he did anything but write it.
So I feel better now. I’m not the procrastinating freak that I thought I was. (Or at least not the only one.)
Lots of times I sit down to write, but just can’t get into it. I don’t have the right frame of mind – and given that I get very little time to write I want to be able to make the most of the time I have. I’m surprised at how hard I find it sometimes: after all I want to write. If I wanted to eat ice-cream, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have the same difficulty!
Of course, writing is mostly a mental process, and the mind has lots of ways to stop us from doing what we want. (Or maybe that’s just me!) My problems with getting on with writing seem to have two sources:
The anxiety is all internal. Although I know that what I’m writing is just a first draft, and that no one is going to be seeing it, I have what I can only describe as performance anxiety, and I’ll do anything to avoid writing when I get into that state – which is where the distractions come in.
Distractions come in two sorts: internal or self-created ones (who’s emailed me today? Better just check my bank balance – etc.) and the real ones (Josh not wanting to go to sleep, the cat wanting attention, someone telephoning just as I’ve sat down).
Of course identifying the problems is only part of the battle. How do I overcome anxiety and the distractions that I create for myself? Obviously, will-power and self-discipline (as much as I hate to admit it) are the key things – but that’s not something that you can just ‘get’, it takes practice. I mean, I can’t go from having will-power with the consistency of jelly to tough and sinewy determination overnight. I need to build up to it.
My strategy is:
- Fool myself into not being anxious. I’ll have warm-up session where I just ‘mess around’ with ideas to get me in the mood – the idea is that once I’ve started writing I’m usually ok.
- Start small. If I really don’t feel like writing, I’ll just do it for 15 minutes to see how I get on (and set a timer so that I don’t clock-watch) and then carry on longer if I want to, or take a break.
- Avoid opportunities for distractions. So, no internet connection when I’m writing and a note pad to write down all the ‘urgent’ ideas that occur to me while I’m getting started so that I don’t feel obliged to follow them up immediately!
Will it work? I have no idea.
It’s been mad the last few days. I had planned to write a post on Tuesday, and suddenly it’s Thursday. How did that happen?
I’ve been sticking to my two nights for writing and it works well – except for when I can’t concentrate, then it feels like I’ve wasted a whole time-slot.
However, I’ve not done too badly. On both Monday and Wednesday I wrote over 1000 words and I’m working through the story. As I’ve already said, my idea to just get the book written (no matter how) and then work on getting it right and refining it.
The concentration issues are easy to explain: I’m tired. There’s a lot going on at work, so I’m continually on the go, Josh is quite excitable in the evenings so I’m busy from early morning to quite late in the evening. It’s not really that surprising that I find it hard to concentrate on writing! In fact, looking at it that way, the thousand words a night are a positive victory!
Had a good day yesterday, just writing whatever and however but slowly working my way through the plan. I’ve found that it even works better for me if I leave spaces where I feel a bit bored or de-motivated – like today when I found I just couldn’t face going through a bit of dialogue. Instead of getting stuck in a rut, I just moved on to the next bit (which I really wanted to write) knowing that I can work on that bit of dialogue later.
My strategy for dealing with the chaos of my first draft is going to be based on what I found from the books I looked through on Friday.
I’m going to aim for:
Directness. Instead of telling readers how something happened, or what someone felt, I’m going show it through actions and dialogue – or at least aim to do that 90% of the time.
Simplicity. Next to being direct is being simple. Just tell it how it is – leave out anything that’s not completely necessary. And not to overdo things – I’ve got a tendency to want to ram stuff home, when it detracts from the story.
Readability. What really annoys me is not being able to read something aloud – sentences that seem ok when you scan them with your eyes suddenly trip you up when you try to read them out loud.
Of course, all this is going to be much easier in theory than in practice! But at least knowing that I’ve got some idea of how I’m going to fix the chaos at the end is keeping my interal critic quiet (so far) and actually letting me get on with writing.
My internal editor (you know, that annoying little voice that criticises everything you write, as you write it) has been getting too bolshy recently.
Instead of getting on with my draft, I’ve been getting myself bogged down with style. I don’t like the way I’m writing. The draft doesn’t have the right ‘voice’ – not even a tiny hint of it. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m not really sure what the right ‘voice’ will sound like; it’s a case of ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.
I can tell my self over and over that it’s more important at first to get the words written than it is to get them right, but my little internal editor is sitting on my shoulder tutting into my ear all the same.
So tonight I turned the tables and put him in the spot. ‘Think you know about good writing, do you? Well, go on and tell me what it’s like, then.’ I pulled a load of books into a pile on the floor of the living room and began to go through them – what’s good in this? I like that bit – why? What makes me cringe at that bit?
(NB. This is one of the things that I like about being single. I can do mad(dening) things like that without getting into an argument or needing to explain myself. Of course, if I wasn’t single then I might have something better to do on a Friday night…)
Looking through the books I discovered one great and obvious truth: it’s far easier to pick holes in something than it is to pinpoint what it is that makes something work. There was always that ‘je ne sais quois’ to all the really good passages – the rightness just dissolved as I tried to get to grips with it.
But then looking for passages I didn’t like was fun – my little editor was in its element. So although I didn’t manage to find the holy grail of ‘how to write good’ I picked up a few tips about what I should try to avoid, and I feel more confident about being able to go back to my first draft at the editing stage and make it better (or more to my liking at least). By looking at someone else’s writing I could be more objective about what it was I didn’t like – and so (my theory is) I’ll be able to see these traits in my own writing and sort them out, rather than just get upset that my first draft is rubbish.
Now I’d better go and get those books packed away!
Tried to write tonight, but just couldn’t. My mind felt fuzzy and unfocused – probably something to do with spending a day at work then coming home to an overtired and grouchy Josh. Not really conducive to getting into the right frame of mind for writing.
I don’t suppose the glass of wine in the evening that’s become a habit since my holiday has really helped either…
But I got some more words down, and better luck next time!
Talking about fuzzy brain – I just noticed that I saved my last post as a draft instead of publishing it. Doh!