Writing Over The Hump

My novel in progress is starting to move at last.

I have worked hard for a long time on this weighty story, hauling its characters and plot up a long track of prose against the dragging forces of distraction and disinterest. It’s gathering power and speed now, the way a roller coaster does when momentum grabs hold at the top of that first great big hill.

I’ve been on this ride before. There’s no feeling like it. When a story slides over the summit and starts that plummet towards completion, my heart jumps into my throat, and it’s a long, screaming, thrill trip to the end of the line.

But I’m not there yet. Enthusiasm is building with every rattling scene completed, but there’s reluctance too. When it’s over, it’s over, and I never want the ride to stop. I don’t even like to open the file these days. Starting brings me that much closer to stopping.

The procrastination stage never lasts. Avoidance can’t hold back a developing story any more than screaming and waving hands will stop a roller coaster’s relentless progress.  At some point soon–very soon–the writing will carry me out of the world .

I am ready. Let creative gravity suck me down, let the twists and curves shake my soul loose and speed me along until I’m wrung out and exhausted. And when it spits me out, crying and laughing and breathless with pride, I will coast to the exit and run back to the head of the line again.

Look, out, here I go.

Tortoises & Hares

The tortoise & hare fable makes a good illustration of style differences between writers. I’ve ranted on word counts and productivity worship enough times that I don’t need to do it again. But it’s awfully satisfying to get the frustration off my chest. So I’m going at it today. Again.

It’s okay to move along. I know, I’m stomping on a crowd favorite. I might as well kick a puppy. But I wouldn’t do that.

I am a tortoise when it comes to writing long works, especially fiction. The concept of drafting fast just to be done so I can go back and re-write the whole draft mades me ill at heart. I despise the pressure of having a measuring tool chasing me along, breathing down my neck, turning every creative effort into a competitive event. More! Faster! Finish line! Eyes on the PRIZE!

Yuck.

It works for many. I do not dismiss the value of being a hare. But. But. BUT. I cannot be one, and I have no desire to work against my essential nature for the sake of fitting in. (There’s a fable about  that topic too. It doesn’t end well.)

I am going to continue to toddle along at my slow unsteady way (ever watched a tortoise walk? They always appear one mis-step away from disaster, and yet they seldom actually tip over.) and I will be done when I am done.

Remember who won the race in that tortoise & hare fable? Yeah. I think I will do okay.

In the long run.

Time: 10:35
Tea: Irish Breakfast
Steeped: 6 min

Wherein I admit procrastination and rant about figure skating

How did I lose a whole week?

Oh, right. Winter Olympics. The only nod towards productivity was my tight-fisted refusal to fork over the extra cash for NBC Sports channel. I always lose more time to the snow games than the summer ones. Figure skating and speed skating, biathalon, skicross, snowcross, half-pipes and giant slaloms–I would watch them every winter, but they aren’t on television regularly enough to follow.

I did do some work. I now have a whole glossary of terminology for “super powers,” an alternate world history going back as far as WWII, and titles for the bureacracy and military hierarchy that support US citizens afflicted with the fictional Ackermann-Chung Syndrome. I even know how my main characters meet and why.

Now I need an ending. Once I have a start and an end, the rest falls together pretty easily. I am determined to hash out a full plot including an ending before I indulge in scenes and dialogue for once. It isn’t fun, it isn’t fun at all. I loathe and despise outlining, but it will help me keep the writing tight. It won’t prevent the appearance of ideas that demand to be included, it won’t prevent the story from careening onto interesting byways of character development…but it will give me a weapon to wave at those temptations. Get thee behind me, subplots!

Too bad I can’t wave a plot outline at the bad sports commentary on my TV. I talk at it instead. Figure skating coverage earns my greatest ire. There are 24 competitors. In three hours of TV we might see 5. When the events are live, the tight focus understandable. Skating programs take a long time, compared to say, downhill skiing,  and there are unavoidable delays with judged sports. (I would still argue that commercial breaks and elimination of fluff filler pieces would provide plenty of cushion for showing a few more skaters, but that’s another topic.) My point here is that there was no excuse for the obscenity that was NBC’s primetime Olympic skating coverage this year.

The production teams for very other judged sport took advantage of this lag to by cutting and intercutting footage to minimize the delays that plague live coverage. Downhill didn’t waste the viewers’ time with long shots of each skiier loading into the gate or waiting for their scores to post. Half-pipe didn’t. Ski jump didn’t. Biathalon coverage was brilliant.

The veteran NBC commentator team of Sandra Bezic and Scott Hamilton got the big bucks and the prime-time exposure. What did they do with it? Bubkes. Their production crew pretended that the event was being shown live and wasted time on kiss & cry “tension”and warmups. B&H gushed breathlessly over artistry and repeated specific remarks so many times that they should be used as a drinking game. Worst of all, they gasped, cooed, and talked over the performances without offering the least amount of useful information about judging or program content.

Give me talented, observant, intelligent Tara Lipinski and fabulous Johnny Weir, please. They explained all the technical aspects of scoring that B&H didn’t bother reviewing — which were critically important to understanding the final results — and they did it with flair, consideration for each other and insight into the decisions made by skaters, coaches and judges.

Okay, end rant.  Back to writing. Plotting. Researching jargon of the 1940s & 50s. Whatever. The closing ceremonies air tomorrow. Then I will have only House of Cards season 2 and the last 8 episodes of Breaking Bad to distract me from meaningful work.

Writing is meaningful, right? Even when it’s only dull stories that don’t catch readers fast or hold their interest well enough to keep them reading? (I’ve heard that critique from three pro’s now re: Controlled Descent. Can’t argue the point, “slow,” and “boring,” being in the eye of the beholder, but…*sigh.*) I’m not revising CD or FP again. They’re done.  I’ll have to hope for the existence of a small readership that appreciates the long-form, immersion approach enough to enjoy sprawling, long-winded tales.

Onward, not backwards.

Writer’s Banes Episode 1: Procrastination and Inspiration

A recent discussion about procrastination on a Facebook board (of all places) got my dander up about the Great Art Versus Boring Grind debate. It’s a false argument that permeates articles about creativity too, and it toasts my temper, it really does.

People, procrastination is normal. It’s inevitable. and it’s avoidable. The one thing that WON’T help you get back in front of your writing is avoiding the keyboard or the journal or the notebook.

Here’s my take on getting successfully to the end of a project despite lack of motivation, based on my experience completing five novels, two novelettes, a novella and a bunch of shorts. I’ll be mixing my metaphors with abandon and sprinkling in similes like a hipster putting cinnamon on a latte, so brace yourself.

My advice: write. Just that. If you’re having trouble getting going or keeping going, start doing it on a schedule. Start with five minutes. Time yourself. Resolve to sit with your tools of choice for five minutes every day (or every other, or on your days off, whatever) and WRITE. Write anything, up to and including five-minute rambling stream-of-consciousness rants about how stupid the whole idea is.  If you can’t get your project to gel, be water around a rock and flow in a different way, but keep moving. That’s all it will take.

“Oh, noes!” you say, all internet-speaky and full of tips and tricks gleaned from  lists and blogs and articles written by Real Professionals. “But I’ll start resenting the writing process if I force myself to sit down and write! I’ll stifle my Art! I’ll smother my creativity! I couldn’t possibly. Ooo, scary! I should stay away from writing if the ideas aren’t coming. Avoiding writing gets the juices flowing.”

Bullcookies.

Forcing yourself to do anything can make it a chore. That’s a matter of attitude, not action.  Discipline generates transcendence like rubbing your shoes across the rug generates electricity. There is no art whose construction will always be enjoyable or easy, without periods of resentment, angst and sometimes even loathing. One thing and one thing only will make you a better writer: writing.  To believe that discipline will poison your drive to create with such a petty emotion as resentment insults the power of your own imagination and sells your

To forbid yourself release of words and vision in hopes of inspiring motivation is like holding one’s breath in hopes of gaining oxygen. It’s self-defeating, however heady the temporary rush may feel. Treating creativity  as a commodity that must be stored up — as if it will eventually run out if you don’t husband it and deny it release — is a mental trap. Don’t fall into it. Procrastination lives at the bottom.

Ideas are much more like living things that need attention and nurturing. Yes, there’s a real need to step back at times, to get some distance from a given project to relax your mind, but that’s not the same as waiting passively for inspiration to strike or holding yourself aloof from it.

Inspiration doesn’t strike, it grows, down in the dark parts of your mind where you can’t see it, until it burst out in bloom when you least expect it. You’ll get no glorious blooms of genius without first putting down roots deep in the stinky, boring soil of constant practice. To believe otherwise is to cripple yourself before you even start the artistic journey.

Discipline is a choice. Not an easy one, no, but no one questions the value of forcing yourself to take a shower so that your body does not offend, or forcing yourself to do unfulfilling work to get money to live. How can you give your art any less effort?  And yes, I sometimes resent having to shower and go to work too. Don’t we all? Yet those acts have lasting value that make them worth doing despite an occasional bout of resentment.

Regularly challenge and stimulate and IMPROVE your writing by…writing. It really is that simple.

Simple isn’t easy. It’s hard, even sometimes immensely painful. Anything worth doing is worth doing even when you don’t want to do it. Especially then.

It could be worse. Imagine writing on paper when paper looked like this: