What’s It All About, Alfie? It Being this Writing Thingamabob!
When I was little, I named my pet guinea pig after this song, even though I’m not sure I’d even heard it. Something about the title…
And it’s what came into my mind today, when I was thinking about this post. I spent part of the morning working on my WIP, alternating with popping on and off of Facebook to whine about working on that WIP. I’ve been reading an old favorite: Jean Webster’s Dear Enemy, and smiling & laughing on just about every page. Basically, I was feeling jealous of the “they” out there who are working on light, funny stories, with true heart, and wondering how much longer I was going to commit to digging deep into figuring out the dark, grim one I’m working on.
Yeah, whine, whine, whine. Instead of, you know, gratitude that I HAVE this awesome story idea to work on, that’s pushing me to explore my craft, my values, and my understanding of human nature & personality dynamics.
So instead of whining, I thought I’d look a little more closely at what’s going on with me today, and see if any of it sounded familiar to you guys, and check out what you do about it!
Okay, yes, I took three yoga classes in three days, which perhaps has made me a little extra tired. And I came back to my WIP after three weeks off to deal with my husband’s broken bones (healing well!) and my own NF deadline. And the days of this week have been pretty chopped up into small pieces, pretty much interspersed with me getting into a car to drive somewhere, getting out at that somewhere, getting back in, driving home, and a little later, getting back into that car. Which never does wonders for my mental state.
But…separate from that: the book. I think one of the big things getting to me is the time that this story is taking me to write. Longer than anything I’ve ever actually come close to finishing, so that question of Will/Can I ever finish does loom large on certain days. I have a weird brain that sees books I’ve read and books I’m writing as typeset fonts on physical pages, and this book looks light and sparse with short chapters, short paragraphs, and lots of white space. Which is cool, except that the physical reality of this book is, currently, long chapters, long paragraphs and yawning amounts of space covered with text. So…how long is it going to take me to make the reality fit the vision?
And the question always arises: Do I chuck this and pick up something else. I could revise that light, funny MG mystery that’s in the drawer (I know, bad idea!). I could do some plotting on the urban fantasy idea that’s been sitting in a file for a bit. I could take a look at that MG novel idea that has a little boy I am SO in love with. I could go back and spend a lot of time on the picture books. Lots of choices that would feel like real reasons to put this book aside.
But then I open that file, and I spent five minutes, and the questions I’m trying to answer catch me up again and shout at me and get my juices flowing. Even if I don’t get very far in answering them. The feeling of slog has that one sharp, bite of Yes! mixed in.
Backing up that Yes! is the strong feeling that there is a craft learning-curve involved here for me. A big one. Which is, of course, tied to the fact of how long this book is taking to write. And the almost-certainty that if I fool myself into letting this go, all I’m going to face are more story ideas that need me to learn that missing part of the craft.
So there you have it. Not sure if I succeeded in keeping the whine out of this post, but I do think I’ve come back again to the fact that the best thing for me to do is push on. Push on and push away thoughts of the calendar.
How do you handle this struggle: this battle between the I-Want-to-Finish and I-Want-to-Write-THIS-Story? Do you put things away for a while and work on other ideas? Do you play lots of loud music that shuts up that evil counting-down-egg-timer monster? Do you have a mantra taped to your computer?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you haven’t tuned into Debbi Michiko Florence’s posts on her Year of Writing, check them out here. They’re a good sanity check and reminder that this is a problem other writers face, that we’re not alone in the battle.
Part of it is just keeping my head down and going forward. One thing I dislike about writing novels is how very long it is between milestones. I used to write short stories, and it’s still weird to me to go months and months and months before having anything that resembles a finished product. Sometimes I feel like I’m crawling.
And now I’m going to toss out two contradictory suggestions, not sure which one you need. The first is: take little breaks from this book to write some flash fiction or other short projects–one here, one there–and then it doesn’t feel so long between milestones! You’re finishing other things while continuing to work on the book.
The opposite suggestion addresses the choppiness and interruptions you mentioned. And that is: set aside a big block of uninterrupted time and dive in, go through all the throat-clearing and distractions and out the other side. Let yourself spend a lot of time with the ms., envelop yourself in it. (That’s what I did with my most recent revision, which was a lot of work and I knew it was going to be a lot of work: it flowed best when I could immerse myself in it and really concentrate.)
Or maybe neither of those is the answer. But there they are, FWIW. 😉
I identified with your post because my WIP is taking years and years (partly because it kept getting re-defined so many times.) Well, not exactly re-defined as much as refined. SO, my whine is with you! BUt I really like Jenn’s advice. I don’t intersperse my WIP with other book length projects- but articles, or an issue of Talking Story or a class that I’m teaching–these are short term goals that I meet. ANd yes, getting in large chunks of time help too. SO, I’m not adding too much new to this conversation except to say, I empathize with all!
I love Jean Webster!
And er…ahem…yes, I am afflicted currently with the same malady. I have four projects that are all in their way an ooh, shiny! I keep working away on the main one, but whenever I get stuck, I admit I dive for the light and funny ones. I do think it’s okay to flirt with other projects when you’re stuck. I always come back afterwards and write a ton on Main WIP. So far, so good.
In any case, good luck!!
(BTW, this is Olmue/Rose, but WP just started disallowing you to sign in with any other blog page than your WP account if you have one. Which I do, but it’s about illustrating, not writing.)
Oh, those siren songs of other projects! They call to me, too. And they’re especially hard to ignore when my current book is long and dark and difficult. I’m going to chime in with Jenn and say that interspersing can help – though maybe you already have enough of that? – and so can diving deep and long into the project. The deep dive is what I did with the draft I just finished… will try and post about that soon! Wishing you much luck, whatever path you choose.