Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Backsliding & a new method to get back on track

I've been in a writing slump again. It's been going on for about a month now and I'm beyond frustrated with myself, especially things were going so well before that. At the beginning of April, I met my goal, I was reinvigorated by a vacation to Seattle and an excellent experience at the RT Conference. I'd given my agent a chunk of the Modern Myth YA and she loved it... so much so that she decided that we should start submitting it as a partial. So I put together a synopsis (the bane of my writerly existence, but I was motivated so I pulled it off!) and out into the world it went.

At first I was excited. So freakin' excited! I love this book. Lovely Agent A does as well. Surely an editor will and my career will turn around any day now.

Quickly excited turned to scared. What will I do if this book doesn't sell? It has now been 4 years since a project of mine has. A large part of that was my own fault, focusing too much on the promotion stuff I couldn't control and slowing down the already slow writing process. But the Bartender Book has been on sub for a while now (or at least what feels like a while to me, this industry is notoriously slow, and as my husband will tell you, I am not the most patient person on earth) and if nothing happens with it or this project.... Fuck. I'm not sure I can keep doing this, especially since the bartending job has been stressful as hell lately (and not in that good busy way, in the not-busy-not-sure-I-can-make-ends-meet way).

There is a lot (a lot a lot A LOT) of doubt in my life right now, which I will not go in to boring, overly-emotional detail about (though I'm ashamed to say that some of it leaked out on to Facebook and Twitter during my really low moments). But let's just say that between the stress (which unpleasantly manifested in an ulcer flare-up), the too-freaking-excited-to-focus, the too-freaking-full-of-self-doubt to focus, I've been... well... entirely unfocused. Okay, not entirely, even though my friend Lindsay is staying with me again (which provided me with a great many distractions while I was in the heart of my last slump), I have been forcing myself to sit down at the computer every day, but despite my best intentions, despite my check-ins with author buddies, despite my attempts to do my usual 90 minute write sessions, I usually end up obsessively checking email/Facebook/Twitter, or looking things up... like jobs that maybe I can apply to if life doesn't turn around soon.

I tried writing fast, then slowing down. I tried backtracking and skipping ahead. I thought maybe there was just too much stress tied up in the Modern Myth YA or maybe I'm just stuck in the murky middle or ::enter the self-doubt monster:: maybe it just totally sucks, so I tried cheating on it by working on other ideas like the Contemporary YA I have on the back burner or the New and Shiny Adult Book idea and The Oft-Pondered Memoir that I just last week finally figured out a theme/structure for.

Those gave me temporary relief, the reminder at least that I do have other ideas and I haven't completely lost my ability to write (and maybe even do it well), but they weren't totally satisfying.

I want to write this book. It's an idea I've been playing with for years and I feel like I finally have it right or at least almost right and I just need to finish it. As for those larger doubts about my career and if I can continue to sustain myself as a writer/bartender/freelancer/teacher, I keep telling myself that I will figure it out at the end of this year. Since the world might end in December (I really doubt it, but who knows), I want to spend this year putting my all into the writing. It is unacceptable to keep not focusing and not writing.

Yesterday I woke up and as usual dread and determination began to battle. Dread (which always leads to total lack of productivity) was winning, but then I noticed something on Twitter. Nova Ren Suma, Holly Black, Beth Revis and Kami Garcia were having a conversation about plotting, productivity, and this blog about massively increasing your daily word count. I've said in the past that I am not a big word count person, specific word goals freak me out, I value quality over quantity, etc. But the fact remains that for the past month I've been unsuccessful tinkering with a chapter. Not cool. Not at all.

That blog post's simple formula of Knowledge + Time + Enthusiasm = More Productive Writing made sense. For me, it is not about getting up to 10K words a day. I haven't even been able to crack 1K a day in a month. I need to get focused and figure out a way to write steadily and productively. The part about "Knowledge" in particular makes sense to me. "Knowing what you write before you write it." This is what I used to do in my classes at Columbia when we went through "seeing a scene in our mind's eye" before writing it. Starting each day by writing out a sketch of what I'm going to be working on could be the key I've been looking for to hone my focus. The "Enthusiasm" part is essential as well. I feel like I have been stuck in the murky middle for a while because I'm not excited about my scenes. Hopefully doing those short pre-writing sketches will help me figure out what is excited and fix my story before I even start writing. And the "Time" aspect... well I love data. I've been trying to track my own progress and figure out things about my process through this blog, but I think something more detailed is in order.

I've made a spread sheet with the following categories:
Date, Project Worked On, Time Started, Time Finished, Breaks, Total Time, Total Words, Notes.

I may switch that around and eliminate the break thing and make a new entry for before and after lunch writing (as that is my usual break), so I can get a better sense of when I'm more productive, what kind of breaks help, what are disruptive, etc. As for the "Project Worked On" category, I thought about eliminating that and forcing myself to work on the Modern Myth YA and only the Modern Myth YA, but I've decided that I really do want to keep working occasionally on one (perhaps more, but definitely one) of my cheat projects. Maybe once a week, or a half day once a week will be a cheat day.

Anyway, I started making notes yesterday and actually figured out a big part of my problem with the chapters that have been stumping me. (I was trying to introduce an unnecessary character.) I was also trying to figure out if I would skip ahead past the point where I've been stuck or if I should start with rewriting the messy chapters I've been working on. Now that I figured out what has been stumping me, 3 of those 4 chapters will need to be entirely rewritten anyway and my decision is to give myself just the morning to write through the scene that has been plaguing me (or really it's more of a transition). Either it gets done or it doesn't and I skip ahead.

So I'm starting this new method today and so are a few of my other writer friends (ie. the people whose Twitter conversation I bombarded and my lovely CP Tara Kelly. I'll report back next week (probably on WIP Wednesday) to let you know how it goes. If you're looking to spice up your writing life and trying something new and potentially really helpful, please join me! The more, the merrier, and check-ins do keep me focused and responsible. Also if you have any other suggestions that might help me right now, I am happy to hear them.

Here goes that writing/focusing thing....


Paradox said...

Good luck love - and thanks for writing about this. I've been in a total slump for a month now too, feeling that everything I write is worthy of the trash can and always finding something else to write about instead of finishing my novel. I'm going to try your new method too, to see if it helps me!
xoxo Jade

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I've been slacking on my own writing as well. Don't get too down on yourself. I know this is more your job than mine, since I'm not a published author, but you have to keep the love alive or it's just to much of a chore. I am trying to write more this summer though...the ideas are there, like yours. Just gotta get them on the page.

I hope your new method helps though!


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks, Jade! Hopefully we can shake our slumps together this month. Good luck to you and let's check in here or on FB.

Lauren, this is too true. Hoping I can get that love back because I need it. Here's hoping for a productive summer for both of us!