Pushing Through

[Looking back through this post, I see that I’ve used the word “you” a lot in passages manifestly instructional or outright didactic, especially the last section — as though barking orders at you, the reader. Not so: it’s just me, talking to myself.]

Moonrat, God bless ‘er, last week resurrected the Write Your A** Off idea I had last year. (Not “my” idea, really — I’d sort of ripped it off and just adapted it for outside-NYC writers.) She jumped the gun by a few months, but that’s the sort of spontaneous combustion you get when you mix youth, exuberant personalities, and ideas, and it’s hard to fault her for it.

Several dozen people signed up in the comments to Moonie’s two posts, and we even set up a sort of interactive map so people can log their locations and select a preferred day of the week, and visitors can see who’s participating, on what day, and where. (There’s no real “day” set aside for this: you choose whatever day of the week you want, and do it annually, weekly, monthly, as you will.)

You can see and really interact with the map here, or — if you prefer — here’s a sort of quick-and-dirty read-only view:

Note that participants currently have signed up not just from North America — that’s merely the default map view — but from around the world. (Not a lot of blogs have that sort of reach, but Moonrat’s does.) You can zoom out or move the map around to see these folks, too.

My own WYAO day, as you can see from the map, was Saturday. I didn’t plan anything extra-special for it, because my “normal” Saturday already meets what passes for the WYAO standard: I get up sometime between 6 and 7 a.m., and write, research, and so on (with occasional biologically-mandated breaks) until 2 or 3 p.m. But for the last two Saturdays, I faced particular challenges.

Two weeks ago, I felt utterly stalled. One of the problems of rewriting a novel which you first wrote 15+ years ago is that you’ve already got multiple drafts to work with, each exploring and emphasizing slightly different subplots from the other drafts; as a result, by the time you reach the (approximate) halfway mark it can feel awfully damned stale. You think: Haven’t I written this scene before? (You probably have.) And better? (Not necessarily.) You lose the joy of catching your characters doing things for the first time, and if they let their guard down you may, indeed, catch them in the act of yawning themselves.

So two Saturdays past, I sat staring at the screen for about a half-hour, trying to kickstart my enthusiasm. Couldn’t I do something new? Did I have to just repeat everything?

Then I remembered a loose end left dangling in all previous drafts: a “main” character of whom we just hadn’t seen enough. Maybe I could move him to center stage… but doing what? I reached for another main character and pulled him in, too, although earlier I’d no intention of the two ever meeting. Sort of said, “Okay, Character B… you’re standing over here, and you’re doing this thing you need to do. And then there’s a knock at the door, and in comes problematic Character A…”

And then I sort of stood back and watched what happened.*

It amazed me. Not only did the interaction between them get me moving, and hurrah for that; it also opened up — convincingly, naturally — a subplot which I had never dreamed of, one which resolved two other worrisome loose ends.

So then came this past Saturday. The problem this time wasn’t lack of enthusiasm or outright boredom; the problem was… well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but I want to say the problem was ignorance. I knew from the previous week where things were going. But I couldn’t get them going that way. How to start this chapter? I had a bunch of characters to choose from, and an apparent infinity of things they might have been doing once chosen. It… all… just… wouldn’t… budge.

Again, a half-hour (+/-) of silence and staring at the screen…

My worst habit at times like this? Distracting myself. “I can get it going if I just know this one little factoid from Wikipedia,” say, and suddenly it’s noon, my browser’s history for the day has a hundred entries, and I still don’t have a single damned word onscreen. Or I’ll think, “You know what will be the perfect soundtrack to work to right here?” And so I open up my audio software to create a new playlist, shuffling things around so that no two songs by the same artist are back-to-back, tinkering with the software’s look-and-feel… Suddenly it’s noon, my software looks like hot stuff and I have a playlist which will take me eight hours to listen to, and I still don’t have a single damned word onscreen.

I could feel those habits tugging at me on Saturday. (I briefly succumbed to the playlist one, but not right away.) But I forced myself to open the word processor, to create a new document from the template I’m using. I forced myself not to open Firefox. I willed my hands to the keyboard. And I just started to type…

Five or six hours later, I stopped just blindly typing. It wasn’t a record-setting single-session word count for me, about 3,000 words, but it was a flat-out hell of a lot better than I’d have done if I’d followed my wandering predispositions. It was enough. (I spent the rest of the work session revising what I’d just keyed in.)

The point of all this? Just that those two successive Saturdays reinforced what is for me one of the unbreakable commandments of getting writing done: you have got to start. Maybe, as with two weeks ago, you’ve got to throw caution to the winds and take your story, your style, your preferred genre to places you’d never air-quote “want” to go. Or maybe — as with my WYAO Saturday — you just have to stop playing games and get your fingers moving, forbid yourself to do anything else for a little while.

But if there ain’t a word #1, there’ll never be a #2. Without #2, no #3. Without #3… and so on, all the way to the most exciting two words in any writer’s bag: The End.


* Well, okay, I was also recording it all in the word-processing document.

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  1. I sometimes type nonsense or something related to the wip but which I know will not stay, just to get my fingers moving. It almost always works. Today was my WYAO day, but I think Thursday will work better for me. Guess I’d better go move my little green icon. :)

  2. I have been trying to honor my story a day ritual which is working well for me given the tininess of my stories but it is getting harder and harder to come up with new ones and I have to spend a lot more time free associating crap and doodling before anything concrete or usable comes out. It is definitely taking me longer, two days instead of one, so that I finish one story each day and start another. That’s my new rhythm for the most part, with some exceptions. Different things work for different people but the most important is some kind of commitment to regularly regardless of lack of inspiration.

  3. Sherri: Yes, that’s it for me, too — just get moving, no matter what.

    When I’m working on something long — which now that I think about it, is for me almost anything :) — one of my favorite gimmicks on each succeeding day is to simply retype the final paragraph(s) from the previous one… and then not stopping.

    Squirrel: Right! That’s the other unbreakable rule of mine — routine.

    Compared to the giddy fire-in-the-brain experience of writing when inspired, it seems dull — literally uninspired — to just go through the same motions, at the same time, day after day. But I’ve found that this actually smooths the way for inspiration, encourages it to visit more regularly. It’s like the difference between regularly maintaining a paved, well-lighted runway, ready for whatever flights to arrive from whatever exotic land — vs. keeping that nearby field empty and unplowed just in case an airborne traveler has to make an emergency landing.

    (It also helps to be satisfied with smaller inspirations, like the surprising juxtaposition of two words or phrases. If I’d had to write just for the sake of novel plot twists and such, I’d have quit a long time ago.)

  4. Butt in chair works for me.

    I just have to sometimes accept that not a lot happens on some mornings (I write my @$$ off every morning before 7; kids and a minister for a hubby kind of wrecks weekend writing indulgences).

    I participated in the weekend, got 3800 new words out on two problem scenes, and a heck of a lot of revising.

    Your insight into kicking the muse into action was great, and next time I’m stuck I’ll throw two stranger character together and see what pops out. Sure beats inventing an entirely new one (which I’ve done). More efficient. Peace, Linda

  5. this turned out so, so (not to overuse the word I already overuse, but) awesome. all the people on the map! all the stuff we got done!

    thanks so much for all the coordinating you did, JES!

  6. Linda: Hey, thanks for stopping by to let me know how it went!

    3800 words is pretty darned good if you ask me. Especially for (as you say) a weekend’s output, for anyone in a minister’s family. (A favorite uncle of mine recently retired from the ministry, so I’ve seen what it’s like.) Good job!

    Oh Moonie, shoot — I didn’t coordinate a darned thing. This year’s go-round, success that it was, completely demonstrated to me the power of the moonrat. It was like having this snarling rodent on all our shoulders, urging us on. :)

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