Kay: Finishing the Book

Woman_at_workcropIn this year of My Big Slump, I’ve been thinking that for the last several months, when writing could have helped me, I didn’t write very much. And what I did write, I didn’t much like.

Usually I find that any writing is better than no writing. I like to edit, so I’m fine to rework something until I’m happy with it. Nora Roberts has famously said that the key to her success is putting her butt in the chair. And she’s right—if you don’t sit down and write your book, it won’t get written. There’s no substitute for hard work. You have to get in front of your screen and focus—on your scene, your characters, the plot, and what you want to get done in the time you have today, right now.

Keeping that focus is difficult—the internet is distracting, we need more coffee, the kids are screaming, the dog wants to go out. And if you’re in a slump, everything you write sounds stupid, and you can’t see how to make it better.

But if you keep at it, your book will get better, and it will get finished. Back in February, I found some research that showed that people who worked longer trying to solve a problem found more creative solutions. This has been my plan for the last few months—if I just keep working at it, if I just put my butt in the chair every day, eventually the book won’t sound stupid. And I’ll finish it.

How can I make sure that I progress every day? Here’s my plan:

  • Write for three hours every day, or until I have 500 new words, whichever comes first. (Three hours seems like a long time, but that manuscript is a hot mess. It needs cutting, it needs rearranging, and it needs gaps to be filled and scenes to be written. Getting 500 new words in there in a way that makes sense takes three hours, believe me.)
  • Limit distractions. I won’t turn on the internet until my word count is reached.
  • Use time wisely. If I turn on the internet during my writing time, the time must be spent productively: in fact checking or looking for and reading material that’s necessary for the book.
  • Establish a routine. Right now I’m writing first thing in the morning, and that’s been working. I’m sticking with it.
  • Have fun. I want to replenish the creative well, which has been a bit dry lately. This week, I have a museum visit, a massage, a play, and a boat ride planned. Even if I don’t do that much every week, getting out there and stocking up experiences will boost creativity.

What do you do to stay on track?

6 thoughts on “Kay: Finishing the Book

  1. I like your plan, Kay!

    I’m having a mini-slump, because – as Nancy described it last week – I’m trying to eat an elephant, or at least think about eating an elephant, and I’m getting daunted. My elephant is a six-book series – there’s a lot I don’t know about the future books yet, and I’m feeling as though the missing details are terribly important to my current story, so my characters don’t have the depth they should and my pages suck. I’m still working on the first draft of the first book, so *doh!* of course they suck.

    This is a timely reminder to stop obsessing about the big picture and concentrate on taking the next small step. Thank you!

    • I sympathize with your mini-slump, Jilly, because not knowing where you’re going or what your characters want to do is a very uncomfortable feeling. I hesitate to offer any thoughts because I’m not in a position to sound like I know what I’m talking about, but here I go anyway: remember how Joss Whedon said he gave his characters as little background as possible because he never knew what they’d want to do later? Maybe you could think of your own people that way—they, too, will arc over time, changing as they take action against new threat. Maybe just knowing broad strokes of what happens six books from now could be enough. I don’t know; just a thought.

      • Now I’ll play devil’s advocate…I’m currently reading Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story, which takes the exact opposite view. She postulates that too little knowledge of characters’ backstories can lead to stories with too much plot emphasis and not enough feeling (the thing that really hooks readers). Since over-plotting and lack of emotional impact are hallmarks of my own writing, I’m going to try her approach, which is to take time to really excavate backstory before worrying about plot. Not everything that ever happened to the characters, mind you. In fact, she eschews the type of character worksheets that insist you know the protag’s favorite color and dessert, unless they are germane to the story. But she recommends figuring out the the ‘psychic wound’ (she does not use that term) and surrounding issues that will influence how and why characters will react when placed under pressure.

        Many roads to Oz, and all that, but I’m trying to switch up my process a bit and follow some of her advice. I’ve had the Women’s Fiction book I wrote for our McD class at the front of my brain for the past few months, and boy howdy did I miss the emotion mark on that one. So I’m going to apply some of Cron’s techniques and see if it helps me fix something – anything! – on that manuscript. Just thought I’d toss it out there as food for thought.

  2. I’ve discovered (okay, my annoyed spouse may have pointed out) that, somewhere around page 100, I hate every book I write.

    A couple of weeks ago, I hit that point in the Contemporary I’ve been working on. Suddenly, it sucked and I couldn’t stand to write another word. I picked up the paranormal I abandoned in March? April? and started working on it again. Lo and behold, it wasn’t nearly as awful as I thought when I put it down. (Hoping the same pixie dust prevails when I pick the Contemporary back up.)

    So, for me, having projects I can switch off between seems to help.

  3. I’m beginning to think I may have problems with depression. I’m not sad or anything. I’m just profoundly unmotivated too much of the time. I think I’m going to have to put some sort of plan into place to deal with that — music, good food, change of scenery, and writing when I’m well-rested. I’d like to be back in the good place I was earlier this year.

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