Writing Wednesday: Putting Handles on the Cups
There’s a Writing Rule that says “Write every day, no matter what.” You hear people tout this rule, just like every other Writing Rule, and since I’m dragging myself back into the swing of things after what amounts to a five month hiatus, I thought I’d address it.
Obviously it’s terrible advice.
I mean, yes, if you can write every day, that’s awesome. That’s great! Go for it! Have fun! Write every day! God knows I do when I can. But the idea that you must is as crippling as any other Writing Rule, because reality interferes a great deal and people can rarely write every. single. day.
I think the biggest reason people say that (and even I’ve been known to say it) is that it can be so. hard. to get momentum back, if you haven’t been writing regularly. I’m starting up on REDEEMER now, and honestly I feel like a beached fish, flopping around uncomfortably. I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I have this long synopsis and I look at it and I think “yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah this isn’t even any help *flop flail yuck barf* oh look i could go pick blackberries.”
It’s easier to resist picking blackberries when I’ve got momentum.
It’s not necessarily that the book is going easily and that’s why it’s easier to resist. It’s that I’ve at least got the habit re-established: I’m sitting down and writing now, this is my work time, the berries will be there in a few hours. What I write might be like pulling teeth, but if I’ve got two weeks or two months of that behind me already, I’m in practice.
Right now I am so badly out of practice, and having such a hard time getting myself moving. I just don’ wanna. People tell me all the time I must be very disciplined to write as much as I do. It’s really not discipline. It’s habit, and when the habit’s broken (as it currently is), it’s just as awful for me to get it started again as it is for anybody else.
I’ve heard people say “write every day when you’re working on a particular project” as a way of ameliorating the onus of Writing Daily. I think that’s better advice. Actually, I think it’s great advice except for where it again doesn’t necessarily coincide with reality. But it does help enormously.
It doesn’t, however, actually get you started, so I will tell you
This One Simple TrThese Two Simple Tricks I know to get the writing started when you Don’ Wanna:
1. Turn off the goddamn internet. Use the Freedom internet blocker, or its less draconian sister Anti-Social, put your phone on flight mode or in another room or both, but turn off the goddamn internet and do your work.
2. All you have to do is put the handles on the cups.
This is a trick I learned from a friend who is a potter. When she doesn’t want to go out to pot, she tells herself that all she has to do is put the handles on the cups. It’s a five or ten minute job and then she can be done for the day and she’ll have accomplished something.
The thing is that once the handles are on the cups, she’s out there in the studio, she’s gotten into the groove, she’s working, so she might as well throw a couple bowls while she’s at it. Or a vase. Or glaze the plates. Or whatever.
It’s a total mind game, but it works. Once in a great while, all she does is put the handles on the damn cups and then she’s done…but even if that’s all she does, she’s accomplished *something* for the day, and that’s what she set out to do.
Right now my Scrivener is set up in total handles-on-the-cups mode. I have it set to 250 words as my goal for the day. Given that I currently have like 4 hours to myself every week day and I can normally write something like 4500 words in that time, 250 words is really putting handles on the cups. But I’m pushing toward Hour 3 of My Time right now and all I’ve written is a blog post because I Don’ Wanna, so 250 is at the moment what I’m telling myself is all I have to do.
And the truth is that in a minute here I’m going to turn off my internet and start putting handles on the cups, and I’ll probably come away with a thousand or two words.
So that’s the best trick I know to get writing, folks. Go put the handles on the cups. That’s all you have to do today. Just go put the handles on the cups.
clack clack clack
I find writing when there’s music on to be very difficult, but two things are now working against me:
One, at the moment, I’m huddled in my office working while the landlord and Ted deal with Manly Things (ie, moving heavy objects, cleaning drains, building sheds, etc), and I have the cats locked in here with me. They are slightly less demanding to be LET OUT NOOOOOOOW if there’s music on, possibly because it makes it harder for them to hear the Interesting Things going on outside the office.
Two, and this is more on-going, the netbook (which has indeed been named Enterprise, what with it being an NC model and me having my Captain’s Chair and all) is VERY VERY QUIET compared to the old desktop, and so I find myself in my office all along with nothing but the EXCEEDINGLY LOUD clacking of my fingers against the keyboard. I had not noticed previously that this is an especially loud keyboard, but it is. o.o
(Also, three, I just received the new Jim Byrnes album in the mail, and I wanted to listen to it! However, in order to prevent myself from doing nothing /but/ listening to it, I have been obliged topull all my Jim Byrnes music to the Enterprise and create a shuffled play list, because most of the music’s very familiar to me and it’s slightly easier to write to music I know very well. So mostly I’m only distracted every several songs instead of consistently for forty minutes. :))
So I’m working to music, and it took me about half an hour to get started working because when there’s music playing I /listen/ to it. (Also because I was at the beginning of a chapter I had no idea how to start.) Oi. Anyway, I got started and think I know where I’m going with this, and *maybe* this chapter will turn into one where I can start adding old material back in. Maybe. I’ve written…I don’t know, forty pages? Maybe fifty? Thirty or forty, anyway. Of pretty much all-new material. I swear if my editor’s not happier with this version of the book I’ll fling myself out a window.
Okay, okay, this is just procrastinating at this point. I’d better go back to work.
eta: or I could go furniture shopping, which I have just been given the green light to do… o.o (No, I will work. Tomorrow morning I’ll go shop.)
plod plod plod
I have discovered a new way to make writing less onerous. If one closes one’s eyes while one types, one becomes less concerned about the page count because one can’t see it. This does, mind you, require a pretty flawless ability to touch-type, but that’s one of my L33T SK1LZ, so it’s working out for me. I am not writing fast–the book won’t be finished tomorrow–but I’m doing a chapter a day, which is enough.
I’m also spending way too much time going “well if I wrote 3500 words a day I would be finished with the NEXT book by May 1st if I started writing it right away!” Yes, well, and if I wrote 10K a day I’d be finished before P-Con. One’s more likely than the other, but still, stupid brain.
All right, this is me procrastinating on the AAs, is what this is, so I guess I’ll go back and work on them some more. :p
ytd wordcount: 76,500
ytd km swum: 25.9
miles to Minas Tirith: 85.3
I have spent the entire morning doing fiddly busy work that is not anything like the actual revision work I *should* be doing. It’s good stuff to be doing–arranging the covers for issues 4 & 5 of Chance, interview stuff, a few cemurphy.net updates (still haven’t emailed the FPI guy, the DCC guy, or my letterer; need to do those, though not *this morning*), that kind of thing. But mostly what I’m doing is avoiding revisions.
Which is stupid. They’re not especially hard revisions. They’re mostly rearranging a few sentences, writing a few new ones, striking a few old ones. Detail work. And I get paid when I turn them in. So there is no logical excuse at all for avoiding them. And yet here I am, Not Doing Them.
Humans aren’t too bright.
(Oh, good. Ted’s gotten up, which means I can be a good wife and give him the laptop, which will then leave me with nothing other to do than my stupid work. *drags self off to work*)
why, yes, I am procrastinating
A question from
/comments which allows me to spend a little more time not working on the manuscript right now (I’ve done 100 pages so far today. I have to do at least 50 more. Another 100 would be good, because it would leave me with a bearable amount to do tomorrow, but either way I’ll finish the first revision pass tomorrow):
Though, now I’m curious — is there an average number of times that a manuscript will pass between your agent, editor and self? I never really thought about an editorial review process including a literary agent before, but there’s the obvious sense of having someone review it while keeping the marketability of a book or series first and foremost in mind.
So, is there some system of when you reach a given word count, review due date, or some other milestone — such as a hair-pulling e-mail “OMG, I am stuck — I know this should read better, please help me?!?!” Or some combination of all three, or something else altogether…
It’s exceedingly rare that I get a manuscript to
/my agent before it goes to my editor as well. HEART OF STONE did, though. I wrote the original manuscript in 2003, and rewrote it heavily before sending it to Jenn at the end of 2004. Jenn read (what was to her the original version) and said, “Revise this heavily and make it more *you*. Cut a hundred pages!” I did. I sent it back. She said, “Good! Now cut about 30 pages from the first 100 and we’ll really be on to something!” I did. She said, “Good!” and we sent it to Harlequin. My editor said, “Ooh, we like this, but we’re not sure how to sell it. Can you rewrite it completely and revise the series to have Actual Sex in it?”
The end result, after four *major* revisions, is a book in which everything is completely different from the original manuscript except the story. That was by far the most difficult and involved revision process I’ve ever gone through, including the revision for HOUSE OF CARDS, which saw me get the revision letter, throw out two thirds of the manuscript, and rewrite the third that was left. My editor didn’t actually say that’s what needed to be done, mind you, and neither did Jenn. My editor just said, “Look at these six things,” and the only way to fix them was to throw most of the book out and rewrite what was left.
The third book in that series, HANDS OF FLAME (out now!) took six major rewrites before I got past page 300, but that wasn’t at editor request. I just couldn’t get the story right. (I finally did, and I’m really happy with it, but God.) I actually had a complete breakdown writing that book which involved sobbing all over my poor husband and begging him to read the manuscript to tell me if I’d gone horribly wrong. He didn’t think I had, but I can’t remember if that was during the 5th or the 6th rewrite, between which I dropped a character I really liked from the book because the story just would not work with her in it.
In fact, I don’t thiiiiiink I’ve flung myself on either my editor or my agent with the “OMG THIS IS NOT WORKING HELP ME I AM SO SCREWED” stage of the book. (Jenn? Have I? I might’ve once, but I think I get neurotic about other things at you…) I fling myself on Ted. I fling myself on Trent. I fling myself on Deborah and Rob and Lisa (in fact, I touched on this at Magical Words a couple of weeks ago) and sometimes on other people in chat rooms, so they’re usually the people who get the “this isn’t working” stage. (They get specifics, more accurately. LJ gets me snarling and swearing about generalities.)
More typically my own process is to go through about three rewrites while getting to the end of the book, so by the time I actually complete a draft I usually think it’s pretty solid. I send it off to Jenn and whichever editor it’s due to, and get back letters of commentary/revision from both of them. When I’ve got both, I sit down to revise, and after a while turn the manuscript in again. Usually at this stage (sometimes at the next one) I fix the end of the book, which I’ve almost always reached with a pathetic last gasp without having really nailed what I want to do with it.
The next stage of feedback is copy edits. They’re usually much smaller changes than the actual Revision Letter Stage, though they almost always involve some degree of rewriting.
The last stage is the galleys or author alterations, which is the last time you see the book before publication. Ideally this doesn’t actually come with any editorial commentary, because at this stage, in theory the book is flawless and needs no correction other than weird typos. In reality, ahahahahaha. You’re not *supposed* to do much rewriting at that point. Whether you do or not depends on many factors.
I have yet (thank God) to turn in a manuscript, get and do revisions, and have it come back to me with a “No, this still needs work” letter. So generally there are two stages of editorial input once the manuscript’s turned in, and it’s almost always annoyingly insightful, accurate and helpful. :)