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“The Process of Writing a Novel” by Maureen McHugh
(via Austin Kleon)
- click for huge -
“The Process of Writing a Novel” by Maureen McHugh
(via Austin Kleon)
I’m tired of making excuses to myself. So in a fit of pique I scribbled out a list of all the reasons I can think of not to write.
These are transcribed exactly how I wrote them, questionable grammar and all.
1. It’s hard.
2. I can’t make a routine because of my shifts @ work.
3. I’ll never make a living at it. (why bother?)
4. My friends are humoring me.
5. I’ll probably get sued.
6. No one reads horror.
7. I’ll never get rich writing e-books.
8. The internet is more fun.
9. I need uninterrupted time and quiet and a thunderstorm or perfect Fall sunlight and…
10. Who do I think I am, anyway?
11. My ideas are stupid and no one has told me.
12. I don’t like to give up other things to make the time.
13. The tax forms are confusing.
14. It’s all been done before.
15. I can’t describe exactly what I see in my head.
16. I’m afraid of cliches.
17. I don’t have a proper editor and am probably making so many mistakes.
18. My office is messy.
19. I want the lifestyle but I don’t want to put in the work — I want it just to happen.
20. My job gets in my way.
21. It’ll just get stolen anyway.
22. There are a million other people doing the same thing as me at the same time as me.
23. I don’t have an English degree.
24. I’m already behind on The Plan.
25. It’s a pain to lug my laptop around.
26. I could write more at work if there was a table in the locker room for me to sit at.
27. I’m not great at networking.
28. I can’t concentrate.
29. What if I actually write a novel then hate it?
30. I’m scared.
Honestly, there are some thoughts on this list that I’m not especially proud of. But I’m glad I wrote it out: the whole list was written in only a couple of minutes, and it felt good to get it out of my system. I figured I’d post it here as a confession of sorts. There must be other (new) authors out there feeling at least some of these things.
Now that I see it in front of me, I can see how ridiculous some of these thoughts are, and how the “obstacles” that seemed so big are really just me being lazy or cowardly or…
Feel free to make whatever comments you’d like on this one: I’m having an introspective Let’s Get Real kind of moment. Do you share any of these feelings? What are your go-to excuses?
I figured out why I was having problems meeting my daily word quotas.
It wasn’t hard enough.
I’m a hugely competitive person, and I tend to only really enjoy things that at first seem insurmountable. Looking back, I think I set my initial word goals too low. I had decided on an arbitrary number, that I knew I could accomplish, so as not to get frustrated and give up.
Instead, the opposite happened: it was too easy to reach my goal, which made my subconscious decide it was not worth doing. Something done by rote becomes boring, and what’s the point of doing something boring?
Way to screw me, Brain.
SO: my solution is to increase the number of words I expect out of myself. I’ve set my new goal at nearly double what it was before, and it seems to be working. Suddenly my brain is processing it as Shit! That’s a lot of words! Better work harder! and the ideas are back. The numbers are back.
Since there’s a worry now that I can’t possibly reach my new goal every day, I have to try harder, which makes me focus more.
My tip of the day: write scared.
“Writer’s Block. It sounds like a fearsome condition, a creative blockage. The end of invention. But what is it, really?
Part of why Writer’s Block sounds so dreadful and insurmountable is the fact that nobody ever takes it apart. People lump several different types of creative problems into one broad category. In fact, there’s no such thing as “Writer’s Block,” and treating a broad range of creative slowdowns as a single ailment just creates something monolithic and huge. Each type of creative slowdown has a different cause — and thus, a different solution.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the terrifying mystique of Writer’s Block, it’s better to take it apart and understand it — and then conquer it.”
Pick someone you loathe.
Come on, everyone has one. Yours could be someone famous, I suppose, whose morals or actions you disagree with. But that’s no fun. I want you to think of someone in your real life that drives you batshit. It could be a family member. A neighbour. That one woman at work whose voice makes you want to pull your own ears off so you can more easily stuff something, anything inside the holes and finally have some blessed silence.
I mean, if you know someone like that, you could use them for this game*.
Okay, so you’ve got your loathee picked out. Your job is to get into his or her head. What do they do at night? What’s their guilty pleasure? What’s in their bank account? How do they view themselves? What’s their secret? Set up shop and poke around a little.
Now experience an obstacle, as your loathee. The plumbing has burst, and there’s a jet of water shooting across the room. The car broke down, and the next paycheque isn’t due til next week. And by the way, that promotion went to someone else.
What does your loathee do? What are they thinking? What’s their mood like? Do they lay blame, and if so, on who?
You can play this game in two ways:
1. For the greater good.
Maybe by imagining what’s going on in this person’s life and thoughts will help you to understand them a little better. Maybe you’ll learn to let old grudges go, to be more accommodating to the quirks and nuances of someone you never much cared for. You’ll better communicate with someone you understand.
2.Sweet, sweet evil.
That weird smell your loathee gives off? That’s because he sacrifices cats by the light of the full mooon: what you’re smelling is singed fur. And the reason she doesn’t listen is because she’s stuffed cork in her ears to compensate for a tragic deformity wherein her brains leak out if she tilts her head (which also explains why she’s so dumb). Run with it, ascribe any horrible fictional trait you like, but base it loosely in fact. Flex your imagination.
But why someone you don’t like?
Picking someone you don’t like gets you outside your comfort zone. It’s easy to imagine someone just like yourself; simply plug in your own ideals and reactions and it’s done. But often the people we don’t like are the people we don’t get. There’s the challenge: you have to get out of your own head before you can get into anyone else’s. (Like, oh, I don’t know…a character? They can’t all act/think/speak just like their authors, if the story is any good.)
(This is the part where writing books would tell you to write this shit down. Why? So you can relive it later? Nuh-uh, this is a GAME, and it won’t be FUN anymore if you make it too much like WORK. Besides, if you play only in your head, you can play in public…this broadens your
target candidate base exponentially. Mwuahahaha.)
Give it a shot, and let me know what you think.
*Why “game”, when most people call it a writing “exercise”? Because one of these things sounds like way more fun than the other, that’s why.
So, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a new project. This one is going to be a collection of short horror stories. Each will be a complete story, able to be read as a stand-alone piece, but the stories themselves share a common theme. I’m planning for this one to be book-length, as opposed to the single shorts I’ve been putting out, and I’m hoping to venture into paper territory (with e-book option, of course).
Pretty exciting stuff.
I’ve had a couple people asking, so I thought I’d throw out a little update on where it’s at:
The first story is complete: drafted, fleshed-out, edited and ready.
It fed into the second story, the one I’m working now, which is almost finished its second draft.
I have plans and loose outlines (the most I ever do) for the other stories, though at this point I’m not entirely certain in which order they will appear in the final work.
I have a firm title that I’m in love with, and some cover ideas.
All in all, if it goes according to schedule, you should see this one available for purchase by end of this summer. Hopefully I’ll be able to bump it up, but as it stands now it’s competing with a commission, so I’m giving myself some extra time just in case.
It’s going to be creepy, and gory, and really, really fun. More to follow; I think you guys will like this one.
I was looking forward to coming home tonight. I had plans to sit outside with my coffee and relax under the stars (which I’m sure are behind that smog…somewhere) and maybe write a little.
Anyway. Cue me walking to my car after work. Cue rain and lightning that makes me afraid to put up my umbrella since I’m not in the mood to die tonight. Everything, everywhere, soaking wet. So much for sitting on the steps.
But it made me think of something really cool I saw a while back. An ingenious paper that lets you write even in torrential downpours. I probably wouldn’t be sitting in a torrential downpour, mind you, but Rite in the Rain would totally work in the shower. Or if you’re a little…shall we say…less graceful than others (not saying that I am or anything), it would save your ass if you dropped your writing notebook in a puddle.
Or in the bath.
Or the toilet.
I always carry an index card in my pocket in case I’m struck with an idea. More than once I’ve lost one to the washing machine. They make waterproof index cards, too. How cool is that?
Hop from one leg to the other while waiting for percolation completion.
Open the cupboard. REAAACH. Grab the big mug, the one meant for soup.
Fill that bad boy up, and lift. Be careful, here, to put your back in to it. Full mugs are heavy.
Now to the stairs! (don’t forget to count the nine steps from the kitchen through the living room)
And climb. And climb. Clench those buttocks! And climb. Where the hell did all these stairs come from? Whose idea was it to buy a house with a million stairs?!
And dowwwwwn the long hallway. And pullllll out your chair.
Shove the cat off. Shove the cat off. Shove the cat off.
Sit. Get back up for notebook. Sit. Get back up for sweater. Sit. Get back up for music.
Return. Shove the cat off.
Crack knuckles. All of them. Maybe go over them a second time, just in case.
Tense muscles, and PUSH thumb drive in. And PUSH. And PUSH. And LIFT laptop and realize you had it in upside down.
Set laptop down. Breathe. Shove the cat off your lap.
And LIFT coffee mug. And LIFT.
Type for exactly fifteen minutes. Realize you left some notes downstairs. Shove the cat off…
Stationery nerds, your attention please: I have obtained the Holy Grail.
My Filofax Malden is here.
With all the time-management I’ve been attempting, I’m hoping this is The Answer. Mine and C’s work schedules, story notes, publication planning…I even bought a four-year-at-a-glance calendar to track my word counts. I’ve always been best with tactile information.
Plus, I’m a big fan of “permanent” things. Smart phones are nice; I have one and (mostly) love it. But if you get a big ol’ scratch on your cell phone, that could be the end of it. Five years from now your cell phone will be embarrassingly obsolete. I wanted something that will only gain character over time. Something made to last. I’m thinking this bad boy will see me through the next decade, at least, and I love the idea of seeing it age and change right along with me.
No rebooting, no charging. Room to doodle. The pleasing smell of leather. The ability to reorganize everything whenever life changes.
I am a very, very content little nerdling right now.