I wrote 202 words so far this morning, while ostensibly Not Writing. And it's all stuff I like, full of the sort of character detail I feel was been missing from the book so far.
I kept telling myself, don't worry, you can go back and put it in later. Just write the damned thing. And it all felt rather thin and hopeless and contrived, rather than something that was naturally growing out of what the characters wanted and needed.
And I think I've figured something out, honestly. Which is one of the things I'm doing wrong, in terms of not respecting my process, and buying into other people's fiats about How Writing Is Done rather than, you know, sticking to what works for me and always has.
I think the problem dates back to 2006, actually, and when I was both working full-time and trying to write Undertow (fondly known around the house as Undertoad, and if you are picturing a frog in a cape with a U on his chest and a secret compartment in his ring he fills/with an Undertoad super energy pill!, I bet you're about my age). As you can imagine, getting that book written in under half a year under those circumstances about killed me. But I did it, and it was done.
Then, later that year, I finished New Amsterdam under unrelenting deadline pressure, and then--fast forward to winter of 2007, when I got to write Dust on an even more unforgiving schedule. (In here, I also managed to finish All the Windwracked Stars and By the Mountain Bound, but both of those were well ahead of schedule, and I did not get stressed out about them.)
Anyway, this year there's been a bunch of short stories, novelettes, and novellas written to tight deadline, some of them coming right down to the wire. Some of those include Seven for a Secret, The Red in the Sky is Our Blood, and The Tricks of London. Also, I've been working on Shadow Unit, which is comprised of six people who like to work right up to deadline... and me. Who is not happy unless everything is squared away four months in advance of when it's needed. I'm sort of notorious with my editors for handing in the option novel the day they accept the last book of the previous contract, actually....
So I've been forcing myself to do unnatural things. Or, I should say, things that are unnatural for my creativity. By nature, for example, I'm a putterer. I sit down with my file, I poke at it, I write 200 words, I wander away and go play Bejeweled for a while until I think up what happens next, I come back and write another 400 words... sometimes, when I am consumed by an inspiration, I write an entire novella in a weekened--or a week. (I wrote "This Tragic Glass" in two days. I wrote "Lucifugous" in a week.)
But that's rare for me. I don't have consistent 2K or 3K days unless I am in the homestretch of a story, and I already know everything that happens and it's just a matter of getting it on paper.
Usually what happens is I write a bit, I come back, I write a bit more, I put it away for a while, I come back and write a little further. This is why I often have multiple projects going at once, or novels with fifty or a hundred pages written sitting there waiting for me to get back to them one of these days.
In other words, my work habits as a writer are everything they (you know Them? The Creativity Police?) tell you not to do.
And since 2006, I've been trying to do it "right." Sit down for four hours a day, or eight, and write straight through. Work on the project that's under deadline--usually a tight one. Write in a linear fashion, get the draft done, push through, and then go back and fix things later. Get myself in situations where editors (rightfully so: editors have deadlines too!) are pressuring me to hand in work before I feel like it's ready.
And as a direct result, I've been miserable. Miserable with my work, often unsatisfied with the quality of it--in the sense of, if I had been able to put that draft away and come back to it six months later to revise, it would be a much richer and more well-developed story, not in the sense of I don't think it's any good. But I think some of it could have been better if I'd had more time to work it over. Because my stories tend to be constructed by, you know, my brain, I find that often they require me to add a lot of linearity, surface narrative, and patency to make them accessible to other people.
Anybody who has read my Criminal Minds posts is probably intimately aware of the fact that my brain processes narrative through the meta first and the text second, and that really does not work out so well for most readers: my revision process is mostly composed of going through painstakingly and making sure that there are deductive links between ideas as well as inductive ones. Yeah, you guys laugh. I know I'm famously obscure. You should ask truepenny or stillnotbored how much sense my stories make before I go through an explain everything in great and painstaking detail that I can't imagine anybody would want to read.
So what I'm discovering is that, for me, "doing it right" is doing it wrong. I need my deadlines at comfortable remove: I can't work with them breathing down my neck. I need to be able to putter and poke at things and get up and wander around and let my brain whirr on the hamster wheel rather than attempting to be disciplined and productive. I need to not ever let myself get to the point where an editor is doing a potty dance for a story, because it freaks me out but bigtime, and once the guilt and stress and OMG I HAVE TO FINISH NAO piles up, my work pace slows to a crawl, I become stressed out and avoidant, and I flame out all over the place while trying to force myself to just work on the important thing, for crying out loud.
In short, I work like shit under pressure.
Take the pressure off, and I produce like the deadline is tomorrow and I am racing to fill it.
And I think what's happened is I've allowed myself to get caught up in the general habits of writer society, to some degree--the OMG DEADLINE WORK WORK WORK Nanowrimo word-racy thing, when really what I need is more of a death-mosey. Quotas are bad for me, because if I set one, I will kill myself trying to reach it, rather than writing the story I have as it develops for me.
Now, I do not recommend anybody else adopt my work habits. As I've said elsewhere, I'm the poster child for how not to finish a book. Except for me, somehow, it works*, and in fact it works better than focusing down and thinking hard and setting stringent quotas.
Because if I try to do that, my brain starts throwing diva fits about how it can't WORK under these CONDITIONS!, and it's death spiral city. And dude, if I don't protect my creative process, the cat starves.
Which reminds me. Coffee break's over. Back on my head.
*(I think maybe it works so well for me because I get so much real joy out of finishing things. My serotonin reward comes when I type "the end." So I do not twiddle endlessly with commas and sentences once something is finished, because it's finished, and I am glad to see the back of it. No, I also do not have the typical writer problem of having trouble releasing.)