Sunday, October 23, 2011

ROW80 Check-in, Low-Hanging Fruit, and Weekly Preview

It was a tough week for ROW80, and I fell about 45 minutes short of my 600 minutes for the week. Still, I'm happy with the progress, and I'm in a good position for next week.

Wednesday Day 17 - 0 words. This was a day off.

Thursday Day 18 - 96 minutes. More blogging than I meant to do, because of that great post on Kris Rusch's blog.

Friday Day 19 - 66 minutes. Today was a day job nightmare -- no sleep, too rushed and groggy for breakfast, got to work and the student aide had called in sick, and there was no one available for back up. So I was stuck at the window all day, no way to get lunch, and had to run around doing things I really didn't know how to do. I had pudding and a pack of crackers. And it's monthly migraine week, so by the end of the day I was not only low on blood-sugar, energy and sanity, but I couldn't see well, either. A Big Mac Meal, extra strength Tylenol, and listening to a bunch of rock and roll cured most of it.

I would have got more done, but I saw on Twitter that Pete Seeger had arrived at Occupy Wall Street, and with the assistance of two canes was leading a midnight march to Columbus Circle -- where he and his grandson's band held a mini-concert -- all on a jerky jumpy picture on livestream. Ninety-two years old. I wish my dad had lived to see this.

Saturday Day 20 - 156 minutes. Some very good work today. Even though today was booked up and busy.

Picking the Low Hanging Fruit

For those of you getting ready to start NaNoWriMo, a couple words about when the going gets tough.

This was a tough week for me. The third week of a dare often is. (Okay, any week can be the tough one. That's just how it is.) Momentum helps you get through that tough slog. But sometimes the slog just beats that momentum right down.

One really great way to restore the momentum is to jump over the tough stuff. If the going gets tough, skip it! Jump to something easier for a while. As they say: Pick the low hanging fruit to get yourself up to speed again.

For instance, I've been pressing really hard on the trickiest part of my book, right at a time when real life issues have come around to sap my energy and time; and I've been slowly losing momentum. I had been going strong enough to carry me through, but that energy had trickled away by Wednesday.

So on Thursday night, I jumped completely out of what I was doing:

I noticed that the main document of my manuscript did not have any of the scenes I'd written for the last chapter. I wrote them in their own documents -- mostly notes and dialog -- but I hadn't decided yet how to deal with location, so I didn't put them in the manuscript. (One part of the scene would be great in one location, and another part in a different location. Should I choose one or the other, or should I find a way to split the scene?)

So on Thursday, I gathered up the notes and stuck them in the document. I didn't worry about location. I just wanted the dialog and scene structure nailed down. Then I jumped to a random scene someplace else, and started correcting for changes in the mystery solution. And another random scene.

I just skimmed my way across the story -- especially the parts I hadn't looked at in a while -- to find anything I could do right now, even while groggy from that migraine.

And in the course of doing that, I've discovered spots which I thought were further along, but actually just needed a fresh brain -- a brain which hadn't looked at them in a while. And now my brain, me and myself are all happy.

It's refreshing, that's what it is.

If you're not working on a mature manuscript, like I am now, so you don't have old bits to go over, you can still do something similar. When you're facing a blank page, you don't have to write in chronological order. Better yet, you don't even have to completely give up on chronological order either. You can just be more flexible as to what your idea of a "note" is.

So a scene is giving you trouble, and hammering at it hasn't helped. You don't want your brain to practice hammering at things that don't work. You want to give it some free rein: so stop trying to write the full out scene. Write a place holder if necessary. (Like this.) And then start in on the next scene, or even pause to write snippets of scenes you know are coming up later. A description of the villain's sneer, the chase through the alley, the moment where the kiss almost happens but then doesn't.

Even if you are a pantser, I'll betcha you have small images of things you know will come up ahead.

So when you're stuck, indulge in the gathering of some low-hanging fruit to get your momentum back. What you may find is that once you've done that, you have the momentum to go back and address the tough part.

One thing you don't want to do when the going gets tough, though, is to spin your wheels.

That's when you get excited about something you're writing, and then your mind starts racing faster than you can write, and you stop writing and just indulge in thinking about the scene or whatever. We all do that a little, but be careful. You can lose a lot of great ideas by expressing them in your head only. You think you'll never forget this shining moment of creativity -- but sometimes you will lose the spark as soon as you spin through that creative moment.

When writing is slower than your brain, you either have to slow your brain down, or get good at taking notes. Sometimes skipping ahead works here too. You distract your brain from overthinking by giving it something else to do. The problem with that, though, is that you need to get down any good ideas you already have before you jump away. It's something I do only when I realize I'm losing ideas anyway, and so I might as well stop my brain from throwing more ideas out there.

Preview of Coming Attractions

I said I was going to start a series to which I give the intentionally controversial title "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Editors!" What I want to talk about is likely not what you expect. And it takes a different perspective than I've seen out there, so I hope to bring something new to you. It's a big subject -- part of being an attempt to look at a bigger picture than all of publishing -- and I find it very hard to latch onto that first bite.

So I'm going to ease into it on Thursday with a reprint of an article I wrote for a blog on SEO publishing with eHow. I just stumbled across it recently, and it really seemed to mesh with a lot of what is going on in indie publishing today.

  • Monday: "Power is Better Than Love" flash fiction
  • Tuesday: Story Notes for "Power is Better Than Love."
  • Wednesday: ROW80 check in
  • Thursday: Editorial Standards, Pulp Fiction, and eHow.

See you in the funny papers.


a said...

The picking low-hanging fruit part: yes, this does work. But, as you note, there are risks and you still have to exert discipline to ensure you don't spin your wheels, get off track, totally forget the brilliant idea which occurred to you while making the sandwich you didn't really need, but figured you might as well make now, because you're stuck anyhow, and might as well have lunch. You get the drift.

[The risk to which I referred is very real. You can end up at the nine-tenths point of NANO with a 60K word MS and a 40K word MS, both of which still demand the heavy lifting of the climax and resolution. Been there! Yes, I know Heinlein's rules. It's true, the difference between a writer and a wannabe author is all stated therein.]

It's amazing how many other situations map to the current mess in publishing. I'm looking forward to the application of the SEO blog post!

The Daring Novelist said...

Or for me, it's not so much that one idea comes while I'm making a sandwich and then I go eat dinner, but rather, that the idea comes, I stand thunderstruck with my peanut butter knife in hand, and then I just let the whole dang idea play out to completion IN MY HEAD. And also six variants of it. And that other idea.

Then I eat my sandwich and then I pull out paper to take notes, and I don't have the gist of the idea any more. Gah! (This is why I have paper and pencils everywhere.)