I love lists. I always have. It started when I was a kid creating massive “creative” lists of names for horses with my friend Cece. That then turned to names for creatures/characters in the books I tried to write in middle school, and eventually graduated to normal adult To Do lists including chores, groceries, and not forgetting simple things.
I’ve got several MS projects in the works, and now that most of the writing is “done,” I need to start focusing on other aspects of writing. I need critique partners, MS swaps, query help, agent names, the list goes on and on. Going back to my roots in list making, I made one on a little piece of paper. It was great, some small things to make me feel like I accomplished something (who doesn’t love crossing things off a list?), big picture things to work towards, smaller projects to tinker with to keep the creative juices going. Awesome, right?
Then I lost it.
Sure, it wasn’t hard to remember all those things, but after I lost my list I felt the need to create a new list before I could get anything done. (#Procrastination)
Guess what happened to that list?
Then I decided what I needed to do was simple: get a post-it note app for my laptop. Handwriting is soooo much more satisfying (again, crossing things off is the best adrenaline rush), but my ability to loose things defeated the purpose of having a list.
Honestly, why didn’t I do this weeks ago? When I open my laptop, BAM, the list is staring at me, judging me, telling me to do things. It’s a little thing, but I’ve already crossed something off this morning. If it works, go right ahead and do it, no matter how simple or silly you think it is.
What is on your list?
I was raised as an only child, and that combined with being the youngest grandchild in the family makes me sometimes want attention! Because of this I’m usually too eager to share my works in progress (WIP) with others. I enjoy being critiqued because a lot of the time there are large sections that people enjoy, and it makes me happy to hear that. (What writer doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy when someone likes their writing?) I’ve gotten better at being “selfish” with my WIP and waiting until I’m totally in love with the project before I open it up to my family or my critique group. However, for the first time in a long time, I’m nervous about critique.
I’m proud of this YA project, but for once I’m hesitant to get critique. I want this book to do well, and while I’m excited about my concept, I am battling with a lingering fear of rejection. I’ve been trying to get one of my MG books published and I’ve taken a break because of the rejections. Now that I have another WIP I think can succeed, I’m nervous others won’t feel the same way.
What if the drama feels forced?
What if my characters are not believable?
What if people like the concept but hate the writing?
Writing, like all art, takes courage. It’s risky letting others read your work, regardless if it’s family or a stranger I met on SCBWI. Family may be kind, but the people I let read my WIP are honest despite their bias. I can take critique, all of my novels have gone through MASSIVE overhauls because of the advice given by different people. The books always turn out better than they started. There will always be people who don’t like the book and that’s okay, but if everyone I show the book to sees that it’s not working then what do I do? For once, I’m having a hard time (as Stephen King so eloquently wrote) “murdering my darlings.”
In a few weeks I will have to let the outside world in. The MS has gone through 3 drafts, is likely as complete as I can make it on my own, and needs some other eyes on it. For now I’m still tinkering in case I catch a big problem before someone else does. I’m sharing this MS at the end of the month with my aunt who is also a writer, reader, and artist herself. I look forward to her critique, reminding myself that all my MSs are better after others read them…although a big part of me still wants to hold my darling close!
So I’ve let my most recently finished draft sit, untouched, for 8 weeks. I know King said to let it sit for 3 months, but I feel it’s been enough time to kind of “forget” the MS and come back to it fresh. However, I’m having a lot of trouble with the next step.
King’s ideal theory is to sit and read the whole MS in one sitting and make no corrections, unless they are minute grammar ones. I am finding this impossible. Once I focus, I feel I do get a lot done. However, I cannot just sit and read this MS. Yesterday I spent a couple hours reading AND editing about 1/3 of the MS. In the moment, it feels good to make these corrections and additions, especially since this MS is on the short side, even for YA. Yet it is frustrating when I cannot let go of old habits and try a new technique.
I understand why King says to just read the darn thing and not touch it. I’ve never read the MS as a whole. I’ve worked at it as we all do, in writing or editing small chapters at a time. While I am spending time with the whole project, it’s difficult for me to sit back and read it like an actual book and not a work in progress. I may be able to do this once it’s closer to a final draft, yet even then I know I will keep fussing and touching it up.
I know a part of this “issue” is habit. I’m used to having a limit time frame to write, (30-90 minutes during nap time when nannying) and I’m also used to reading and editing other people’s works in my critique group. The majority of my experience is fixing and writing in short spurts, and I my lack of attention span is painfully clear. Even on days, like today, when I am not at work I’m having trouble focusing on the project at hand.
All people are different and have methods of writing and editing that work. I’m not saying this method is horrible and awful and shouldn’t be done, I just think I need practice and help with improving my focus for times like these when I do have a whole day to focus on a MS. Procrastination is real, and the internet is NOT helpful. (I’m even writing this blog when I should be reading my MS.)
For those of you both old and new to writing, what are some techniques you use to battle against procrastination and improve your focus to the craft? I know many of us struggle with this, so advice and techniques that work are always welcome ideas to consider!
The past 6 weeks I have been looking for a new job. My current position ended unexpectedly, but my employers did give me plenty of time to search for a new position. However, finding time to write with the mental turmoil of job-loss and job-searching has been difficult.
There is a huge trend/stigma/insert-favorite-term-here that the suffering artist produces the best work. For me, the “suffering” writer is a basket case who can’t focus on reading a PB, never mind writing a novel. For me, my anxiety made it much harder to connect with my stories and characters. Even the characters in my depressed, emotional YA novel I avoided. Writing sad made me sad, and writing happy was impossible since I couldn’t find it myself.
My writing hiatus made me recognize that my anxiety was out of control, and I did find help. I’m not afraid or ashamed to say I have a therapist and I went back on my anti-anxiety medication. Many of my friends who are literary/visual/musical artists also struggle with mental illness and have found relief in reaching out. Asking for help doesn’t mean I was suicidal or crazy or so depressed I couldn’t move. For me, my meds help me deal with day-to-day anxiety and make working and enjoying my life easier. It’s like wearing glasses. Sure, I could wander around squinting, never drive, and be unable to read things farther than 2 feet away, but why would I do that if there’s a better solution?
This blog is turning into a plug for mental health awareness and I’m totally okay with that. As artists, we all function on different levels of anxiety and stress. Some stress is important. It keeps us working to make deadlines and push ourselves to be better writers/musicians/visual artists. However, if stress and anxiety is prohibiting you from making good art, something is wrong. For me, I do not know if I will be on my meds for the long-term (side effects are real and annoying and affect day-to-day life) but for this transition it has helped. I’m sleeping and eating again, and I’m writing. I’m still stressed because looking for work isn’t fun no matter who you are, but even if I’m editing a couple chapters a day it’s more than avoiding it all together.
Taking a break is valid and healthy for those of us who have been working a lot and need to not think for a while. Listen to yourself. It’s okay to ask for help from friends, family, doctors, and professionals. Artists don’t need to struggle to make beautiful, meaningful, important art. We can be happy. We should be happy.