Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 12: The Christmas Spirit

When I don’t start with writing, it gets difficult to squeeze it in during the course of the day. But if I write when I first wake up, even if it’s only a few hundred words, it puts me into the right mindset, and I find myself being drawn back to it time and again. To a certain degree, the writing feels natural, and I don’t have to force myself to put down a few words.

If I don’t get started early, any number of things can happen. It’s easy to get distracted, make excuses, and seek out other forms of entertainment. And the longer that the day progresses, the more of a burden writing becomes. The distance that we put between a task and actually doing it alters our perception of it, making it appear more difficult than it actually is.

Oh, the mind games writers play!

To avoid this pitfall, clear your mind and jump right in. Not only does the act of writing shatter many of the preconceived notions that a writer has (it’s too hard or you don’t enough motivation to do it), you may find that it’s one of your most productive days. Don’t be quick to judge the day before it has unfolded. There’s plenty of time to get back on track and turn things around.

I remember one such day when I was working on my languishing project The Christmas Spirit. I got stuck on a transition where my main character spies a thief at the end of the hall going into an apartment. He follows him inside and, err…ugh! I had established a good rhythm up until this point before grinding to a halt. This was going to be more difficult than the previous 3,000 words and writing description isn’t my strong suit.

But a funny thing happened when I finally sat down and started writing. Although the first few sentences were difficult as expected, once I’d gotten past them, I was able to move the story further along than I imagined. Not only that, the writing was good and didn’t require tons of edits. By showing up to write and taking a shot at it, I was able to break through any mental roadblocks.

Unfortunately, The Christmas Spirit still isn’t done. It’s one of those projects that’s lingered far longer than it should. The original draft was written back in December 2010, during a series of vigorous writing sessions that also produced Literary Dynamite. Although I was pleased with the result, I knew that it needed a lot of work.

A year later, after I’d finally published a few short works, I decided to dust off The Christmas Spirit and do an all-new version. Since the original was 2,000 words, I figured that if I doubled the length or hit 5,000 words I’d be happy. Once I got started, the manuscript kept growing and growing. I surged past 5,000 words in no time and wasn’t close to the finish line. But instead of staying the course, I switched to another project.

When I missed my goal of publishing The Christmas Spirit by December 25, 2011, I was mad at myself. I’d missed the most important holiday of the year and had the perfect product for it! I didn’t get back to it until the following summer, determined not to miss another Christmas. After reading over what I’d written, I decided to edit what I had and push the story forward. But this time, progress was very slow. Every paragraph felt like a mountain, and hours dragged by with getting little done. When I finally admitted that I wasn’t being productive, I switched projects yet again.

It wasn’t until December 2012 that I begin working on it seriously. Despite all of the time and energy that I had invested into the project, it was still moving at a snail’s pace. Finally, I gave up. Too many other projects demanded my attention. If I couldn’t be productive, I’d try my luck on something else.

Then I had a change of heart. In early 2013, I vowed to make one last attempt to get The Christmas Spirit done. I set up a blog and began posting what I’d done, bit-by-bit. This proved to be beneficial since I hadn’t broken up the story yet. By concentrating on each chapter, I zeroed in on what I was trying to accomplish and moved on. I did this for a while until the first ten chapters were up, the last one giving me plenty of trouble.

Then fresh doubt set in. Something was off, I knew it. Not only was it off, I felt that the monster that I had created was mortally wounded. The beginning had been promising, but now it had gone down the tubes. It stunk, in fact. I was no longer laughing at the ridiculous things that my main character was doing. He was annoying, and I was just trying to find the end so that I could put it out of its misery. Rather than pushing forward with a half-hearted effort, again I took a break.

September would be the last time I worked on it in 2013. Afterwards, I didn’t want to see it again. It was going to take a minor miracle to get it done.

But I’m not a quitter, am I? I’ve encouraged many authors not to give up. So why was I? Everyone starts a project for a certain reason. You owe it to yourself to see it through. Don’t throw away your effort. Collect yourself and try again!

Many pulp fiction writers would disagree with this assertion. Georges Simenon famously discarded everything he’d written if he’d stopped writing for more than 48 hours. It didn’t matter if he was nearing the end—once the spell was broken, he couldn’t rekindle the passion to finish it off. Considering that Simenon wrote in excess of 500 books in his lifetime, he certainly knew what he was doing. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to toss a project every now and then that’s causing problems rather than let them pile up like I have.

But there’s a lot that can be gleaned from Simenon’s stance. I stopped too early, thus breaking the spell. Once I got going again, I introduced editing into the process too soon. And once you begin to edit, look out! You’ll always be searching for the perfect turn of phrase before moving on. Don’t be surprised if your pace slows to a crawl.

Lack of discipline is my real problem. If I had worked a little on it each day, The Christmas Spirit would be done. Knowing this, I decided to revisit it two days ago. If I could produce 250 words per day—merely a page—I could finally put The Christmas Spirit to rest.

On Friday I read the first twelve chapters, tweaking here and there (I couldn’t resist). Afterwards, I worked on the thirteenth unpublished chapter, which was better than I had remembered. Surprisingly, I even liked it. With a little work, I polished off chapter 13, posted it, and then decided that was enough for the day.

When Saturday rolled around, I took another stab at The Christmas Spirit. I read chapter 13 again, made a few more tweaks, and then started writing the next chapter. Again I was confronted by the same question, “What should I write next?” You see, just ahead in the same document I have pages of notes that I’m incorporating into the final act of the story. There are some real gems mixed in with horrible writing and none of it’s organized. Rather then bumble my way through another chapter, I took aim at the notes.

It took me a while to get through them, and I found myself adding to them just as much as I was trimming the fat. Although I had added quite a bit of new content, I couldn’t say for sure how much I’d written. All I knew was that I had righted the ship and finally organized the project. That’s not to say the writing is going to be a piece of cake from here on out. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s not to underestimate a task. At least I couldn’t blame my lack of organization anymore.

By working on the notes, I also got a good idea of how much is left. Originally I thought I could wrap it up in a couple thousand words, but that’s no longer the case. There are three sequences left (this I know for sure), and it will be another 3,000 – 5,000 words before it’s all done. Since I have 9,100 already, that means I have about two thirds of the story.

I’m close. Very close.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much is left. As long as I make a little progress each day, it’ll get done. That’s all I can ask at this point. There will come a day when everything snaps into place and I sprint towards the end. But I’ll take it slowly for now. It’s given me so many problems, the best way to defeat it is with patience.

It’s too bad that I didn’t write the story in its entirety while it was still hot in my head. Life happens, and it’s easy to get out of sync. It’s not in my best interest to be writing the same thing months or even years later. Six weeks should be enough; otherwise, I’ll start dreaming about writing something else. Anything, even these journals.

Wait a minute. What?!

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Day 10: 1,038 words
Day 11: 1,560 words
Day 12: 1,601 words
Total: 16,036 words

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