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No Excuses.

Let's talk about that novel that's been in progress for ages, the one you're pretty sure you'll finish someday (especially if it's your first novel but even if it's your twentieth). Let's talk about why it's stalled.

I'm finishing my novel for Lent. For reasons we don't need to get into here (but I did elsewhere, for the curious) I've turned the runup to Easter into my own personal NaNoWriMo. You may remember I said I don't do NaNoWriMo, and I don't -- I've set the word count at a sustainable rate for myself, and I've been able to nail it every day except for the time the school called and said they foresaw an ambulance ride in my son's future. (There wasn't. He's okay.)

What I've realized is not just that I required a swift kick in the pants to get finished, but why I needed it: I was allowing normal problems to derail me. So let's back up a bit. Are you too-easily discouraged?

The problem with being an instinctual writer, the kind of seat-of-the-pants writer who navigates the drafting process via instinct rather than road map, is that sometimes our instincts are wrong. Or rather, as instinctual writers, we believe it should be easy. When it gets hard, we may mistake resignation for a writing pause.

This kind of stall is not just the writer making excuses for not writing. I mean that sometimes we legitimately get derailed, only by something that shouldn't have had that much power over us. Maybe in those cases, it's time to borrow tricks from our more-disciplined outlining and word-counting siblings to clear the hurdles. Maybe that's the time to pull out the yardstick and figure out just how much we should be producing per day. And then produce it. No excuses.

Just after the midpoint of my WIP, the reader needs to know a minor character has realized something vital to the plot. The problem? He's not a POV character. Another problem? He keeps this information to himself. I couldn't figure out how to convey his realization, but I had to because it's going to explain why things start going wrong for my protagonists, and yet no solution I came up with resolved the problem to my satisfaction.

I asked my agent. I ranted at my Patient Husband. I lamented to a friend. I wrote nothing. I wasn't even at that part of the novel, but I stalled.

But once I resolved to write my daily minimum, that scene came up, and when it came up, I had to solve the problem. I had no choice. No more dithering. And while I walked out to get the mail, on the day I needed to solve it -- I found the solution.

It's not just that one scene. I've discovered repeatedly that when I'm forced to solve a problem because the word count demands it and we're at that scene...the solution comes. What's the next scene? I don't know. But that doesn't mean I need to take five weeks to figure it out. It's not going to be any easier to figure it out in May than it is today, right? The pace forces me to settle on a solution and enact it -- today. Otherwise I won't get today's pages done.

That's not to say I haven't revisited those pages the next day to do it better. What I'm saying is that sometimes if you're a SOP writer, the tendency is to say, "The solution will come when it comes."

Maybe instead it's better to get up and stride toward the solution. Because now I'm chugging ahead on the manuscript, and I'm furious at myself for the time I've lost waiting for The Idea Fairy to present the next scene, or a way to convey a third party's information, and so on. 

I still hold to the idea of a literary pause. But not literary laziness. Only the writer can tell the difference.

Here's my suggestion, though. If you've got a work-not-in-progress when it should be, and if your literary pause has lasted longer than a week, pick it up again. Write all the way up to your trouble spot. Force yourself to write through it. If it works, then you're steaming ahead. If it doesn't, then rip out those pages and try another approach. But don't discount the idea of momentum. Sometimes going through the motions does lead to real results.

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Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or ejecting stink bugs from the house. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

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1 comments:

On March 12, 2013 at 12:29 AM , Beth Camp said...

I really liked your discussion of what to do at midpoint. Being a SOP myself, I was heartened by your day-by-day faith and commitment. Write on!