When writing isn’t writing

Fox, surely you should just be writing. Wasn't that the whole point? It's been weeks. Months. What's with all this 'plotting' business?

I wish I was joyfully tapping the keys. As I move further into the second half of the saga, I'm feeling somewhat staggered by the weight of it, in that it's no longer all new fun stuff, but heavy plot and tying threads together to reach the finale. I remember writing short stories, or even the first and second novels, and approaching the end with a feeling like I was juggling all the balls furiously, keeping it balanced in my head, and I just had to hold it all there until I could get the words out.

It was quite exhilarating. Not to mention rewarding when I finally had the balls land neatly in a pile.

With the workload of a six-book story, the balls eventually catch fire from the constant movement and handling friction. Now I'm juggling about a hundred of them instead of four or five, I've dropped a few so the office is on fire too, and I'm in danger of going down in an avalanche of fiery metaphorical story-balls.

I realised (thankfully before I burned all my manuscripts in the story-ball fire) that I can't do it by furiously writing to the end with all the ideas coalescing in my head. Not unless I can find a means of staying awake typing nonstop for several days/weeks/maybe months in a row, and if you think I write some nonsense now, you should see me after an 18-hour day.

(Actually, don't, no one needs that, give me a cup of peppermint tea and send me to bed.)

My first reaction to finding that I can't just charge for the finish line on a project this big was that maybe I didn't have what it takes.

If I was staggered before, I'm crushed after this thought. To come so far, and give up so soon?

No.

After a bit of a cry and some sorrowful moping around the internet at 2am, I decided that yes, maybe I had taken on a lot, but I was damn well going to figure it out.

That was some months ago. I've done a lot of study. I've spent a lot of time figuring out an actual system to organise my ideas. I'm learning to trust that making something (hopefully) big and important is a process of discovery and rediscovery, not a magical stroke of inspiration. There is a limit to the number of balls I can juggle. I'm finding that limit, then finding some other way of being creative with them. Two steps back. One forward. Two more back. Then, some days, five forward. A five-step day feels miraculous, but it's not. It's the product of all those wallowing days of being mired in the mess of planning something that, at the end, has to look like it was effortless.

Art is hard work. Anything meaningful is. If you're trying to do something big and important – whatever it may be – and finding yourself staring into the jaws of the beast wondering if it's about to swallow you, know you're not alone.

Here's where you probably expect me to say something inspirational, like you can beat the beast! You've got the wiles and the weapons and the tools to slay it and pursue your thing…

Er, not quite.

Let it swallow you. It'll spit you back out when it finds you're made of tougher stuff.

For me, at least, it's not worth the effort to fight the process; it's a war I never win, and it sucks up all my energy while my creative pursuits go unpursued. Far better to make friends with these beasts, which is probably how I end up with Chris the Couch-Sloth of Plotting and Phanta the Phoenix of Pantsing arguing in my head. The trick, of course, is to make sure I don't waste the time spent sloshing about in the stomach of a sharp-clawed writing-cat-beast because it's a smelly place to be, and the beast won't spit me out until I have an idea that is bigger than it.

It's time spent digging deep and figuring out how to take the next step. And learning that sometimes – no, often – any step is a good next step. Even if it's backwards. After all, if you're in the stomach of something, going back the way you came is probably the preferred passage out… I'll stop there before this devolves into something truly terrible for everyone.

The good news is I made some significant progress once I stopped fighting the process, acknowledged that what I'm trying to do is not easy and gave myself permission to feel (very) intimidated. May you outlast all your beasts and have that miraculous five-step day!

Leave a Reply