19 August 2013

Lessons Learned

Jan GrapeLawrence Block wrote an excellent article on procrastination in his book, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit. The book is a collection of the columns Mr. Block wrote for Writer's Digest. In the article he talks about Creative Procrastination, the time we sometimes spend doing things other than writing. Not always, but often that time is really when our subconscious works on our story. Yes, really. Of course, that's not always the case. Often writers just put off writing and doing other things. I've vacuumed floors, cleaned bathrooms, done laundry, taken a walk or a shower just to keep from sitting down and working on my WIP (work in progress.) But he isn't saying to become a sloth either. What you have isn't necessarily writer's block.

We may have a general idea of the next book, or chapter or scene but feel things are not quite jelling. It just may be we need a Time Out, which is the next chapter subject in Larry's book. If we have a deadline we can usually force ourselves to set a schedule. Write so many hours or pages or words per day and get our deadline met. Other times we drag ourselves to the computer and maybe miss our goal for the day by a long shot.

Perhaps the scene or chapter isn't working for some reason and we have no idea why. It's just not totally wrong to take a walk or do the laundry. A little creative procrastination or a little time out is probably what our creative brain needs.  I'm always amazed when I think how the subconscious works. Mainly I try not to think about my muse. Because if I try to wrestle it to hop into action, it has a tendency to tell me to go jump off a cliff.

However, if I take a time out and let the whole thing simmer on the back burner for a little while, things seem to straighten out completely. I can sit down at the computer and the words will flow. A direct line from my brain to my fingertips and I almost can't type fast enough.

The flip side, naturally, is even after a time out, maybe of a few hours or a day, things still seem muddled and I know I have a schedule or a deadline then I have to sit my behind down in the chair and write. And keep writing.

Oftentimes when I'm writing, I think the work is going badly. That all I'm writing is total junk; I have to keep writing.  I have to realize the editor portion of my brain is trying to take over and I have to tell it to "shut up and go away." I've learned that usually the next day what I wrote before isn't half bad. I know that every word I write isn't going to sing but I need to stay on task. That once I'm at the end of the story and write the end I'll be able to look at it more objectively.

Once I set the work aside, two or three days, or even a week, and pull it out I'll find that it's pretty danged good. I can see where I need to revise. Increase tension. Strengthen a character. Or even delete a page or three. That's where the revisions come in. Some writers hate revising. I mainly don't mind because I know I can make my story better with revisions.

Someone told me a long time ago, that you have to tell yourself the story first, then you are able to go back and get the story in shape for others to read.

I envy writers who are able to write a book with only a few minor revisions. I'm just not that good. I also am unable to outline a story. I know authors who do a sixty-seventy page outline of their book. I know others who write a brief outline. Maybe three or four pages. If I outline, it's like talking too much about the book. I get bored if I know too much. I  do a whole lot better when I fly by the seat of my pants. I have sometimes made a brief outline when I feel I'm about at the halfway point. Mostly so I can see if I need to add or subtract an element. Generally, I know how the book ends but not always whodunit. Feels like it works better for me if I fool myself then maybe the reader will be fooled. But basically I'm not concerned with the plot because my major thing is my characters.

Okay class, let's recap. Allow yourself some creative procrastination or time out. Don't beat yourself up if it seems like things are going badly. Most of the time, they're not.  If you really want to learn more about these subjects and how to deal with them, find a copy of Lawrence Block's book, Telling Lies.

And remember, each writer has to do what works best for them.+


  1. Good piece. All of Block's writing books are worth reading and rereading. About thinking you are writing junk: Block noticed in one piece that after being ill he couldn't tell what he wrote when he was sick vs what he had written when well. Put it on the page (or the hard drive) and see what happens.

    By the way, Jan, I challenge the idea that not being able to write publishable first drafts mean you "aren't that good." It's not a race. Readers don't care whether you took one draft or ten, they care how good the result is.

    Said the man who averages ten drafts.

  2. Jan, good article and good advice.

    Rob, I wish I could claim only ten drafts. I'm afraid the reality is considerably more.

  3. Jan, sounds like we took some classes in the same school of writing. Nice article.

  4. Good article, Jan. And absolutely true: A long walk has solved a lot of story problems for me, from plot points to character motivations.

  5. I enjoy resding Mr Blocks book...Telling lies for fun and profit is.one of my favorite books on writing. He manages to already have a problem solved when I looked it up and had come up with the problem solved, ofen with simplicity and humor
    thanks for reading and commenting.


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