Back in the Saddle

For many of us, November is a special time when we throw even more of ourselves into writing than usual. The dishes stack up, the diet gets downright scary, the worried phone calls from well-meaning loved ones fill the voice mail, and our word counts soar. But it can’t last forever. Eventually, we have to come crawling out of the primordial ooze of the writing cave and fix a sandwich, kiss our mothers, and unclog the toilet. It’s a bittersweet time.

And in my case, a lazy time. I normally write around 2-2.5k words a day. During November, I write 3-4k a day, ofttimes more. During the first week of December, I typically write nothing at all. I convince my children anew that they know me, I shovel all the pizza boxes into the trash, but I don’t usually write a whole lot. But there comes a point when I have to get up, dust myself off, and get back in the saddle. Then I sit at my laptop and think, “So. I have this ugly little first draft. Now what do I do with it?”

I’ve experimented with different approaches over the years and have found many facets of myself lurking within the writing chunk of my brain. Here are the most common:

Become an Editing Fiend This was me this year. I finished writing The Book, the Crown, and the Sword and immediately went back to the start and began editing. Didn’t even pause for a fresh cup of tea. (That was the plan and the reason I finished a week early. I knew December was going to be MADNESS this year.) This is nice because everything is fresh in your head and it’s easier to remember exactly how you chose to spell that name or what color so-and-so’s eyes were. I have a tendency to take this route. It usually takes me a month or two to write a novel, but then I dive right back in for editing, with takes up to twice as long as the first writing did. (BCS was strange in that it took three weeks to write, and just shy of two weeks to edit. I hope this doesn’t indicate innate suckiness.)

Sound the Charge Sometimes, I’ve been so enamored with a character or a world that I ran headlong right into the next book. Kind of a “Darn the typos, full speed ahead” mentality. This often happened in my younger years while writing a series (or what would evolve into a series) and was kind of nice for flow and continuity. But overall, I found that a lot more problems were slipping through the cracks this way and that I would write stuff into the future strictly to justify it in the past, instead of just deleting it out of the past like it needed to be. Fluff abounded, in every form from a few words of purple prose to entire storylines that simply and definitely did not need to be there. This approach was much easier for the flow of getting words on the page, but I often ended up with WAY more work this way once I finally forced myself into editing.

Let It Ruminuate Put down that red pen. Yes, you. Put it down. Many people recommend this approach and I usually agree. It can be hard to see the flaws of something we look at every day. (Just ask my husband. He puts up with all kinds of garbage from me.) Sometimes we have to let our noveling brain rest and write a little poetry or a brace of short stories instead, or at least get outside of the story that has been our world for so long. I work almost exclusively on the Star Daughter series (City of the Dead, Goddess Forsaken, and more to come!) throughout the year, but every November, I force myself outside of that series. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s a relief, but it’s always good for me. Having a break can give you a chance to recharge the batteries.

Lock the Door And sadly, I have had projects in the past that I’ve finished, stacked neatly, and never touched again. For one reason or another, I decided that those projects were not worth pursuing. Maybe they were just too clunky to make heads or tails of, maybe they were ugly beyond what I thought I could remedy, or maybe I just didn’t love them as much as I need to to take the next step. And I think that’s okay. Being a writer has few rewards. Often, the process itself is the only prize we’ll ever see. If the process isn’t rewarding anymore, switch over to one that is. If we force ourselves to keep on a project because we think we have to for some reason (It’s so marketable; it’s never been done before; I’ve invested so much already; etc), we run the risk of losing the one thing that makes our writing really, truly worthwhile: the love of it.

Does that mean those projects will never see the light of day again? Not necessarily. Does that mean they weren’t worth the effort I put into them? Not at all. Writers see the world in a special way. We want to touch and taste and read everything, to soak up as much experience as we can, and then make art with it. Many would claim that our medium is words. I would argue that it is experiences. Most people see something mundane, or even unique, and think, “Huh. Oh, well.” Writers see it and breathe, “There’s a story here.” We take those experiences and we craft new ones with them, ones that are surreal or solid, funny or sad, fact or fiction, but always in some way real. And if you look at it that way, no project, and no experience, is ever wasted time.

Now, I do not claim that these approaches are the only things to be done with a newborn manuscript. Just as each writer is different and each person is different, we deal with each manuscript differently. Do what you want. Pick one of the above or make up your own. But however you choose to proceed in this, the final month of 2013, do it with your head high. Your method isn’t nearly so important as your doing. So quit reading blog posts and get back to work. (Unless, of course, you feel the burning need to comment first. I can forgive this final diversion.)

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