“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
All too often, I find myself lost in my writing. No, I don’t mean I find it to be an escape from real life, although it is that, too. No, I mean that I find myself lost in the plot or lost in the characters or lost in the details, meanwhile I am struggling to wrap my mind around plot, characters, and details.
When this happens, I get dragged down under the weights of my ideas, exhausted by what they mean and by the different ways I can go with them. One idea goes right, one goes left, while the third is plummeting downward, the fourth is off at an angle, and a dozen more go a dozen different ways.
I don’t know whom to follow, and I get tired of trying. I get through half a dozen scenes only to realize that I followed the wrong idea. So how do I know what idea to follow unless I chase each one down?
Over the past year, I’ve had that lost feeling a lot with my current WIP. I expected to have a finished second draft to beta readers over a year ago, but around that time I realized that it needed a lot more work than I’d initially thought. Two of the characters needed to become one character, most of my subplots had to be revised, and a good chunk of my main plot needed revision as well.
But in trying to rewrite, I got lost–again. I didn’t know where to start or what needed to happen. So where did I go? Where am I now? What steps did I take to find my novel’s path? That’s what this post is going to discuss.
Step 1) Step back.
I had to put my novel aside for awhile, allow myself to gain some distance from all those ideas pinging around in my head and allow myself to meditate upon them.
I didn’t consciously work on or think about my novel for a few months. Part of that was because I had a newborn, and just finding time for sleep was challenging enough, but part of it was that all those ideas made working on my WIP overwhelming. I wanted to work on it, but I didn’t know how. And so I stepped back. That was the wisest choice I could have made.
Step 2) Journal.
Or at least write your ideas, thoughts, words, etc. down somewhere.
With my having a newborn, and not getting nearly enough sleep, my brain was fuzzy most of the time. Writing down my ideas gave me the opportunity to use my brain to focus on other things I needed to do, and, in a way, purged those ideas from my head so I could think up more, and also helped me think through the ones I had.
At the time, I was using Evernote to keep track of my WIPs, which I still do when I don’t have a physical notebook handy. Now, with my toddler, I find that I like physically writing out things. Perhaps it makes me more productive, but it also runs less risk of getting lost in the digital world. (Anyone else have that problem? I feel like it’s so much easier to lose a digital note than a written note.)
Step 3) Plot.
Hello? Anyone still there?
Yeah, this is the part I’m sure I lost some people. But when you’re already lost after starting your first draft, or halfway through your second draft you realize you’re starting to lose track of your plot, or that you have changed directions midway through a WIP, plotting becomes a necessary evil.
I’ve spent a lot of time plotting and outlining this year, after getting halfway through Draft 2 of my WIP and realizing my issues were bigger than I thought. But I’m certain that this is not wasted time. Now that Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner (July), I feel equipped to start rewriting!
Step 4) Research those areas you aren’t sure about.
With my current WIP, I have received a lot of mixed feedback about the first chapter. Because of this, I knew something was wrong with it, but I wasn’t sure what, exactly. Everyone seemed to say something different–except most agreed that my MC wasn’t particularly likable.
So what did I do? Well, after I accepted this to be true, I began to research first chapters and how to make my character likable. Even if she was being true to her character as I had written it, something obviously had to change. Was it her character itself? Or what I had shown in the first chapter? Or was it something bigger? Was it the moment I had started the story?
I needed outside sources to figure this out, and I couldn’t even ask the reviewers their thoughts, for they only knew the first chapter, and not the entire story in my mind or what I intended to show with my novel. Doing the research for myself was necessary.
Step 5) Take another break.
Writing can be exhausting. But when I say take a break, I don’t necessarily mean from writing. Just shift gears. In between replotting my WIP and rewriting it, I wrote a couple of short stories and virtually ignored this WIP.
Of course, I’ve never really forgotten this WIP, just as I’ve never really forgotten my other WIPs that lie unperfected on my hard drive. But shifting focus to a different story can enlighten the path for this WIP in strange ways.
Now, I’m ready to get into focus with this WIP, and I’m also prepared because I’ve had a bit more time to think about how I’ve replotted it. It makes more sense now than it did before, and it’s had the time to sink in. I’m as ready as can be.
Step 6) Write.
This is it, folks. What we’re all here for. We’re writers, right? And writers write.
At some point, you have to stop thinking, stop plotting, stop dreaming, and put it all down on paper. It may not come out exactly as you want, it surely won’t come out as eloquently as you thought it, but, if you’re lucky, it emerges coherently and someone else likes it, too.
I’ll be taking a few more days’ hiatus on the blog here. I’ve gotten swamped in life lately, and have missed a couple of regular posts. Instead of stressing myself out to write and post them, then not being happy with them, I’m going to take a few more days off.
Hopefully I’ll be back by next weekend with a great post for you to enjoy!
Thanks for your understanding!
Interesting thoughts on KDP for self-published authors.
The Internet, that great and glorious money-making venture, has done some amazing things for the humble self-published author. As a marketing platform, it is unparalleled in scope – and with the help of e-commerce giants like Amazon, self-published authors have gained the ability to publish, promote, and sell their properties with ease and professional finesse.
But as we are all aware, the Internet comes with a darker side…and I’m not just talking about that weird subreddit you came across late last night. You know which one I mean. The World Wide Web has allowed online companies to come up with some really creative ways of squeezing dollars and cents out of their customers, and our old friend Amazon is trying a new tactic that may or may not be good for the self-published among us.
Amazon makes a lot of money off its independent authors. We provide it with its…
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I just wanted to say thanks to all my followers, new and old. Not that my old followers are old, just been around with me a little longer!
I’m always a little shocked and über pleased when I get that little notification from WordPress. It’s like the old “You’ve got mail!” notification, it brings that little flutter to my stomach… Did I just date myself?
Anyways, this blog wouldn’t be here without you, my readers. I write these posts to inspire, to inform, and to connect with those who read them.
So a huge THANK YOU to those of you who haven’t “unfollowed” me yet!
Sorry about my hiatus this past Saturday. I was camping in Denali National Park, and with all the prep I had to do before we left, I didn’t get a chance to schedule this blog post! I had it almost completed, but things just got away from me. I hope you’ll forgive me and allow me to post it now!
And for all you parents out there, I’d love to hear what your parenting experiences have taught you about writing! Leave a note in the comments, please!
Parenting is a time period rife with life lessons. You learn things like how selfish you are, how much time kids take, how you might or might not be able to do it again, how much sleep you can live without, and how infuriated you can become with your own shortcomings and your significant other. You also learn a lot about yourself, like how selfish you are, what makes you irrationally angry, and what brings you joy.
But parenting has taught me some life lessons about more than just myself or my parenting ability. So far, it’s also taught me several lessons about writing.
1. Time is precious.
There will never be enough time. There will always be things demanding your time and attention. But if writing is important enough to you, you can continue to write as a mother (or father). This will involve writing during baby’s nap times, writing after baby’s bedtime, and before baby wakes up in the morning. But those words will eventually evolve into something you will be glad you wrote.
2. Guard your writing time ferociously.
As I said above, there will always be things demanding your attention. Unless it’s life and death, or unless it takes priority over writing, then you must sit yourself down and write. Of course, if you have one of those fancy standing desks, stand–it may keep you awake!
3. Be flexible.
Children, especially young children, rarely cooperate with #2 in this post: guarding your writing time, but they often help in proving to you #1: Time is precious. So don’t be upset when the baby wakes just as you’re getting into your writing session. It’s inevitable, and see #12.
4. Five words here and there add up.
Even if you can only write five words a day for a week, after two weeks, you’ll have 70 words. After two weeks have passed, you’ll most likely be able to up to that to ten, and then in two weeks’ time you’ll have written another 140 words. Although it seems slow at the time, it’s better than nothing. And even if you aren’t writing an actual story but you’re writing down ideas or phrases or a poignant sentence that comes to you, you’ll have that to look back at, and you won’t regret taking the two seconds to jot it down.
5. Keep a notebook (or iPhone) handy at all times.
This isn’t exactly a parenting/writing trick, but having a notebook handy or some way to write things down when you’re sitting there with your one-month-old at one a.m. can keep your inspiration alive. And it can prevent you from forgetting about that idea you have for the next Greatest Novel of All Time.
6. Embrace sleep deprivation.
Sometimes the best ideas come through when you are sleep deprived and unable to sleep. Inspiration can strike when you are nursing baby to sleep, or rocking baby in your arms, or holding him upright during his first cold so that he can breathe easy enough to sleep. Embrace those nights as tightly as you embrace your child. Let your imagination run wild, and have a notebook handy.
7. Find inspiration in the little things.
Inspiration can be found in your child’s first smile, first word, first step. Let your imagination go as you watch him grow, as you watch him discover the world. He enjoys pulling leaves off the trees or watching a butterfly in a way that you’ve forgotten to do–let that enjoyment and wonder speak to you and inspire you.
8. Slow down.
It may sound cliche, but: enjoy the little moments. Every day is unique, and every day with your child is precious. I try to remind myself of that every day–especially as I reach the toddler temper tantrum stage where the kid is not so adorable and easy to manage. But try to enjoy the stages as they come, and file away cute and annoying events for characters in your future novels.
9. Speed up.
When you get the opportunity to write, put away distractions and write fast. Make the most of that writing time, because you can’t depend on finding it again anytime soon–something always comes up. So write fast, learn how to type fast, and simply get the words out. You can edit later, or give to a trusted writer friend to read later and edit from there.
10. Never give up.
Writing rewards those who persevere. Skill is learned through continued practice, publishing happens for those who determine to stick through the bad times, and choose to believe that they will be published. Successful authors are those who continue to write even when no one wants to publish their work. Successful authors sometimes self-publish while seeking traditional publishing deals, and sometimes become their own entrepreneurs. These days, an author must wear several hats. So learn about them, and never, ever give up.
11. Let go of perfectionism.
I used to be a perfectionist writer. I still, to some degree, am. But I am becoming more and more okay with the imperfections that will always be present in my writing (and in my life). I cannot iron out every imperfection, I cannot create a perfect work of art. (Perfectionism itself is relative and unattainable.) Although I want to create a work of fiction that I can be proud of, I am realizing that I don’t have the time to devout to my works-in-progress to wait for them to become “perfect.”
12. Writing is NOT my number one priority.
It’s more like my third or fourth. First is God, then hubby, then child. Only after that does writing come into play. I find it useful to also rank the priorities of my different types of writing. So my list might look something like this:
- Short Stories
- Self-publishing Research
- Social Media
- Household Chores
Now on some days, my day is not going to be like this. In fact, it may come out more like: Household Chores, then Child, then Husband, etc. But writing it out can help me check in on myself throughout the day. Have I checked off #1? Have I met all the needs of my husband and child? Do I have time to write now? Sometimes I also can find the time to multi-task. Chores must be done, often falling within the needs of my child or husband (i.e. laundry or dinner prep). But before I sit down to write, I can put in a load of laundry and then use that time waiting for the washing machine to write.
You must figure out your own list of priorities and treat them appropriately. Perhaps your child is first, day job second, then spouse or family. Each person’s list of priorities may be a little different, and that’s to be expected. But it helps to list it out, at least mentally, so that you can evaluate how your day is going and whether you are allowing your priorities to falter.
13. Taking a break from writing is okay. Perhaps it’s even best.
I used to feel extremely guilty if I wasn’t writing every day. I still want to write something every day, but during the early months of parenting writing was one more thing on my plate that was simply unmanageable. I couldn’t fathom adding one more thing and still keeping sane, but my drive to write kept my guilt of not writing alive. But there came a time, and in retrospect I agree, that a break from writing can recharge you and can keep you sane. Unless you have deadlines that other people are depending on (and I would recommend avoiding that during the early months of parenting), then a break from writing obligations can be just as cathartic as writing itself. Of course, if inspiration strikes, don’t fight the urge!
(And a bonus) 14. The support of your spouse is essential to success.
I would have lost my mind over these past 15 months if it weren’t for the support of my husband. He has given me time where there seems to be none, and given me a break from parenting by sending me to a writing conference, and more. He is critical to my writing time these days.
Now I ask you:
What has parenting taught you about writing?
Naturally I fall into prose
For poetry is the thinking woman’s domain.
But here I go about to lose
My confidence in the writing game.
Every Wednesday through the month of June
I vow to post a rhyming “tune.”
Please be patient with my lame attempts;
Parenthood shrunk my brain by nine-tenths.