It is August. In January, I’d planned to have my book to my editor by July. It is not at the editor; it is not even complete.
If this book is a baby, then this is a breach birth. Everything is coming out backwards. My work in progress is the first in a series, but I didn’t realize it needed to be written until I had already completed the draft for the second book. That was inconvenient, but not as gut-wrenching as getting to the end of the first draft of my WIP and realizing that it is faulty.
Over the course of July, I found it harder and harder to work on my WIP. The more I wrote, the more confused I got. I started taking naps instead of writing. If you are ever me, and suddenly find you want to nap instead writing, I want you-who-is-me to know that means something is wrong. R-O-N-G, wrong.
So I stopped.
I stopped writing. I tried on the idea of not finishing my WIP, of having hours of time not dedicated to what I only half-jokingly call my “second job.” I even announced it to a couple of people, but I knew it was no use. I can’t decide to stop writing any more than a woman can decide half-way through birthing her child to just stop. The story’s coming out, one way or another.
Last weekend, I was panicked that I was stuck writing a stillborn book, depressed at the idea of all the wasted time I’d already spent working on it, and anxious to figure some way out of the mess. I also had a week’s worth of laundry to do. I took my heavy laundry basket and my heavy thoughts and went out to the garage. I opened the door to let in the sunlight, and started loading the washer as if filling it would stopper the wellspring of my dismay. It was then that I heard it.
A buzzing noise.
I focused on the sound, following my curiosity across the garage. It was a bumble bee. He was trying to fly into the opening of an air tool, but he couldn’t fit because he was holding a leaf. All six of his buzzy-bee legs were clutched around the tiniest, green leaf. He did not give up just because the path seemed insurmountable. He just kept banging his head and holding his leaf. I went to get Mr. Aniko, saying, “Have you ever seen a bee do that?” No, he hadn’t. And he pointed out that the bee had dropped several leaves on the workbench. They were not whole leaves, but sections that he had apparently cut – somehow, improbably cut – and transported back to the power tool in our garage.
Maybe the bee had a purpose. Maybe he was just crazy. All I know is that by taking that pause, by allowing my focus to drift away from my problems with the novel, I had freed myself from the panic and doubt. So the novel wasn’t working? If the bee can keep trying different sized leaves, why couldn’t I just… try a different approach? Introduce a straw character earlier, give her meaning. Cut out the rambling (but fun!) scenes of people getting drunk on something purple. Take a break to plan what is missing and organize what is left to do.
There’s still a long way to go. The important thing is that I understand where the characters are leading me. This may not be an easy birth, but I have faith that it will result in exactly the book that is meant to be written.
In honor of that bee and his leaves, I give you Just Like Honey:
Just Like Honey, Jesus and Mary Chain
I was drawing a picture of an enormous white flower once.
I was coasting along dandily when I could NOT figure the perspective on one of the sides. I made it bigger, smaller, wider, more angular…you name it. So I left it.
For days. In a relatively unused upstairs bedroom.
When I went in there one morning to retrieve something–I saw my error quickly, and clear as a bell.
I was able to remedy the drawing in a matter of minutes.
So I agree–step away from the blockage!!
Thanks Aniko 🙂
When I run into a mental block, I tend to become even more stubborn. I’ll catch myself doing this at work, sitting at my desk staring at a problem and trying different things until I can’t remember what I’ve tried and I need to pee so bad it hurts. It’s even more intense with my writing, because I feel such an obligation to get the story as close to right as I can. Not perfect, of course, but right.
Yet, I know – KNOW!!! – that the literal stepping away from a problem is normally the first stage in discovering a solution.
I’m soooo stubborn!! 🙂
I bet your enormous white flower drawing is magnificent.
You write, write so well!
Thank you, thank you!
First of all, yay Jesus and Mary Chain!
Second, you know I feel you on this one. I thought my book would be for sale back in April and here I am in August still weeks away from having it ready for the editor. It’s actually rather amazing how our process seems to have paralleled – I went through everything you described here, except that when I started feeling the need to not write, I got busy on other stories instead. Ironically, being stuck on this story got me to write the most short stories I’ve written in years. All I can tell you is to hang in there. I’ve detailed some of the crazy changes my novel has gone through and I think this thing might actually end up stronger for it but oh boy I nearly lost my sanity at a few points during it. I can definitely relate to Mr. Bee.
Jonathan, I thought of you when I wrote this post. It made me very glad to have read your posts on the subject, because they gave me hope that I can find my way through. It is going to take work, and it will take time – but I’ll make it.
Thanks for stopping by, but even more, thanks for writing your honest blog posts.
And yes, Jesus and Mary Chain!!! I can’t believe it’s been years since I gave them a listen. I think there’s a line in a Smiths song, “Never forget the songs that saved your life.” I don’t like everything Jesus and Mary Chain did, but they made a few of those “save my life” songs. I was glad to have a reason to share one.
We’ve all been there. When I get really stuck, I remind myself that this is MY creation, and I can do anything I want with it. “Hunter, unstick theyself!” We put so much pressure on ourselves that it can lead to paralysis and despair. Every now and then, we have to remember this is a passion that we love to do, and above all, it should be fun!
Yes, it should be fun! My emotions tell me when things are going wrong much sooner than logic or my creative sensibilities do. When it starts to feel harder to keep writing than it is to stop, something is wrong. Really wrong. It can mean I’m writing a scene that doesn’t belong, or indicate something as huge as needing a total restructuring to bring out the truth of the story. If writing is no fun, that’s a big hint I should stop to re-evaluate what I’m doing. Like I told Penelope, I’m sooo stubborn! I get it in my mind that I’m going to make something work. Forcing it is a good way to spend time with Mr. Despair and his buddy, Mr. Escapism. I don’t even like those guys!
Thanks for letting me know you’ve experienced this, too!
The urge to take naps instead of write. Yeah. That’s what happens to me, too, when I’m “doing it wrong.” It helps to step back and say, “Do I really need this scene? If so, why?” Once I figure out the “why,” the “how” often becomes more apparent.
Very true. One of my revision strategies is to figure out what purpose each scene and each character serves in the overall theme/structure. It is a brutal, but necessary, culling of the tale. I find that so much harder to do that when the work is in flux. This book just refuses to be pinned down, which is keeping me off balance. I’ll get there…. but stepping away is the best and hardest thing to do!
Ugh, rough patches like that are such a pain! It sounds like you’re on the right track to working through it though. Just keep trying until you find an angle that works, and don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a break from it.
I love the bee story!
Have you ever seen a bee do that?! It was surreal. But it was exactly the message I needed to get me on the right track with the story.
And, yes, those rough patches are such a pain!!
I think that some stories make us sweat blood and tears but ultimately turn us into better writers. Sometimes the Universe will send us little signs that you are on the right track even if you think you have lost the map – sounds like that bumble bee was your sign.
Good Luck hun! I am rooting for you and this book!
Thank you, Kim. Comments like these make me really, really want to pack my bags and head out to NZ to have some coffee and a good writers chat! I agree on all points, especially that the signs will come when they are meant to, and that sometimes we have to suffer to reach the level of truth the story requires.
It would be so lovely to have you here in NZ or me there in the USA…This is when portals would come in handy 🙂
Totally relate to this! I start out a story sipping my iced espresso italian roast with hazelnut creamer, as I doddle away. The night comes. I research, I revise, I sip another iced coffee. Weeks later, I haven’t bathed, I’ve hardly eaten. I don’t sleep. Frantic, frustrated, a mess but for me that is the ah-ha moment! I have foregone all earthly pleasures. At last, “I, writer! Me bang on keys! Make fire!” I guess what I’m saying is that writers/artists/musicians what makes what they “make” so cool is that it goes to “that place.” That mountainous place we the reader look at in appreciation, while it was the writer who climbed it, persevering the elements and hardships only to return with the story that tests the limits of human imagination. Be it whatever genre: Happy or horror. 😉
I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t feel driven to write. It does take sacrifice and perseverance; it’s not the sort of thing I would wish on anyone. Creation isn’t easy, and inspiration comes at a high cost. The outcome is priceless,though, and I’m thankful to every artist who has produced a work that moved me.
I go through this process as well. Sometimes it is sad to get rid of such massive amounts of writing, but if you know it is for the best, then it can feel good. I want to hear about the people drinking purple stuff!
One thing I’m considering with the massively chopped parts is making them into short stories or guest blog posts on appropriate blogs. Maybe something like the folks drinking the purple stuff could be useful and cool in its own right, then it kinda gives you the best of both worlds, in a way. Just a thought, I’m again so happy I found your blog!
There is initial resistance to tossing out swathes of writing. Yet, I feel better when it’s done because the story is freed of all that extra weight. I like the idea of reusing some of the bits, or posting them as cut scenes – makes cutting them feel a bit less melodramatic or final!
I am also happy you found my blog!! 🙂
Ummm, wow. If what I’m about to say is mirrored in any other comments, I apologize for repeating them, but I choose to post my thoughts without reading what others think. I just end up sounding like them. I’m weird like that.
You went from comparing writing to birthing a baby, to a wonderful story about a tenacious bee. I commend you, as I don’t think I could have done it. I’m always amazed at the connections one’s brain makes. You have a way of blending life by smearing the colors just the right way to create new ways of seeing it.
Honestly, I would have ran screaming from the bee, came back with a can of spray, and smote him upon the power tool. Leaf and all.
I tend to skip reading comments… well, not the ones on my own blog, that would be rude! But on other blogs, I tend to skim or skip the comments until I run across someone I know or see the same commenter making thoughtful statements more than once. Then, sometimes, I find a new blog friend! 🙂
I have no idea the connections my brain is going to make until I start writing. When I finish, I am often surprised. When it feels right, I publish it – even when it probably doesn’t have any real logic to the things that get connected. I’m glad that I was able to carry you through to the end of this post. There were quite a few leaps between different ideas.
Hope you’re having a lovely weekend, E!