19 December 2010
Writing: Thinking as part of the process and using momentum
The reason I have a tendency to rush from project to project is that I'm afraid of losing momentum. If I write every day, it gets easier and easier to hit my goals, be it 2000 words a day for a novel or 5 or more pages a day for a screenplay. I can't hit those goals right out of the gate. I may write 800 words the first day and keep that up for a week, then start breaking 1000, and suddenly I find I'm hitting my goals. For me, if I take one day off, I have to start back at the beginning. Even one day and I'm suddenly 1200 words behind my goal. This lasts for days until I work back up to it.
Knowing this, when I finish a project, I want to keep my momentum and I use it to throw myself into a new project. This works out okay for first drafts. When I get an idea I write it down, I sketch out my expected structure, story arcs, etc. I start a folder where I throw ideas as they come. With the exception of the fantasy project (that I didn't finish) where I neglected to world-build (working on it), this is more than enough for me to write a first draft.
The momentum keeps me writing, it keeps me productive. This is good, because bad things happen when I don't write. If I take too much time off, I start having identity crises. I start asking myself how much I want to be a writer and tell myself that I can't want it that bad if I'm taking time off (Seriously, what are you doing with your life, Steph?). I tell myself that I will never have something good enough to show an agent if I'm not fixing the last project or writing the next one. I get grumpy, I buy frozen yogurt, and I watch DEXTER or CASTLE. And it gets harder and harder to actually start the next project.
I try to avoid down time as much as possible. And it's okay that I do that.... with first drafts. Where it gets tricky is rewrites. That "downtime" where I feel like I'm wasting my life, letting all my good writing hours slip away, is actually important thinking time that I need for my project to get into shape. In a rewrite, I need to strengthen the foundations I laid in the first draft and often, especially with screenplays, I need to really examine my structure. There are often major problems with solutions that elude me and since I'm past the stage of getting my ideas on paper, I need to be much more intentional when I approach the new draft.
I need to take time to reread what I've written, to think about it, to play with structure and brainstorm solutions. I need the time to read the published and the produced to see how they dealt with similar problems. I need the time to read books on writing that will help me become a better writer. If I'm constantly rushing rushing rushing from one project to the next, I'm a hamster on a wheel. I'm not taking the time I need to reflect on what I'm doing and grow as a writer. Yes, you learn by writing and I learn and grow with every new draft and project. BUT, I will keep making the same mistakes and learning the same lessons if I don't take the time to think about the process and think about the next step.
The past few weeks I've been thinking and reading. I'm getting antsy because it feels like I'm not doing anything. But I know that this time will make all the difference in the quality of this draft. The time I'm spending now will be the deciding factor in if my characters are still unlikable and how many problems I can fix with this draft. This time is the only tool I have to make sure that my structure is exactly what it needs to be. Yes, it means this rewrite is taking longer than I want, but it also means I'm doing more with this draft than I could have if I rushed right in.