Monday, April 13, 2009

When NOT to Write

So normally, I am a big fan of sitting down in front of the computer and cranking out at least 1k words come hell or highwater. If I didn't hold myself to this daily rule, my manuscript would never, ever get done. Let's face it: writers are the masters of procrastination, and certainly, an entire day can pass with me accomplishing exactly zilch. Thus, my per diem rule: crank those words out OR ELSE. (I don't actually have consequences for my OR ELSE, but much like when I use empty threats on my kids, this seems to work on me as well.)

Anyway, last week, I knew, knew, knew that I had to sit down and write. I'd blocked off the amounted time, opened the document, and...just couldn't. Well, that's not true. I could have. But I also knew that before I did, I had to sort out a quagmire that I'd run into with the ms. I wanted to write. So badly, did I want to write. Because, frankly, writing would have been easier than recognizing that I might have to go back and redo several parts of the ms, but...again, I couldn't. I knew that something had gone askew, and rather than stick to my 1k rule, I had to address it.

Now. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I were actually just procrastinating by PRETENDING the ms had a problem, or if I really and truly had a problem on my hand, but the morning turned to noon and noon turned to mid-afternoon, and all the while, I hadn't written a thing. But what I WAS doing was thinking. What appeared to be a total waste of a day was actually spend ruminating, even while I was on Facebook, or Twitter, or J.Crew or...well, you get the idea of how I spent my day.

And something pretty great happened during this day of doing nothing: I figured out how to resolve this problem, and now, I think the ms is going to be so much better for it. In most jobs, doing nothing means just that: you're wasting your time doing nothing. But as writers, some times, doing nothing is simply the best thing you can do. I could have wasted that day writing another chapter that would inevitably need to be overhauled OR, I could have stopped, thought about things, and considered that just as productive - if not more so - than upping my word count.

So this week? This week I'm starting at the beginning (yet again - I think this is my third redraft of the first half of the ms), and that's totally fine. I want to get this part just right because if I don't, then the second part of the ms will have to be just as overhauled as this part has been, and if I can work out the kinks now, all of that extra work won't be necessary. So...if you're having a day in which you seem to do anything BUT write, that's okay! In our world, "not working" can still be considered "work," and sometimes, it might be just what your ms needs.

10 comments:

Megan said...

thanks for the reassurance that doing nothing can be a good thing after all!

Trish Ryan said...

Yep. And this is why we writers will never have our own reality show...who wants to watch us twitter all day while we work these things out?

Margo said...

what a great expression of the little mini war that goes on among the various voices inside of many writers... glad to know i'm not alone in quest for balance as far as time, productivity, and creativity. We need all these inner voices, but it's hard for me to know which to listen to at any given moment.

Kristan said...

"I don't actually have consequences for my OR ELSE, but much like when I use empty threats on my kids, this seems to work on me as well."

Lol.

Therese Walsh said...

This happens to me all of the time; I take a lot of "thinking showers" when I'm stuck. I'm glad you were able to resolve the probs with one good day of nothing, Allison.

Catharine Withenay said...

Thank you for this. I seem to have spent a lot of time lately editing, re-writing and re-drafting, but the word count barely changes. Yet I am sure the final document is improving every time!

sarah pekkanen said...

Sometimes doing nothing is exactly what you need... let the subconscious work on the problem and it can surprise you! Glad you sorted this one out.

Trish said...

Thanks for keeping us posted on your progress, Allison. Yes, sometimes staring at the wall solves a whole lot of issues. I just wish I could charge for that time, ya know? I'm known for it now.

Trish L
@trishlawrence
http://www.trishlawrence.com/blog

LarramieG said...

Think the phrase, "Just let it go," works wonders...especially when I walk away from the computer.

Philip Sington said...

Sometimes the most important writing you do is in your head. Yuu get ideas, you live with and subconsciously sift the ideas your already have; you ponder your story from a little distance.
At least that's what I tell myself, often...
In my experience, the writing life is brief periods of productivity puncuated with long periods of staring into the fridge. Wish I could say my fridge is especially fascinating; but at the moment, the only interesting thing about it is the strange smell coming from behind the crisper.