When Does Accepting The Suck Not Cut It?

You know, it’s amazing how long I can sit in my little bubble and pretend things are going just fine. It’s also amazing what a good job I can do of panicking when the bubble threatens to burst. Now, though, I think it’s time I went ahead and burst it myself.

Two simmering issues came to a head this week, and the first was writing related. More specifically, the first was Slamdance related. In hindsight, the fact that it took me three weeks to meet my writing goal should have been an indicator. I’ve found a neat writing pattern for myself. I can crank out five hundred words in around twenty minutes if I use Write or Die; three twenty-minute sessions per day gives me at least one thousand, five hundred words. As long as I make sure to slip those writing breaks into my routine, I can continue to be productive in writing whilst making sure that I do other things and let my writing brain cool down and percolate.

After hitting seven thousand words on Saturday evening, though, I didn’t sit down for one twenty-minute chunk until this morning. I was pretty busy with some exhausting physical work all weekend – Vickie and I did a heap of work in the garden during both long weekends, so much so that we had to borrow my stepson’s ute on Monday to make two green runs to the local tip – and we had family over. Still, though, I didn’t even try to sneak some writing time in there.

This morning, I opened Write or Die, my word count tracking spreadsheet (complete with graph) and Scrivener, found where I’d last finished writing, put my fingers on the keyboard, set my WoD session targets, hit “Write!”…

… and didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to write; I couldn’t think of anything that I wanted to write. I didn’t like the scene, I didn’t know where it was going, and I didn’t like the rough idea I had in mind for What Happened Afterward.

I could have pressed on; I have written almost thirty-seven thousand words in this draft, after all. But something a bit deeper than panic or desperation or even the knowledge that it’s okay to suck resisted the idea.

When I was writing The Second War of the Worlds, I’d have days where I didn’t write anything. But they weren’t many, and when I did put fingers to keys again, it wouldn’t take me long to overcome the natural inertia when starting hard work, find a groove and be satisfied with my answers to the basic question of the first draft: What Happens Next? It was good exercise: strenuous yet fun at the same time.

Not so with Slamdance. My instincts kept telling me that what I’d written wasn’t working. I don’t like where my answers have been taking me and I’m sick of trying to milk my brain for more.

I decided to try something a little different. I’ve read about the creative exercise of interviewing characters before, but it took following the first draft blog of Ruth Ann Nordin, a self-published author whom Joanna Penn interviewed not long ago, for the penny to drop. I created a blank document in OpenOffice Writer and acted like Mike Ryan (a.k.a. Slamdance) had asked me to swing by for a chat. I only stopped at 257 words was because I had to leave for work.

What Mike told me (yes, I know, technically I’m talking to myself, but it’s a fun mental exercise and it worked) was that I was trying to layer too much on top of what was a pretty good base; a cyborg superhero who lives with the operator of a struggling junkyard. Essentially, while dragging my five “darling” characters (Slamdance, Rev, Kaylee, the industrial golem, the shadowy warrior) into the plot for the first three draft chapters was fun, continuing on from that point was biting off more than I could chew.

Regardless, I think I’m not starting another draft without having a sit-down chat with each of my intended main characters in order to work out where they are and what they want come the start of the book. I also think I’m going to concentrate on Slamdance and Rev for the first few chapters.

I’ve also decided on a new writing rule: Trust my instincts. This rule rates above “Don’t be afraid to suck.” Case in point: My instincts are to jettison the entirety of the thirty-seven thousand words I’ve written thus far and start again with a new chapter one. I may even take another shot at working an outline up.

What was the other simmering issue? More on that in another post, which, given that it’s quarter past ten tonight and I’m working tomorrow, I’ll get stuck into later. I’ll post Sunday at the latest.

But Enough About Me, Gentle Readers: What About You?

How did you develop your instincts that relate to your craft? Was there a particular moment when they warned you against or directed you toward a particular course?