2.13.2020

Sleep for a Month on It

Writing any book takes a long time. I occasionally edit authors who write at white-hot speed, but the number is not great and neither are the books. There is a reason why, with so many authors, their first book is their best. With no deadline to meet, the writing can span months, revolving through numerous iterations, each of which adds a new layer of complexity. What is not as apparent in this involved process is how long a section may lie fallow before you turn your attention back to it. That gap in time can also be a tool in producing the best results.

The process of writing goes through three broad stages: research and notes; bursts of new creation; and editing. If the process takes several years, let’s say, then Chapter 5 may not be revisited for months on end. When you return to it, you read almost as you are coming upon the prose for the first time. Yes, you recognize the general drift for the characters and plot, but the individual sentences, all the tiny steps of getting from beginning to end, are a source of surprised delight—and, if you’re serious, consternation.

Let’s focus on that third stage, editing, because it is so often in conflict with the second, writing new material.  That’s because most authors face an ongoing problem of feeling blocked. You wake up on the wrong side of the bed for writing, and no matter how much you try to fight through it, you continue to feel listless. So you decide to edit what you’ve already written. After all, you set aside the time. You might as well get something done. And who knows? After a time the muse may finally come knocking.

That’s fine as an expedient. One day sucks, okay, write that off. But what do you do when the blockage malaise extends over several days, as it so often does, or even a week and more? You have to try harder, of course. No one cares if you never write a book, or another book. You’re the one who likes to tap into the flow of creativity.

You must push yourself to write new material every time out. If you set aside an hour and the pen only flows for the last 20 minutes—well, the pen flowed, didn’t it? What you can’t do is settle into a routine of editing yourself. A book takes long enough to write. When do you think you’ll ever finish if you don’t make a little progress every session?

Exercise: When you’re editing, don’t worry about getting everything exactly right. You’re only thinking everything’s right at that point in time. A writer is never satisfied. So put Chapter 5 aside. Sleep for a month on it, then come back. You’ll find more niggling things that need to be fixed. But during that month, if you force yourself to keep pushing ahead, you’ll have left that chapter far behind.

“A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.”
—Franz Kafka

Copyright @ 2020, John Paine


No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2012 John Paine. All rights reserved.