Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bringing Balance to the Force

In the Star Wars universe the Jedi are worried about balance. It's part of the reason why Anakin Skywalker was trained (that, and survivor's guilt on Obi Wan's part. Just sayin'.) They thought he might be able to bring balance to the Force. 

(Short tangent: why exactly did they want to balance the force in the first place? I mean, balance was in their favor. There was way more good Jedi than bad ones. Ironically, Anakin Skywalker/ (SPOILER!) Darth Vader did bring balance to the Force. Just not the way ole' Yoda wanted him too)

I am discovering that like the Jedi, I must also bring balance to my writing life. I just got a bunch of really cool books on writing for Christmas. I am itching to read them cover to cover, and see what wisdoms they might impart upon my eager soul.

But no. If I start reading those books now I will a) be distracted from the actual writing of my book and b) I will start to analyze what I am writing too much.

I have recently discovered that I can't have all of the Internet and How to Writing book voices in my head, telling me what to do while I am writing. It seems counter intuitive , I know, but just hear me out.

I can't seem to write anything of real quality unless it's just me and the words. If I start thinking about the great blogpost I read about foreshadowing, I choke up. My Internal Editor comes out and start ripping apart the words I just wrote.

"That line is crap, there's not a single bit of foreshadowing." She says, in between drags of her cigarette. "In fact, everything you just wrote is terrible. Just delete the file and start over. Everyone knows that if you have the character think too much, it's boring."

Same thing goes for the social networking part of my brain. If I am spending a lot of energy being extroverted, and being a good little writer and writing long, insightful blog posts, updating my statuses (statusi?) on Facebook and Twitter, I am exhausted when it comes time to write. My creative energy has been spent elsewhere.

I don't remember it being this hard to maintain focus either. But then again, every other book I have ever written (three trunk manuscripts and countless false starts) were not written while I was also social networking.

Clearly it can be done. Writers do it everyday. And I am honestly glad that I live in a time where I can shoot a tweet over to one of my favorite authors and he actually tweets back. 

But in order to keep the secret writer part of yourself--that recluse that writes the book--and the social butterfly part of yourself balanced, you have to make a conscious effort. I finally realized that is what I was doing wrong. I was trying to do it all. I tried to maintain a strong Internet presence, read books in my spare time, and then write my heart out onto the page.

Shockingly, this didn't work out. The blog slipped. Then I focused on the blog and Internet presence, and the writing slipped. Both times I felt frustrated, like I was failing at being a writer. When I sat down to write I couldn't shut out all of the things I "should" be doing.

"Make sure there's conflict on every page. Make sure the characters are funny, and witty, and well motivated, and you show layers and complexity." Internal Editor said on her lofty perch. 

Finally, I just caved. I sat down and started to write, whatever it was I wanted to write. I told myself that I would just write for myself, like I used to. Forget my dreams of publishing, forget the Internet, forget everything else. 

The only thing that matter is the story. I wanted to tell myself a story, and I wanted to take it where ever I wanted to go. Forget about marketing and genres, I wanted to just fall in love with a story.

So I sat down and started to write.  I had a small plan, but nothing to speak of as far as outlines and development goes. I stumbled across an awesome idea about 30,000 words in, and implemented those changes. Wrote a few more scenes, and then found the real plot, the heart of the story. 

I then proceeded to chuck the 35,000 words I had previously, and started over. Some of you might be screaming at this point, but I assure you it was necessary. I took the two main characters and made them one. I added a new antagonist, and changed the way the character comes to the inciting incident completely. Normally I just pretend I got it right the first time, and create Frankenbook!

But the changes were so radical, I thought it would be easier to just start over. I wasn't wrong, and the good news is those previous words aren't all wasted. I have a strong feel for the character and the setting as a result.

I suspect if this happened even a month ago, I would be panicking. "Oh noes!!!!!! I just had to toss 35,000 words! I should have prevented this! To the thirty page outlines!"

But now? Cool as a cucumber. Sure, I wish I had thought of this sooner, and thus saved those words, but I am aiming for a story to tell myself. Right now, it's just for me.  I am really starting to believe that the first draft is for the author, and the revision is for the reader. 

I am placing less pressure on myself. Strangely enough, the less pressure I place on myself to produce something "PERFECT", the better off my writing seems to be. And after I am done with this story, I will revise. Because I am a writer and that's what we do. We write books and then we revise them. Hopefully this book will be something that can be published, but that's not what I am thinking about right now. Right now I am working on writing the best damn book I can. 

I almost lost my cool a few weeks ago. I subscribe to the newsletter from Nelson Literary Agency, and in this issue, one-of-my-dream-agents Agent Kristen said that steampunk was hot. I did a happy dance: my secret heart book is very steampunk. Yay! Steampunk is hard to market but there seems to be a trend! Squeeee!

Then came the pressure. "Okay, so I would never try to write to a trend because that's a fool's game, but if I finish this book in two weeks and revise it in--" I had to stop myself. I was thinking about the book. I was no longer inside it, where the book lives. I can't think about the marketing, or even revision while I am in the middle of writing a book. I've tried to, but it just doesn't work.

It all comes down to balance. There is a balance to everything. There is a time for writing the book like your hands are on fire, and there is a time to cool down and study the prose on the page. Right now I am just focusing on writing a book, and nothing else. It can't be about anything else, because there is no editing and marketing without the book.

How did you guys deal with the pressures of publication and revision? How have you had to adapt your writing style now that you're "plugged in" to the Internet and the blogosphere?


  1. You need an internal editor who doesn't smoke. Just sayin'. ;-)

  2. Oh, regarding your questions. I haven't gotten to that point yet - but I think I still write the stories I have in me, not trying to jump on a bandwagon. I think perhaps, because I do read and live in the world to a certain degree, some of it filters into my psyche, and will inevitably make its way into some of my writing. But I don't know that it has been a huge influence. However, the 'net HAS been wonderful for research on the fly, when I'm far from a library, and unable to get myself there. (DS drives now, you see...) So the internet isn't all bad.

    As I get closer to being done and ready to send my first "baby" out in the big bad world, it may help me to find the right place to send it to. I hope. That's the scary part. I won't think about it just yet. Lalalalala.

  3. And I am honestly glad that I live in a time where I can shoot a tweet over to one of my favorite authors and he actually tweets back.

    Aww, thank you! ;)

  4. Wow, I could have written this post -- even the manuscript's right turn and tossing of 35K words. You are so right about balance. As a writer who is also a Libra, I couldn't agree more. Best of luck with your projects, and Happy New Year!

  5. Linda: It's not so much of trying to write to a trend. It's finding out that what I am writing might become a trend. This becomes rather distracting.

    Joe: You're welcome. ;)

    Nicole: That's actually sort of eerie. We're manuscript twins! Good luck on yours and let me know if you discover anything cool to combat the evil Frankenbook.