Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Post Where I Explain My Crazy

So, remember that time yesterday I finished writing the first draft of a new book I had started exactly a week before?

Yeah. I remember that time. So do my fingers. And my wrists. And my incredibly messy house.

I never know quite how to explain these things. I am aware that I make writing look a bit like MAGIC. I sort of wiggle my fingers and POOF! A NEW BOOK EXISTS! Which is true, sort of, and also very not true.

Most of the time writing for me is work. It's work I am passionate about and that I love, but I have to carve out the time for it, I have to set goals for myself so that I actually meet them, I have to make my friends hold me accountable. Like any self-employment, it's about discipline, and most books, most writing, most editing is a force of will. I will finish this chapter. I will have a completed manuscript done by [x] date. I will do another read through even though I never want to see those pages again.

ENDLESSLY was a hard book to write. I was not in a happy place, and I did. not. want. to write Evie's rather perky voice. So I set ridiculous, insane word count goals for myself. I made Shannon Messenger and Scott Tracey, two author friends, have competitions with me every single day so I would have an external motivator. I needed to write the book, so I sat down and I wrote the book.

And you know what? It's probably my favorite of the three. There are parts of that book that are magic. And even if it didn't feel like magic while I was writing it--it felt like a whole lot of work--the magic found its way in anyway. When I was listening to Neil Gaiman speak last fall, he said the days when everything flows and the writing is easy and the days when everything is hard and he has to force it all look the same in the finished draft. (Of course he said it more eloquently and with that accent and that hair, so please just imagine it that way.)

In the comments of the last post, Gennifer Albin asked, "Do you feel like you refilled your creative well when you just let the voice drive you? I'm hard at work on the book I owe my editor, but it's slow going and frustrating, and there's this other book that keeps popping into my head. I keep wondering if maybe I need to write it to remember why I like writing, because navigating sequel-writing is proving frustrating."

I honestly don't know. I don't usually allow myself to cheat with other ideas. When you are slogging through a difficult sequel, pretty much any idea sounds more appealing. I think it's because a new idea is pure potential. Sequels have a good deal of pressure associated with them, and you're working in a voice and a world the rules of which you have already established. There is less room for the sheer giddy PLAY aspect of a new idea. But I know myself, and I know that most of those ideas I think would be so much more fun crap out at about twenty pages.

But this time something happened that made it impossible to work on the sequel I was writing that day. (It was a traumatic event that ended up being fine, but left me really shaken and unwilling to deal with the themes of that book.) I needed to cleanse my palate, so to speak, and so I wrote the sequence that had been playing in my head. And I knew that this idea, this voice, was probably going to be one of the magic ones. So I let myself go crazy.

But not too crazy. Because I knew I could write it fast, and that I wouldn't be taking too much time away from the things that should have been slated before it on the work calendar. If this book had been a matter of committing months, I would not have pursued it. I would have taken notes and tucked it away. Fortunately I know myself and I knew that I could chase this, that it would be worth it, that losing myself in the mad giddy rush was okay because I would not be lost too long. I knew I would be cranky and obsessive, I knew when it was over I would crash. I accept it as part of my writing process, just as I accept those books that take consistent, determined work.

So, I don't know what to tell you. Sometimes taking time away from a project can refresh you and let you go back to it excited. Sometimes it can remove you even further from it and make more difficult than ever. Sometimes the writing is magic, and sometimes the writing is work, but our job is to put in the time we need to so that when it gets into the hands of readers, it always reads like magic.

No pressure.


Whirlochre said...

It has to be magic and work all at the same time — that's why any non-writer trying this out would have died by day 2 (same as might happen to yourself with respect to, say, soccer).

Enthusiasm simply makes the arduous more bearable, is all.

But next time — six days, or you're a flop...

The Writing Hour. said...

Kiersten White's Crazy Pills. I imagine those would be very marketable among the writing community.

Kiersten White said...

Yeeeeaaaah, so not topping this one. Ever.

And what are you trying to say about my soccer skills??

Josin L. McQuein said...

You should consider doing seminars. I don't mean that as empty flattery; you have a real gift for putting things into easily digestible and (more importantly) easy to understand terms.

(As for your record - there was a guy who did NaNo in a day last year :-P )

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I finished Agatha Christie's biography last month, and she spoke of a three-day session where she was utterly captured by a story idea (not a mystery, by the way). She gave herself over to it and wrote the thing. It's the novel she claimed to be most proud of (one published under the name Mary Westmacott called Absent in the Spring).

I ordered a copy and can't wait to experience the story that held such power over her!

Shannon Messenger said...

I can't wait till I can lose myself like this again. (and by "like this" i mean one MONTH to write a boo--not one week. Still hating you!)

But alas, I am up to my eyeballs in sequels. So yeah, I will be slogging away. And whining to you a LOT. Be ready for it.

Shannon Messenger said...

Clearly I meant BOOK. Though writing a "boo" sounds more fun than writing a sequel. MAYBE I'LL DO THAT!!!

Kris Atkins said...

Thanks for this post. I'm in a slump right now--writing and otherwise--and somehow reading about your whirlwind is re-inspiring me. :) (And re-inspiring is totally a word and something you can do!) You reminded me of how fun this all is-most of them time.

Kate said...

Thank you. This is really good advice. Advice I'm sure I've heard before several times, but I definitely needed to be reminded again. So thank you. :) I'm really excited to go back to working at my writing now. :)

Kate said...

Oh and The Writing Hour, I would totally pay good money for Kiersten White's Crazy Pills. :)

LauraN said...

What I want to know is how your fingers and writsts feel. Also, how much chocolate did you have to consume to get through all of that. (I'm struggling to learn to write without chocolate, but it's hard.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your encouragement!

-Christine from Arizona

Irene said...

Stills sounds crazy to (big-fat- jealous-Green-as-the-Grinch) me.. :-)

Kiersten White said...

My wrists were actually not too bad until I started editing. Typing does not do the same damage as the position I apparently hold my right wrist in for sustained scrolling and clicking. Alas. I wear a brace when I know I'll be at it for a while, but it's sore no matter what.

Irene--No arguments here. Totally on the crazy train.

Larissa said...

Is it bad if I'm just plain jealous? :P The ms I'm working on would have let me fall into it that way if I could have. Alas, four jobs and three kids makes that impossible. *sigh* Maybe someday. :)

Excited for you, though! Can't wait to hear more about it! :)

Gennifer Albin said...

Just saw this as I went on vacation for a week and had sick kids and life and deadlines, but you're right. And I know it. Now I must go back to slogging and hope for a few moments of giddy.

Kristen said...

geez I think I'm going to print this entire post and put it on my wall and on my mirror and on my fridge and everywhere to remind myself that it's not always fun but I need to get it DONE already!


Joanna said...

Kiersten, thank you so, so, so so so so much for this post. It's what I needed. See, I've been working on this futuristic urban fantasy pagan polytheistic supernatural psychic power novel since I was 20 (I just turned 33) and I've almost finished it, but many, many things have derailed me. Illness and disability, mostly (I have a disability hearing in July and I'm so nervous I can't brain straight), and also growing up, because when you write, you always grow with your characters. And my characters have had over twelve years to grow, and dear gods, that feels like forever, doesn't it? Why can't I just finish it? Whhyyyyy? *cough*

There were many, many people who told me that I was writing a great book and that it would sell very well (lots of pagan readers out there, people getting tired of sexy vampires, whatever). But I have this shatteringly fragile sense of self that often rears up (especially after an epileptic seizure or a fibromyalgia flare) and points and laughs, "Ha, ha, you suck, your brain sucks, your book sucks, you will never be published, mwa ha ha..." And it takes me a while to do battle. I have a very pretty and deadly mental sword, though. I call her Phoenix.

So. Erm. Yes, well. I think I've said more than I'd expected to. Anyway.
Erm. Thank you. Yes! That's what I wanted to say. Also, that I pre-ordered Endlessly and am now clawing the couch the way my cat Luna does when she gets excited (get off the couch, Luna).