Prioritizing writing.

This week I tried a new thing.

I’m used to writing being a “fun” thing; something I do after all my homework is done. This works when you’re a high school or college student, perhaps, but I’m a grown-up now, and writing is something I seriously want to pursue. If I want to make a living from it, it has to become work.

Part of my problem has been that when I come home from (my current actual) work, I turn on the computer and do things like check my email and RSS feeds—things that I feel like I need to get out of the way before starting my “fun.” That’s where the rabbit hole starts, and by the time it ends, I’m too tired to attempt writing. (Or, on worse days, I plop in front of the TV and watch two hours of Netflix over dinner before even touching my computer.)

So on Thursday I came home, turned on my computer, opened up the sequel-in-progress to Untitled Novel Based on a Talking Cat from America’s Funniest Home Videos in Scrivener, picked a playlist, and lit the WRITING candle. This is what happened.

  • 5:34pm 4,478 words.
  • 6:08pm Candle is at maximum meltage before spilling into the holder and is extinguished.
  • 6:24pm Potty break. Cat joins me because why not. Cats are weird.
  • 6:31pm Cat jumps on lap.
  • 6:31pm Cat leaves lap.
  • 6:31pm Cat back on lap licking my arm.
  • 6:32pm Cat now on desk with butt four inches from my face. Thanks, cat.
  • 6:33pm Cat butt is obscuring numpad of keyboard. Tail extends over length of keyboard. Thanks, cat.
  • 6:42pm Fatigue begins to set in. Perhaps dinner is in order.
  • 6:45pm Second wind.
  • 7:13pm I’ve been stuck on what to name a character for a good fifteen minutes. Maybe it’s time for dinner now.
  • 7:14pm Dinner time. 5,317 words.

839 words. Not bad for 90 minutes.

  • 9:41pm Still ended up watching TV for two hours. But at least I did real work today.

PS: The candle might be better during winter months. It is HOT right now.

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Lessons from writing a sequel.

Last week I got 2,000 words into a sequel to the Untitled Novel Based on a Talking Cat from “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (UNBoaTCfAFHV for short). UNBoaTCfAFHV isn’t close to polished/finished yet, but I figured after nine months of dedicated work on it (after four years of almost no work on it) it could benefit from being shelved for a while.

This is only the second serious first draft I’ve started, and it’s been almost seven years since the last one. I don’t like dealing with the messy, inevitable crappiness of first drafts, so I rarely start them. But the ideas I have are so strong and I can’t stop thinking about them—even if I don’t know where they’ll lead.

When I first started writing it, the ideas and the words flowed relatively easily, which made me think that perhaps the rest of the draft would be just like that: 1,500 words, rough but workable, in only a couple of hours. Maybe I could do that every day and have a complete first draft in a couple months! I thought.

Yeah…. no.

I tried again a few days later, and squeezed out 500 words of choppy prose, one-dimensional characters, robotic dialog, and melodramatic events. How could something be so beautiful in my head and then turn out so poorly when I try to wrap words around it? It’s like that Ecce Homo painting in Spain that was ruined by a well-intentioned amateur artist back in 2012.

But I have to remind myself that the same thing happened when I finished the first draft of the original. It was “103,680 words of plot holes, inconsistent characterization, telling (not showing), awkward dialog, and just plain bad writing,” I wrote after finishing it at 4:00 in the morning. I wondered if I’d ever be able to wade through it.

And it took four years, but I did, and was surprised at how pleased I was with the result.

Rewriting is a huge task; don’t get me wrong. But the nice thing about rewriting (at least, in my experience) is that the more you do it, the clearer your story’s direction becomes. I allow myself to become overwhelmed with the task as a whole: rewriting ENTIRE CHAPTERS? But writing them the first time through was hard enough already! etc. But taking it little by little, allowing the story to show itself, made the task manageable. And, hey, sometimes rewriting flows easily, too.

In other news, just in the last hour an email showed up in my inbox from my friend (a different one this time), with my UNBoaTCfAFHV Draft 3 and her comments attached. Huzzah, supportive writer friends! I look forward to reading her perspective.