Friday, May 6, 2011

Changing Gears: Downshift to Beginner's Mind

I've been juggling two different writing projects, or perhaps more accurately, two projects that have to be worked on right now. One is the next Darkover novel, The Children of Kings, which I hope to have finished this summer. The thing about stories is that unless you write them, they don't get written, but the thing about novels is that the writing goes on for a long time. This business of "oh, I'll just skip today, it's so beautiful I'd rather be at the beach" starts with a nibble here and a nibble there and maybe I'll just write a blog post and call that a day's writing and before you know it, it's three or five or twelve months later and you've written only a few pages. Maybe a hundred. But you really needed to have written five hundred if you wanted to hit your book-a-year rhythm.

The other thing about novels is that there are so many elements and they're so interdependent that even a short lapse in focus leads to many dropped threads. Maybe some writers can keep all that stuff in their heads for prolonged breaks, or just pick up with the outline where they left off. I, alas, am not one of them. Hence my working style of slow and steady, emphasis on the steady.

I'm in a section of The Children of Kings, about 2/3 or 3/4 through, where I'm having to bring together all this stuff I've set up earlier in such a way that it forms a springboard for the climactic sequence. I'm discovering motivational idiocies and plot holes, right and left. So I head back to my Magic Notebook (TM), thrash it all through, and come up with at least a short-term plan. Okay, I'm set. I start writing...

And then decide to write a short story for an anthology that has an unfortunately tight deadline. I really should have been thinking about this 6 months ago, but I didn't. A story presents itself, and it's one of those deep-diving stories, the kind you get immersed in/obsessed with and don't emerge until the story's done or near-done. Yep, that's what happened. Did any novel writing get done? (Cue sound effects: groan...)

Short story is now at solid 2nd draft form and needs to get set aside for a few days. Return to novel. I read the last 2 chapters with growing horror. What the $%^&*( was I thinking??? This bears no relationship to my outline! This bears even less resemblance to any kind of sense! My outline must have been written while under the influence of illegal mind-altering substances! My hero's caught between two opposing forces, neither of which has any reason to keep him alive, indeed he has been acting like a total wimp and if they don't kill him off, I will...

Breathe deeply, grasshopper. There may be wisdom in what you have written, or it may be the folly you fear. Despair avails nothing. All good things come to she who breaks things down into tiny logical pieces.

Step Back And Return To Notebook. Grasp the Tail of the Plot -- gently, as a silkworm eating mulberry leaves, as my old calligraphy teacher used to say. Ahhh....

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