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If You’re Not Enjoying It, You’re Doing It Wrong

July 3, 2011

This blog is supposed to be a once a week thing, and I am determined to see it through, but I have not been keeping up with that schedule. I have an excuse (not a reason – an excuse) – I’m going through one of my insomnia cycles.

This seems to happen to me twice a year or so. Maybe more often, I don’t really keep track. But basically I’ll go through a period of two weeks or so where sleep can only be obtained through extreme effort on my part. Hours upon hours lying in bed staring at the ceiling trying to shut my brain down, thinking about plots, work, school, the last TV show I watched… If I try to read something I enjoy I get lost in the book and read for hours. If I try to read something boring I read until I can’t stand it anymore, then I put it aside to try to sleep, and my brain seems to wake back up again and I’m back where I started.

I then spend each day in something of a daze. The dishes go unwashed, the laundry doesn’t get done until it’s absolutely necessary, and, worst of all, I don’t write. Anything. At all. I’m too tired. Putting words together is too much effort. Speaking in any manner that makes any sort of sense to anyone other than myself is a task worthy of Hercules. And I ramble. Like I’m doing now.

I do have something to say, though, which is why I’m downing a venti Chai and hoping that the caffeine will get the dusty gears in my head cranking long enough to get through this entry.

I have this plot. It’s for a fantasy novel. I came up with it eight – yes, eight – years ago, and have been working on it off and on ever since. I have a complete first draft that I started in high school that, by itself, is not fit to line the cat’s litterbox with. Back then my idea of worldbuilding was “make it up as you go,” my characters sounded exactly alike, my concept of combat scenes came from playing D&D and the fantastically epic ending I had planned out fell apart when my main character (the typical arrogant boy turned warrior hero) surprised me by becoming a pacifist.

My goal for this year has been to make “significant progress” on the second draft. So far I’ve done a ton of worldbuilding, planning, outlining… and written about three thousand words.

Three thousand.

Three thousand.

In the six complete months that have passed in this year I have managed a measly three thousand words. I used to have a word count goal of 5k a week, a goal I routinely exceeded.

I just don’t want to write.

Stop and think about that for a second. Have you ever just not wanted to write? And I don’t mean just, “I don’t feel like it today,” or, “I don’t have the energy,” or, “I’m just not inspired right now.” I mean sitting down, opening the word document (or Keynote, which I use), knowing exactly what scene you want to work on and how you want to approach it, and realizing suddenly that, in that moment, you hate writing, you never want to write again, dear god why did you ever want to be a writer? and you close the word document in disgust and go play Bioshock instead.

Well, that had never really happened to me until this summer. Yes, I’ve run into the many incarnations of the so-called “writer’s block” that I secretly is just an excuse to not get anything done – “Oh, I would love to write, but I have writer’s block,” and the listener nods sympathetically, “Yes, yes, I have had that too, I’m so very sorry.” In my experience writer’s block can almost always be battled by forcing your way through it. Anyway, this revulsion I was feeling was something new. And I didn’t like it.

So I was speaking to some friends about this, and one of them said (something like), “Well, maybe you just need to stop working on The Gray Regions. Has it occurred to you that this project may not be the best one for you to try and finish?”

The Gray Regions – that’s the title of my fantasy Work In Progress – has always been my baby. I hate that word, but it’s really the best way to put it. I’ve worked on other projects off and on, but I always come back to The Gray Regions. The thought that I might never finish it, that I should just DROP IT until some unknown point in the future, perhaps to never pick it up again, was shocking, horrifying, and somewhat defeating. Because it was good advice. Painful – excruciating – good advice.

I spent a few days moping about it and toying with my science fiction plot that has been on the back burner for a few months. And then I was lying awake at night and my thoughts gravitated back toward worldbuilding for The Gray Regions again and I remembered this one particular detail of the world that I had felt really helped set the tone of the world I’d created but I was realizing that the way things were going with the second draft (plotting, planning in addition to what I’d written and scenes I’d salvaged from the first draft) I couldn’t really see how it fit in with anything else at all and all of a sudden I had an epiphany.

It was all wrong.

My second draft of The Gray Regions did not have the tone and mood I was going for. The world I had created was not coming through properly. The main character was being utilized poorly. I was clutching too tightly to Draft One, rewriting it scene by scene instead of taking a step back and re-envisioning it all together.

And that’s why I hated it.

Because it was terrible.

Simply rewriting a scene is not enough if the scene is inherently weak. I mean, sure, I had outlined the second draft making changes to large plot points that needed work, but the little scenes, the ones I had been so sure of, I hadn’t even bothered to tear apart. I knew they needed editing. What they really needed was replacing.

So the other day I sat down and completely rewrote my opening scene. It needs editing (somehow my fantasy-world guards sound like modern police) but it’s a step in the right direction. Finally I feel like I’m capturing something of the spirit of the world of The Gray Regions.

I have a friend who is a published author/professional editor who I have turned to for advice a number of times. I said at one point, “Well, I’m at a somewhat boring part in the story, so I’m not as motivated to write it.” And he responded with, “If you’re bored writing it, your writers are going to be bored reading it.”

Ever since then, whenever I get to a part that I could possibly consider a “boring part,” I take a look at it and rework it until it’s fun to write. And I’ve passed that advice onto other amateur writers that I’ve spoken to – you’d be surprised how often I hear people say exactly what I said above, that they’re at a “boring part.”

I really should have used that advice in this situation. I didn’t hate writing, I just wasn’t enjoying what I was writing.

And if you’re not enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong.

  1. This really is amazing advice. Sometimes I look back at the work that I have and wonder ‘Why did I stop working on this?’ When I look at it, it’s completely clear: it sucked. I was bored, because it was boring. I still find it extremely hard to let go of ideas, though. I mean, if I had an inspired idea, it must make it a good idea… right? If only.

    As a side note, I am greatly enjoying your blog. I find it incredibly insightful and funny. Also, you mentioned being ‘kind of’ published. Do you have a link to your work? 🙂

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