Sunday, in many parts of the United States was the start of Daylight Saving Time. A ridiculous practice in which we pretend it’s daylight longer by rolling our clocks forward.
I am exhausted and underwhelmed to have lost an hour of sleep.
I know that for people with children or pets or sleeping disorders, it can be harder. They’re not able to understand why we’re getting up earlier.
I console myself with the knowledge that I’ll get that hour back, come late fall.
But, all too often, we give away our writing time, without a government mandated clock adjustment.
This is going to be a ‘do what I say, and not as I do’ sort of post, that’s inspirational for me. I hope you find it a little inspiring, though.
When it comes down to it, all writers can categorize their time spent not writing into two types:
1. Intentional Time Spent Not Writing
We all have obligations and lives outside of our writing. Mouths to feed, chores to do, loved ones to support and cherise. Not to mention, many of us have day jobs — be they paid or unpaid. And all of those things deserve (or should deserve) our undivided attention.
And if you’re me? You probably want to fit some sleep in there. And contemplate exercising.
Plus, we all need downtime. Being 100%, all the time, is exhausting. Scheduling 100% of your time is going to lead you to be checked out, whenever you can get away with it. Schedule in the things that motivate you or refresh you. TV binge watching, marathon training, book reading, long walks on pretty spring days.
Whatever brings you joy and helps lower your stress level.
2. Unintentional Time Spent Not Writing
These are the time sucks. When you’re free to write, and you go to sit down to write, but instead end up on social media. Or watching three hours of Tiny House videos, or downloading some sort of tetris game, where the lines of blocks just slide sideways, and playing til you hit level 19…
These are just random examples off the top of my head, I don’t know what sort of things you people are into.
I wanted to call it stolen time, but that time isn’t stolen, you’ve just given it away. And then it’s 11:30 pm and you’re just starting your weekly blog post, and you still owe a beta reader some feedback. (But, at least your latest chapters are with your mentor, so at least she’s not waiting on you.)
If you’re not careful, you can lose all your writing time, in the blink of an eye.
For those of us without agents, we create our own schedules and goals, and we’re the only ones holding ourselves accountable.
Is the extra downtime puttering worth it?
I usually say that, unlike exercise or people, if you don’t have time for your writing or it’s not bringing you joy, you can always put it away for a few months… or decades, and it’ll be there waiting when you’re ready.
I’m never quite sure if that analogy is comforting or creepy, but hey. It is what it is.
But, the last person I said that to is past retirement age and reminded me, not all of us have that much time. And they’re right. Not to mention, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.
Only you can decide if goofing off and getting more downtime is worth giving up your writing time today. Maybe you’re having an off-day. Maybe you’re stuck in your writing and letting your brain try and process in the background without forcing it too hard, maybe you’re tired and brain-friend and don’t want your writing to look as coherent as a cold-medication-inspired ramble.
But maybe, you’re just not focused on the end goal and you need to buckle down.
Look at your dreams, your goals, and the people who matter to you. Decide what you’d most regret not-doing — that you KNOW you want to do — and start your list of priorities there.
This year? I’m going to do the same. But instead of talking about the external things, I’m going to talk about the internal things.
Giving Up My Fears
The fear of running out of ideas
When looking down the barrel at an empty page, I’ve felt the fear that I’m out of ideas. That I’ve finished telling all the stories that are inside of me. The ones I wrote were in me for so long, and anything new just doesn’t belong to me.
And then, I start to play around with some new world concept, or setting, or character. Then slowly, ever so slowly, a story starts to come to me from the shadows and I follow its path through the darkness and onto the page.
The fear of not finishing the story
Once I’ve committed to my new story, there’s always, there’s this lingering feeling that I don’t have it in me anymore. That I might have forgotten how to do this whole writing thing.
That I don’t know where I’m going with my story.
But, all first drafts stink. No matter how many times I have to rewrite it, that doesn’t stop my first, crappy ending from counting as a true ending.
The fear of not finding the right voice
I’ve got a story sitting in my drafts folder, that I haven’t touched since November of 2017. It has two different voices and neither of them are right for the story.
The story needs something else, and I’ve been scared to go back and rewrite it, the way it was meant to be told. I’ve been distracted with other stories — it’s true — but I know I’ve been avoiding it, too.
I started that story once before, though. And I liked that voice. I just need to rewrite the full draft in the voice of that false start.
The fear that my plotting is weak
I like my world building. It’s not like I’m a writer who plots out the world and creates a story to explore it, but I enjoy the ‘what if’ exercise, and following each choose to its repercussions.
I like my characters, especially my main characters. (My secondary and background characters aren’t quite two dimensional, but could use more umph.) And the choices of the main characters are what lead the plot.
But, I fear my logic is missing something obvious. Or that I’m following the most logical path for my characters, because it’s the path of least resistance.
My beta-readers, critique-partners, and mentor have challenged me, though. And I have reasons and logic behind most of their questions. For the rest?
I know how to fix them — by making things about my world more clear, so they don’t surprise the reader — not by changing them.
The fear that my story isn’t enough for agents or publishers. Or readers.
I’ve queried. A lot.
Not hundreds, but several dozen times.
I’m pretty happy with my query letter, but I haven’t gotten a lot of non-form rejections. Maybe my market is just too saturated and my story isn’t unique enough.
Maybe my potential readers think it sounds pleasant, but just doesn’t have that special something that makes them want to bring it home with them.
Then, I remind myself, that there are tons of agents out there, and one of them is bound to want my story. And if I can’t find them? I can indie publish and seek my own audience.
No matter the size of the audience, I’m going to have readers who love my story. I already do, just from my author-friends who’ve read my work. And they mean the world to me. (You know who you are <3)
What sort of negativity has infiltrated your life?
What are your fears that you’re ready to give up and face?
Earlier this month, I sent my synopsis to my mentor. Sunday, she sent it back with feedback and I eagerly– spent the rest of the day avoiding it.
I had dived into her comments on my first chapter. I don’t usually hesitate to read feedback.
What was different this time?
The synopsis lay my story out cleanly. In 3 pages, my mentor could see my entire plot. My characters’ motivations. Everything.
My Top Five Fears:
5. Just didn’t connect
The most common and frustrating reaction from agents — the pure defeat of “I just didn’t connect with the story/characters/plot”.
But, as a mentor, she’s going to give some sort of feedback. What if she suggests it go in a completely different direction, that doesn’t work for me or my characters?
What if she insisted I was telling a different story than I had? Or thought a different story would be more compelling to agents?
4. Found it confusing
Sometimes agents don’t connect because they can’t understand what’s going on. What if my mentor didn’t get my story because my writing was confusing? The motivations didn’t make sense and the sequence of events was unclear.
3. Found it too formulaic
Perhaps, she could have thought it was decently written, but something she’s seen a thousand times, with nothing unique for us to build on, to draw the agents and publishers in.
2. Found it too contrived
A critique-partner had already told me back in December that one of my plot points felt a bit too contrived. What if my mentor agreed, and thought MORE of the plot felt forced and contrived?
1. Found a massive plot hole
What if there was some logic my story was missing that broke the whole thing?
That would be a LOT of work. I’m emotionally prepared for edits and polishing, but a MASSIVE restructuring of my story would definitely knock me back on my heels.
With all that weighing on me? I indulged my cold *sniffles hard*, binge-watched tv, and avoided reading her email.
Finally, just after midnight, I gave in and opened the email.
No plot holes, just some clarification needed and slightly better justification for an almost contrived point.
I cleaned up my draft, sent it off, and I talked with her just before I wrote this post. She likes my story, loves my world building, and was pleased that I could justify just about everything in that synopsis.
How do you handle feedback? Is the stress worse than the reality of it?
I’m an unlikely person to compare writing to painting.
I’ve confessed in the past, but my imagination is far more conceptual than it is sensory. Imagery is almost more of flavors to my mind than a movie played out in my head.
To make up for this, I have a Pinterest board for all my characters, settings, and clothing. (I should probably make one for meals). I do a google image search on actors or models (I try to avoid non-public figures, because they haven’t volunteered to have their likenesses used in media, and I feel a bit stalker-y even thinking about it.) Then, I just keep looking until I see an actor or place that looks ‘right’ to me.
Because of this, my writing can get sparse on description. Well, I describe the main character’s emotional state, and physical reactions, and mental calculations. But? It’s all quite a bit in her head and not so much outside of her.
So, to avoid my plot happening in a descriptionless void — otherwise known as ‘white room syndrome’ — I end up writing in layers.
Fortunately for my dreams of being a writer who creates breathtaking worlds, even experienced writers have confessed to writing in layers.
You start off with your draft looking sparse and clunky. (or over detailed in the main character’s head) Then? You despair of ever measuring up to the writers you love.
But that’s because, to quote Victoria Schwab:
And she’s right.
Several months ago, I went to a “paint bar” with my cousin. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bar where you reserve your table, and at the set time, a teacher leads you through creating your own version of the painting of the night.
Sort of like watching Bob Ross, only they have all the materials ready for you, and they’ve got plenty of snacks and drinks to keep you going.
That painting I made all those months ago? The instructor showed us how to fuzz out the reds and oranges, giving a haze that suggested leaves. But when I tried? I couldn’t get the technique right and found myself adding far more detail than the sample image held.
Neither way is right, but the parts have to blend and meld and hold consistent. A painting where portions are in crisp clarity, and others are a fuzzy blend of colors, when done without skill or a plan, will look amateur and unpolished.
Luckily, this painting isn’t something I plan on trying to sell. Plus, I only had 3 hours to get it right. With my writing, I get a lot more chances.
I recently sent off my first chapter to my new mentor. I thought it was ready for prime time, but with her fresh eyes? I can see where some parts of my story aren’t crisp. I can see where the colors aren’t blended properly.
Getting the balance between colors on a canvas is a lot like getting the balance between backstory and plot, detail and background.
So, I’m editing my manuscript. AGAIN.
I do worry that I won’t be able to take all these lessons and attempts and turn them into a streamlined process. But? The only way to find out is to finish, then try again. And I’m determined to create a world that even the most visual-minded reader will find entrancing.
Are you a visual reader or writer?
If so, what do you find yourself layering into your writing? Or struggling to connect with in your reading?
If not, here’s a hug for those of us trying to fulfill the expectations of the visual-reader. Let me know I’m not alone.