the inefficiencies of writing novels

I’ve been thinking a lot about my novel-writing (and rewriting) process lately, and decided that it is too inefficient. It just takes me too darn long to get a novel into shape, and it is clearly my method at fault.

My current process looks something like this:

  • Get Idea. “Ooh, shiny!” *plays*
  • In the meantime, continue work on pre-Idea project.
  • Brainstorm, cluster and make notes based on Idea.
  • Get bored with pre-Idea project. Start Idea project.
  • Feel guilty about abandoning pre-Idea project (and the pre-pre-pre-Idea projects). Tinker with them for a several months.
  • Idea project calls–go back to it and write it out.
  • Get New Idea. “Oooh, glittery!” *play with it while Idea project cools*
  • *Guilt!* Return to Idea project and despair at how awful and broken it is.
  • Start work on New Idea project (first drafts are way more fun!).
  • New Idea novelty wears off. Revise Idea project.
  • Revision stalls, so go off to browse web forums or clean grout or watch paint dry.

You can see where this is going. And I didn’t even mention the Zombie Pregnancies and Life with Newborns. All in all, I’ve developed this bad habit of moving on from projects I haven’t seen through to the bitter end. Yes, some ideas should be abandoned and yes, it is good to let things sit for a bit, but when I have a big pile of unrevised drafts sitting around, it means I’m dithering.

In an effort to turn this around, I’ll be focusing on revising previous novels for the rest of this year (and into the next–this is a big project!). I’ve set revision goals for myself (Phase I to be accomplished by Christmas). If I don’t meet them something dire will happen–like my Christmas gifts being withheld or no chocolate or something equally horrific.

Okay, kidding aside, I want to give myself the chance to take something rough and bring out the diamond in it. To take a block of marble and release the wondrous creature within it. To take everyday words and turn them into something magical. To share with others what I have created.

kids in the wild

In my dark moments (usually when lying awake, unable to sleep, in the middle of the night), I’ve questioned our decision to keep the kids at home instead of sending them to preschool. Can I, I wondered, really compete with trained teachers, playground equipment, and tons of art supplies, manipulatives and educational toys? Then I read this in Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane Healy and felt better about raising the kids in the “wild” so to speak, instead of an enriched school environment:

Neuroanatomist Marian Diamond, a pioneer in studying the effects of environmental enrichment on brains, is a living example of lifelong creativity. In her career analyzing the brains of laboratory rats, she realized that seeking out and pursuing interesting challenges is the brain’s natural mechanism to keep neural connections exercised–and growing. For rats, “enrichment” consisted of interesting “toys” and exercise equipment that was changed often enough to provide ongoing challenges. The more active and curious the rats, the larger their brains grew. Nonetheless, rats in laboratory cages never reached the level of those raised among the natural challenges of their unartificial wild environments.

Now, of course we aren’t rats, and we certainly won’t be dropping the kids off in the middle of the woods and leaving them to fend for themselves (tempted though we may be sometimes, heh). However, there is something to be said about parents and children living and learning along side each other, of integrating kids into lives of purpose, instead of sequestering them away with others of their age, doing meaningless busywork. I’m not at all saying that free-form painting and building with legos are bad; in fact play is work at their ages, and developmentally appropriate. But I do want my kids to be involved in the small but important processes of life; cooking with mom, holding the hammer for dad, sowing seeds and picking green beans, folding and putting away laundry, learning to play with their baby brother. Early school, to me, seems more about training for more school, and less about training for real life.

I’m still here

A concerned email last night from a writing buddy alerted me to the fact that, gosh, I haven’t been online much.

That’s because I’ve been good about keeping my New Year’s resolution and spending less time on the Internet.

So, I’ve been doing other stuff. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

I have been: chauffering kids to gymnastics, preschool group, romp’n’stomp and the libray; researching, writing and ordering kindergarten-level curriculum; reading lots and lots to the kids; doing art and crafts with the kids; getting a good headstart on the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge I signed up for; crocheting a scarf for the Princess; watching Planet Earth (my Christmas present; wahoo!); and holding baby, lots. As usual.

Then there was the evening I took myself and my headache off to bed at 7 pm.

And our sixth wedding anniversary yesterday where I felt that it was important to spend time with D. instead of us working on our laptops (crazy, I know!).

And the sweeping of floors and the doing of dishes and the washing (and drying and folding) of clothes that must happen, or else we would be living naked and hungry in a pig sty.

The good thing is that I am being fairly productive.

The bad things is that I am being productive in ways that are not writing. And, what is even more concerning, is that I haven’t been thinking (much) about my stories either. They’ve been completely crowded out by the rest of my life and all its attendant thoughts.

Something that needs rectifying soon!

How have you all been?

the secrets that we keep

I had a revelation last week while I was doing a bit of freewriting on why I write. Amidst the usual reasons of megalomania (“I am GOD of this world! Tremble, all ye minions! Bwahahaha!”) and delusions (“The voices in my head told me to write this”) of grandeur (“I will be rich and famous!”), I came up with this unexpected motivation:

I write to have something that is just mine, something I don’t have to share with the people I live with, to have a reason to carve out time and space for myself.

I’m not especially saintly and altruistic, but I do spend a lot of time doing things for other people. I kinda have to, seeing as I’m at home with three kids under the age of four. I feed and clothe and diaper; I sweep floors and wash dishes; I read books aloud and help with puzzles; I mediate disputes and drive my cherubs to playdates and doctor’s appointments. I don’t say this because I think I merit some kind of Mommy Prize–pretty much every mommy I know does this, and is happy to (except for maybe the dishes part). I say this because I am inherently a selfish person who needs a lot of down time for herself and mental and physical space to just think. Writing allows me a guilt-free way to get all that; after all, I’m not just flipping through a magazine or aimlessly surfing the Internet. I’m being productive, creative, inspired, thoughtful, disciplined, risk-taking, adventurous.

Oh, yeah, and getting that time to just myself.

I’m not sure whether this revelation changes anything. But it was a neat “huh, I never knew that about myself” moment.

The Year of the Zombie

According to the Rabiaesan Calendar, this is the Year of the Zombie (another note: the Rabiaesan Calendar skips around a lot, but began last year in November). Strangely, I cannot write while pregnant. This is probably because all my creative brain cells migrate down to the uterus to supervise the delicate and complex task of making a baby. Here’s hoping that they will return once the baby’s here, but it’s a hit-and-miss thing. I’m still missing some from the last two pregnancies; I have the feeling they fled to Bermuda where they are reading chick-lit and sipping pina coladas on the the beach.

All this to say that writing has been on the back burner for a while. Stories are lying cocooned in my mind, gently simmering away, gestating in the quiet dark, take your pick of metaphors. And that’s okay. There is a time and a season for everything under heaven: a time for making babies, and a time for making books. I’m sure all of us writers have been blindsided by life every now and again, and you know what? It’s okay to take time off from the physical act of putting words on paper (or computer screen) to get our affairs in order, pursue other things or just plain rejuvenate and recover. It’s taken me a long time to come to this place of acceptance: Writer’s Guilt, like Mommy Guilt, is a strong negative force in my life.

How ’bout all you other writers/creative people? What saps your creative energies, and how do you deal with it?

Next time, I’ll talk about how I keep that lovin’ feelin’ for writing, even during this long dry stretch of not-writing.