Friday, 6 December 2013

Writing Too Much At Once - The Creative Process

Writing Too Much At Once

As a writer who juggles a lot of other things, like uni work and being in a band, I've learnt that there is only so much book stuff I can do before it starts to eat into my relaxing time. Everyone needs down time, even writers, and so there is such a thing as "writing too much at once". I know what you're thinking, writers such as myself, who don't have other day jobs, have all this free time, so what are we complaining about? We get paid to sit in front of a computer and make stuff up for a living, right?

Well, I hate to break it to you, but that is far from the truth. As I wrote a few days ago, the many hats of an indie author (found here) eat up my time, along with school commitments such as the school run and after school clubs, plus the occasional school play. When I'm not doing either the writing or the Aunt duties, then I'm working on uni work. Yes, I am in my last year, but for the past four or five years, I've always had to put uni work first. There have even been occasions in the past when I didn't have enough time to write at all while I was juggling Aunt duties and uni work.

Thankfully, those dark days are behind me and now my week is made up of a little bit of school stuff for Miss D, a lot of uni work and a whole heap of stuff I have to do to keep up with my writing commitments. It is true that I spend most of my time behind a desk working on my computer, but not all of that time is spent surfing the internet and creating stories. Some of it is spent doing things like this, some is spent gnashing my teeth over the latest writer's block and some of it is legitimate down time because too much of a good thing can be bad.

So, although I write two books at once, I still have to be careful to balance the rest of my writing time to make sure that I don't burn out and have to take a long hiatus from the writing world. On average, it takes me about two years to write a book start to finish. Now that I work on two at once, I generally get one book a year done so it all evens out. Even when I finish uni next year, I will probably not be able to increase the amount of book work I do because of my health conditions. That said, what do you do when you're writing at your upper limit already and a new plot bunny comes along and dangles itself in front of you?

That's something that has only recently become an issue for me. I usually find that once I hit the halfway mark on both books, I start to get anxious and worry that I've run out of ideas and will have nothing to write for a while. This is a thought that scares me because I love writing, it is like breathing to me and to be without it for any amount of time makes me feel like I would be drowning. So I get anxious and start to look for anything that will give me inspiration. ANYTHING! Usually around the time I get close to the end of one, or both books, I am struck by inspiration lightning and then I'm off again on a little journey planning my next two books.

However, just last week, I was lying in bed - which is always when the best ideas hit and then you usually forget them once you wake up - and the lightning hit a bit sooner than anticipated. I had an idea. I had a good idea. I had an idea that could possibly be three books long. I was desperate to start, I even started planning the opening chapter when I woke up the following morning. That's when this little thing called reality hit and I realised that I still have two books half started and there was no way that my schedule would allow for me to start a third.

Bugger, I thought. So, I started to make notes, copious amounts of notes. I wanted to set this book in the not too distant future. I thought about it being a dystopian piece, but then threw that idea away. I knew the premise, I knew the plot and then I set to work on the characters. I thought to myself that it's been about eight months since I started the two I'm working on so I had another year at least before I would finish them and be in a place where I could start the next two. Maybe, I thought, if I stick to my four chapters a fortnight goal, I will be able to get them done in six months. Yes, I decided, that was an excellent idea. I would write my little socks off and then, when uni was finished and I had two more books done, I could start writing this fantastic idea and it would be awesome.

Except it didn't work out like that. Of course it didn't, because this is real life, and real life tends to get in the way of my brilliant ideas. It's just turned winter and my lungs have already had two temper tantrums in the space of a month so I am probably in for a difficult time. Add to that the cold weather would irritate my Fibromyalgia and M.E, and it was looking even less likely that I would finish two books in six months.

Still, I wasn't discouraged. I started to have a notepad file open on my computer so that whenever I had a burst of inspiration about the new book, I could type away and all my ideas were in one place. I then decided that I would just try to up my game a little with the two works in progress and work a little harder on them. Do you know what happened? You can probably guess. I spent a whole two days of writing time staring at the last paragraph I'd written before the big idea struck and I could not write anything.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. No matter how much I mused over the plot and the chapter plan, nothing would come out. Before my big idea, I had been brimming with ways to finish the chapter, but when I tried to think about them and actually apply them to the work, they either didn't hold up or I'd forgotten them completely. So, I decided to take a little break and work on something else. I put a TV show on and lost myself in some cross stitching. It helped, but it still didn't get me to move any more forward with my work and I got frustrated beyond belief. I had this GREAT idea and I couldn't write it because I was stuck in this other idea and I couldn't just switch to the other book because the same thing happened with that one. I was pissed at my brain, my muse and myself. What the hell was I supposed to do?

You know what I did? I slept on it, numerous times when I went for a nap or to bed. I would read the last paragraph and I would brainstorm ideas to move the characters and the story forward. Finally, after three days of solid plotting (and back stitching) I got it! I knew what I needed to do and I sat and wrote and wrote. One chapter finished, I moved onto the next. Great, now that book was done for the fortnight, time to switch to the next. Of course the same thing happened and after a couple more days of thinking about it before sleep, I reached the same point.

My point is, that as a writer, it is easy to take on projects or write more than you are able. It's easy to burn the candle at both ends and decide that because this idea is fresh in your mind you can just start that one and come back to the one you were working on. Or you can do it all at once. Ideas are great, plot bunnies are excellent and they are our life blood because without them, we probably wouldn't get very far. However, you have to learn how to stem the flow of them. While it would have been easy for me to shove the projects I am working on now to one side in favour of the new idea, it would have meant that I had three unfinished books to work on. It would have meant that maybe, I didn't finish any of them because the next plot idea came along and took me away from it.

Writing is good, creating new worlds and taking the reader somewhere they may have never been before is also good, but if you want your reader to make it all the way to the end of the journey, you have to go along it first. I will finish these two books. It may take me six months, it may take me six years (though I really hope it doesn't!) but the plot idea that I have is still going to be there when I'm done. Plots don't have a time limit on them and although things such as magazine articles and competitions have deadlines, as do some publishing companies, generally speaking, you can take your time to walk along the path with your characters. Stop and watch as they tell you their story and move along at a pace that you are able to manage. Burning yourself out not only harms you, but it takes away from the stories you could have written, so be mindful of how much you take on and write away.

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