Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing as Work

I consider myself to be a very hard worker. If I've committed to do something, I will do it, and I will go above and beyond the generally accepted minimum. This is how I get things done at school. I'm working on someone else's time, doing things they expect me to get done. How can I possibly fail them?

But things are a little different if I'm working on my own time. I finished NaNoWriMo, but it wasn't a walk in the park. It was something I wanted to do, but it's easy to put wants aside for needs. Sometimes once all the needs are finished, it's hard to balance the wants.

For me, this is what makes writing hard. I have no limit to willpower if I need to get something done. But when working on my story, there is no one else telling me to finish it -- just me. And at this stage of revision, I'm unsure enough that I don't know when to give myself deadlines, let alone how to make myself meet them.

Another difficult thing is that writing takes time. Sometimes, you need to give it a rest instead of working a piece to death. Sometimes you need to get away from it so you can come back to the story with a fresh mind. And if you leave the story for a few days, it's easy to let those days be a week. Or weeks. Or more.

For fear of this happening again, as it did to my previous NaNovels, I'm proceeding blindly into the revision process. I'm great at revising papers. I can revise short stories. I can analyze someone else's story and clearly point out the good and bad points. Right now I can't do that with my writing, because basically my story's not written yet.

Sure, I have a NaNoWriMo draft. But in the past few years, NaNoWriMo has been a way for me to spew the ideas in my head onto a document. I find basic ways to make them fit together. I touch up a character portrait. And I finish -- something. But not the thing it has potential to be. Taking a rough draft and making it into something great is not yet my area of expertise, but if I'm going to be a real writer, I have to make that weakness one of my strengths. To do this, I think it's time to turn to a tool I've previously hated an feared: the outline. Perhaps if I had one of those going in, I wouldn't have so many problems now.

I love the ideas in my story. I've got a government that's outlawed all technology, a secret underground organization, an immortal beast who was once human, and a nine-year-old-boy trying to find out the truth about his family. The big pieces fit together, but as I'm refining it, I'm having trouble making my character's motivations align with the action I need.

I'm home in Iowa for the rest of January. My parents and siblings are at work and school, so for the majority of the day I'm by myself. I'm going to make this into writing time. I can't let what I have go to waste. For the next day or two, I'm going to be brainstorming and taking notes on how to put together my broken pieces. Then it's time to tame the beast. The deadline I have for my finished outline is January 11th. I have no idea if this is reasonable or not, but it's definitely more reasonable than me spending the entire month of January sleeping in and playing Wii.

Resolving is making me feel better, though it hasn't changed the fact that I don't necessarily know what I'm doing. Feel free to offer advice. It looks like I'm going to need it.

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