Wow, that title sounds like a little too much information, doesn’t it? Especially for the first post of the new year and the new decade.
Don’t worry, I’m not writing about gastrointestinal distress. I’m referring to the way one’s writing often works in waves.
Leading in to the holiday season, I wanted, very badly, to create some holiday-themed stories. I wanted to have one as a small, beautifully printed edition to send to family and friends, and one as a free digital download for the readers.
Should I have started this process, say, last February? Of course. At the very least, I should have concentrated on it in July. But last year was a flurry of writing enough to pay all the bills, and far too many projects fell by the wayside.
I didn’t start work until autumn. I could look back through my diary entries and find out the exact day, but I didn’t.
The plan was for each of the two stories to run about 1500 words. Maybe the one for friends and family would run a bit longer.
The first idea was a quiet, gentle piece set in Victorian times in a snowy city based on Saratoga Springs, NY, at a place inspired by the Adelphi Hotel. I’ve spent time in Saratoga and used it both as itself and as the inspiration for other settings in my work. As I started this story, I was lucky enough to get up to Saratoga for a day during two consecutive weeks, so I could photograph it and reacquaint myself with the areas that were the jumping off point. I collected books on the Victorian era, digging up books from my previous research and adding in some new ones. I wanted it light, sweet, and warm-hearted.
I wrote my faithful 1500 words every morning, first thing.
It grew and grew and darkened and started to hold commentary on the social justice (and lack thereof) of the time.
It’s will be a good story, someday. But it wasn’t going to cut it for this Christmas.
I thought perhaps I’d try something lighter and funnier. And contemporary, so I wouldn’t have to keep stopping to do research. I put aside the Victorian piece and started on something more contemporary, my 1500 words every morning, going back to it here and there and . . .it grew into a relationship piece about parents and children.
That wasn’t going to work, either.
In the meantime, I received two calls for anthology submissions, both of which intrigued me, so I tried to figure out how to fit them in.
We were past Thanksgiving by this time.
I put aside the parent/child relationship piece and started another one, with the intent to keep it light and fast-moving.
It turned into a contemporary adult relationship piece.
I was pretty frustrated by this point. Plenty of writers would say, “Well, just sit down and MAKE it do what you want it to do.” Unfortunately, for me, stories and characters have lives of their own which reveal themselves to me, either in the outline or during the writing process. I had loose ideas of these pieces when I started, rather than outlining. Basically, I blank-paged. Sometimes that works; often, when one is on a tight deadline, it does not.
So, I put that aside, and, either in the shower or driving to the grocery store (where I get the bulk of my ideas), the idea for a light, fantastical, holiday-themed romantic comedy hit me. So I sat down to write “Just Jump in and Fly” (under the Ava Dunne name). It flowed well, and I wrote the first draft in just a few days. It wasn’t 1500 words — it came in just under 10,000 words.
Because of its late start and late finish, I could not put it aside for two weeks (which I like to do for shorter pieces) before editing. I had to jump in and edit right away. I still tried to distance myself from it and edit it as though someone else wrote it. I edited, designed, uploaded, and it was available for free download on Christmas Eve.
Much to my surprise and amusement, it also contained elements of the two anthology stories on which I worked concurrently (one was finished, edited, polished, and submitted; the other could not be completed by deadline and will go to a different market).
That’s cutting it far too close.
But it was the RIGHT story for the parameters, even though it was longer than I initially wanted. And it flowed well. I got it done.
Do I leave those other stories abandoned?
No. Unfinished projects drain creative energy. They choke you and prevent you from moving forward and growing in your work. Somehow, they will be slotted in throughout the year, in and around other scheduled, contracted projects.
In this particular case, I had to temporarily put them aside, not because I was stuck on them, but because they morphed into something that did not fit the needs of the goal.
Sometimes, when you start plodding, it means you’re not being true to the story. Sometimes, it’s the wrong story to be working on at that particular time. Step away, reassess, ask yourself if the piece really doesn’t work, or if you’re just getting in your own way. If you stop every time you run into trouble, you won’t get anything done. You need the plodding times, or else the wildly creative spurts become fewer and farther between until they disappear altogether. Good writing is not necessarily easy, although it also doesn’t have to be painful. It’s about integrity to the work, adherence to the craft, and an eye on the long-term goal for the piece.
There will be time when the work flows. When it does, ride that wave for as long as you can. Let the laundry pile up and leave the vacuuming for another day. Better yet, delegate them both to someone else in the house while you write. When you feel stuck or “written out”, that’s the time to devote to household tasks. I find there’s nothing like working out plot points while cleaning out cupboards or folding laundry to get me through the tough spots and drive me back to the page.
The most important thing is to get to the page, even for a few minutes every day, whether you feel like it or not. You’re exercising your literary muscles. Like any other muscle, they atrophy when not used regularly. If the times between writing periods are too long, it gets harder and harder to get back into the writing. If you spend even a few minutes at the page every day, whether it’s writing in your journal or writing a few paragraphs of a WIP, you keep those creative muscles loose. Soon, it becomes easier and easier for those snatched creative minutes to go directly into your work as soon as you sit down. You’ll find less and less time spent staring at a blank page.
I started a new novella just before the end of the year (on the waxing moon, to give it a boost). It’s flowing. It’s outlined. May I continue at this pace until it’s done.
–Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. Visit her almost-daily blog Ink in My Coffee to keep up with her projects. Today is the last day you can download “Just Jump in and Fly” under the Ava Dunne name here.