Thursday, May 2, 2013

All Work and No Play


It's hard for me to focus on one project for any significant period of time. Don't misunderstand; I'm not saying I can't stick with something to the end or that I leave a trail of half-finished (or less) nonsense in my wake. But no matter what my brain is working on as its primary focus, it also needs something to be playing with in the background. While the Muse and the Inner Editor are working so hard at making my current WIP into something I can try to publish later, I also need somewhere to just plain run amok.

(Amok! Amok! Amok! -- Am I the only person who gets Sarah Jessica Parker twirling around in her head whenever she uses that word? Or am I dating myself there?)

Back in the day, when I had hours and hours of time to devote to my writing each day, I had a three book cycle going. One manuscript complete and in revisions a couple days a week. One manuscript complete and resting, with occasional notes getting dropped into the file here and there. And then the rest of the week was devoted to a new story idea still in the process of leaking out of my head and onto the page.

And I figured it was good practice for that nebulous future in which I was finally a published novelist and had multiple books under contract. I always hear authors complaining about how they have this manuscript to turn in but that one needs copy edits and the other one over there is about to release and so needs to be promoted. I would be ahead of the game, just oh-so-prepared for that particular juggling act, wouldn't I?

Okay, it was something of a complicated plan, and I probably made it more complicated that it needed to be with all the spreadsheets and such, but it worked out pretty well for me. I was writing 5000-7000 new words and sending about 10 pages to my critique partners each week. The plan was to be able to churn out two to three querying-quality novels a year.

Ah plans. How does that saying go? Oh, right: Man plans, God laughs.

Now that I'm down to just a few scant writing hours a week, cobbled together while the rest of the family is sleeping, I'm lucky if I manage 1000-2000 new words a week and I haven't got anything finished enough to merit revisions yet. I'm certainly not ready to let my critique partners see any of it. The plan now is reversed: one querying-quality novel in two to three years.

With the timeline so stretched out and thin, I thought it best to forego the multi-project approach. At least until I had a firmly established routine and a completed manuscript or two in reserve again. It sounded like a very mature and reasonable plan.

I should know better than to try to be mature and reasonable. I just don't have those particular qualities in my repertoire.

Unfortunately, Familiar, which I've designated Project A, because I'm a little OCD and I like to designate things, was getting to be just a slog and all the joy of the process of creation had drained away. I kept sitting at the computer and opening the files, but it was getting to be a chore. I tried skipping ahead to a scene that sounded more fun. I tried wining about it here on my blog. I tried replotting. Nothing helped. I starting thinking things like "maybe I'll skip the writing time today and get a jump on washing the dishes."

I know I'm in trouble when any form of cleaning starts to look appealing.

Then a few weeks ago, when I was having an evening away from the kids, I took out my netbook and decided to forego Project A for a while. I cruised around the special folder I keep for random notes and shiny new ideas and picked out a shiny to play with instead. A little treat for myself. It was my "me time". I was supposed to be relaxing and having fun. There was no need wrestle with the cats and have them scratch my psyche up one side and down the other.

Oh, the joy and wonder of that night. Hello, Project B, working title Guardian. I'm so excited to meet you! Look, you have characters and a brand new magic system that needs working out and a whole new world to build and there could be villains lurking anywhere and look at this opening scene with all its snarky attitude and worrisome stab wounds just spilling out all over the page...

It's possible my brain had a little nerdgasm right there in the Panera. Don't judge.

Amazingly enough, the very next time I sat down in front of Familiar, the words starting flowing there again. My Muse was recharged and ready to get back to work. She hadn't given up on me and my shape-shifters; she just needed a little playtime.

I had forgotten that the multi-project plan, while very practical and having some excellent perks, didn't grow out of some intellectual planning exercise. It grew from my need to have something sloppy and silly to play with in the background. It might turn into something I finish and revise later. Maybe it'll even be the book that I finally get published. Maybe it'll be nothing but a collection of scenes and notes that lives in my Shinies folder forever. But regardless of where it goes next, the important part is that it's there, a different world to sink into and tinker with when the cats get too persnickety.

For better or worse, this is the system I've developed and it works for me. How does your system work?

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