For well over a year (as I write this, May 2015), I’ve been practicing pushing down my conscious, critical mind and the fear it brings to the table. Yet this morning as I was going through my morning wake-up ritual, fear flooded over me.
This morning it’s back to the writing.
I have at least one more prequel to write (it will be book 3 in the Wes Crowley series) and I’ve already started the first sequel (The Marshal of Agua Perlado).
I also have to write the short story of the week sometime in the next few days or break the streak I’ve had going since April 15 of last year.
So no lack of writing opportunities. No lack of ideas.
But I was overwhelmed. What I’m I gonna write first?
Well, I can’t write all of them at once, so I have to pick one.
I can hammer out a good short story in only a few hours. But I want to get the siphon going on a novel again, so I need to write one of those.
And that’s when the fear hit, in the form of feeling overwhelmed.
Despite the fact that my next novel will be my sixth, and despite the fact that all of those have come since October 25, 2014, a sense of feeling overwhelmed washed over me.
What am I thinking? I can’t write a novel! It’s too much! It’s too big! It’s too many words!
Know what? That’s true. I can’t write a novel.
But I can write a sentence.
I can write a great line of dialogue or descriptive narrative to pull my reader into the story. I can write another sentence, and another. I can write a scene.
There’s an old saying: How do you eat an elephant? The answer? One bite at a time.
I can’t write a novel, but I can write a scene.
I can’t write 40,000 or 50,000 or 60,000 words, but I can write 1,000 words per hour. I can write three or four hours per day.
And I can tell a story.
Some stories are short and are accomplished in only a few thousand words. And some stories keep going until you look up 30 days later and you’ve written a story of several tens of thousands of words. That story would be a novel.
And I know it can happen because it already has.
In the overall story of Wes Crowley and friends, in five novels, I’ve written 225,252 published words of fiction.
How? By not allowing myself to feel overwhelmed. By pushing down my conscious, critical mind and the overwhelming feeling that I can’t possibly write a novel. I just recognize and admit that I can’t.
I write the next sentence. Then I write the next sentence. Then I write the next sentence.
10 thoughts on “When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed”
Good stuff! This blog makes a good companion to Dean’s. Soon, I will throw my hat in the ring as well (my third or fourth attempt to date).
Thanks, Scott. This is the weekly blog. The other one you commented on was the Daily Journal. You’re welcome at either or both. And if by throw your hat in the ring you mean post a similar blog, I look forward to it. There are too few of us who share what we’ve learned.
Oh, I see. You have quite a few sections and lots of interesting content.
Keeping a daily journal for me is tough. I tend to get carried away with it, and the posts get longer and longer until I realize that I’m doing very little fiction writing and just journaling.
One thing that I’d like to learn more about is the act of cycling itself. I tend not to cycle after 400-500 words. Instead, I prefer to write straight through to the end, and then loop back. But it seems more like a fix draft at that point that cycling. Why do I do this? Because I tend to have problems when I let the editor out of the box, even if it’s in creative voice. At that point, I begin questioning things more closely and my speed plummets, exactly the opposite of what I wish to accomplish.
There are times when I do this, though. Occasionally I have one of those senior moments–What the heck what I writing about?–and have to back up a few paragraphs and go back over it, doing minor changes before getting back up to speed. But once I’m up to speed, I no longer cycle back.
Of course, once I’m through the original draft, I’m not done. I still have to read it a couple of times (mostly in creative voice, though I’m still fighting old habits) before I can move on from it. I’m probably spending the same amount of time and doing the same number of read-throughs. (Didn’t Dean mention that he looks back over every word 2-3 times after all is said and done? I believe so, but correct me if I’m wrong.) What I’m doing isn’t exactly cycling, but it is an improvement upon working through multiple drafts and “polishing,” which I also do less off in every sense of the word. (There’s more of an emphasis on clarity and reworking awkward sentences–of the seriously awkward variety.)
So I’m still integrating certain aspects of the Writing into the Dark technique into my writing system, but it’s very much a work in progress. I’m better, for what it’s worth.
Hi Scott. Thanks for the comment.
“I tend to have problems when I let the editor out of the box, even if it’s in creative voice.”
If you want to learn to use cycling (and it’s fine if you don’t) the first thing is to completely separate “editor” from “creative voice.” Anytime you feel yourself being critical (sentence structure, how many times you use “that” vs. “which” etc.) that’s NOT the creative voice. That’s the critical voice, and it’s doing its job, trying to protect you from yourself.
When I cycle back, I’m Just Reading, strictly for pleasure. My fingers rest on the keyboard during that time, in case the characters want to slip in something I omitted during the writing frenzy. (Usually that’s adding the POV character’s opinion of the setting through his sense of smell or taste or hearing.) So even during cycling, I’m still writing into the dark. If the characters don’t add it, it doesn’t get added. If I feel myself starting to be critical and “think,” I get up and take a walk or do something else for awhile. In other words, I protect my writing space and my writing time from all that stuff.
When I don’t use a first reader (usually only short stories) I “edit” after a fashion.
I read the whole thing aloud. Doing that enables me to get the input through my ears instead of my eyes, and I catch a lot more than I would if I were reading silently.
During that process, I correct double words (the the), wrong words (waste vs. waist), and inconsistencies (wearing a grey jacket into the bank and a brown one when he comes out, etc.). I also occasionally hit the Return key to turn a longer paragraph into two shorter ones if there’s a natural break. Stuff like that.
Naturally, I’m also open to the possibility that a character might want to add something we missed the first time through, but that happens very little because I’ve already cycled through the whole thing in bits and pieces earlier.
But even then, I don’t “look” for “better” words or sentence structure, etc.
I don’t recall DWS ever saying he looks back over every word two or three times. Actually, I think even the thought of that would make him shudder. He has said he writes three drafts: the first time through, an automated spell-check (that’s his second draft), and correcting whatever his first reader (Kris Rusch) finds that he agrees with.
I follow much the same procedure.
And believe me, pretty much all of us still have to occasionally slap that critical voice and send it to a corner to be still.
A couple of cases in point: I wrote my first novel in around 15 days. It was about 50,000 words. My first review on Amazon said it was “one of the most tightly plotted novels” the reviewer had ever read. (grin) Yet for me, truly, as Bradbury said, “plot” was just the tracks the characters left as they raced through the story.
The second case, about a year ago I released a short story that I thought was one of the worst things I’d ever written. I almost didn’t let it go out. A couple days later, I got an email from a reader who said she absolutely loved the story and wished she could write like that.
That’s what finally convinced me not to second-guess myself. Now, when I hit the end of a story (short or long), I run a spell check, get it off to a first reader (or not, depending on how it feels), then format it and get it out the door.
That’s how I’ve written 26 novels and around 130 short stories since April 2014.
Scott, PS: Correct me if I’m wrong on any of this, but you are primarily a writer of children’s books that are relatively short. For that reason alone, my comments on cycling might not suit your purpose.
Also, sorry I got a bit long winded. I taught college and then writing seminars for many years, and it’s difficult for me to release a subject until I’ve explained it as thoroughly as I can.
Thanks for taking the time to reply, and I like long-winded.
Yes, I am that Scott Gordon–the author of multiple children’s books. Everything I’ve written up to this point has been short, my longest being around 16,000 words. I will eventually (and naturally) expand to longer books, but first I’ve got to get going again. Some of it has to do with work and life events, but I’m gearing up to do something in May, or perhaps July. (June is going to be difficult due to a trip I have planned and some other responsibilities.)
One of my worst bad habits is leaving out words. Occasionally I’ll also write the wrong word when I think I’ve put down the right one. Critical brain traps I typically fall into is trying to think of a “better” word or a “better” way to say the same thing. I also try to avoid repeating verbs, adjectives and adverbs and put down something similar so that I don’t sound overly redundant. The challenge to write something better is both the bait and trap.
I am way better though. For the most part, I don’t rewrite. I used to rewrite my original draft at least twice (minimum three drafts). Now? I find a way to make my original draft work. And when I say rewrite, I mean literally retyping it in all over again. Yeah, it’s crazy how much time I wasted in those early days.
I feel overwhelmed a lot. I built up a huge back-log of things to do while I was laid up. Guess I’d better just choose a chore, and finish it.
Yep, that’s about it. 🙂
I now can respect the mind of a writer.
Hmmm… thank you? 🙂
I wrote that post in early July, 2015. I published both the third prequel (Wes Crowley, Texas Ranger) and the first sequel (The Marshal of Agua Perlado) on July 15 and August 1, 2015 respectively. Those were my 7th and 8th novels. Today, I’m working on my 27th novel. 🙂 But it’s all non-serious. It’s simply the most fun I can have with my clothes on. Thanks for your comment.
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