Friday, February 19, 2010

When Is Writing Work?

I get this question asked a lot: Do I ever get sick of writing, and/or does it ever become work?

The answer is messy and convoluted . . . pretty much like the writer brain is.

I don't think I've ever gotten sick of writing during the drafting phase. Sure, I've stressed myself out during it, trying to get it done or worrying that the story won't turn out right, or that maybe this is the time I'll fail at writing a whole book.

But as for actually getting sick of writing?

Absolutely not. Drafting and the initial stages of revision are the best part of this gig. Drafting is when you're in the act of creation. It makes me alive inside. I love hanging out with my characters and watching them do their thing. Generally speaking, the happiest seasons I experience are the ones in which I'm regularly drafting. (I think my family prefers me then too.)

Took me awhile to figure that out, though. I'd get into a slump and hate the whole darn writing thing: it had become work.

The slump would generally hit after revising a manuscript headed to press for the three thousandth time and proofing it for the eightieth. A slump hangs around after doing rounds and rounds of book signings and other promotional stuff. Basically it's when you want to torch your new book because you're so close to it that you can't see it objectively anymore and you're sure it's garbage, and it's been months and months since you wrote anything new.

At the darkest, most depressing part of the slump, I'd begin a new project . . . and discover the magic all over again. It happens every time: the sun comes out, I'm energized, and I love what I do, eager to get back to the book as soon as I can.

The slumps are the hard part. While they are filled with "writerly" things, they aren't what I consider writing. They hit after I've crossed the finish line of both drafting and initial revisions. I love revising (at least, at first; I hate it when it's #1,987) because I can take what's already there and make it better and better, like molding clay into the right shape.

It's when you're (or at least I'm) revising and editing it to death and can practically recite the thing in your sleep that you start to hate it, because it's no longer fresh. It's lost the magic for you.

Slumps also hit when you're so swamped with the business side of things that you don't have time for the creative stuff. The inner writer child needs the rush and excitement of creation to keep going, to not wither and die.

I'm withering.

I haven't written anything brand new in about a year. Band of Sisters was submitted October of 2008, and shortly after that, I finished the YA folktale. So this last year, I had revisions and edits for Band of Sisters. Then I worked on revisions for the folktale. I'm currently revising my old murder mystery.

The only new writing I've done (unless you count magazine articles and blog posts, which I don't, because although I enjoy them, they aren't my first love: fiction), is for my upcoming chocolate cookbook. While that was a tasty experience, it still wasn't drafting fiction. (Honestly, my favorite part of doing that book was writing commentaries on the recipes and having fun with the manuscript on the keyboard.)

I'm glad I can recognize the problem. After enough years of the cycle, I know that what I'm feeling isn't that I hate writing, but rather that it's been too long since I drafted a new novel. I'm particularly glad that I know what the real issue is because I have so many other pots in the fire right now that, unfortunately, it'll still be a spell before I get to draft full force on anything new.

But that new book is dangling out in front of me like a carrot. Or a chocolate bar.

And I can't wait to eat it up.

16 comments:

Luisa Perkins said...

Excellent post, one of your best. You give me hope!

Rebecca Irvine said...

I can relate to this although my first love is not writing fiction. I adore the research process of nonfiction and being able to share interesting facts and stories I learn.

I am looking forward to your next fiction work as well!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Wohoo, Annette! I can't wait to see what new book you start working on. Great post!

Kristina P. said...

This is how I know I'm not a writer.

Jordan McCollum said...

Amen, amen. It's only been like four months since I finished my last draft, but I still really miss it. I can't get back to it right now, either (revisions are taking up my writing time, and knitting), and I only have a few half-formed ideas right now--nothing that's really set me on fire.

Hope you get your hands free to do the work you want soon!

DeNae said...

I just keep eating all of this stuff up...

MommyJ said...

Love your perspective... my experience is very limited in comparison, but I was definitely happiest when I was fully immersed in the writing of my first full manuscript... it was so completely energizing. Now that it's finished, and I'm in the waiting phase, I find myself terrified to really dive into to something new. I know I just need to start... I have ideas pouring out of my head like crazy, but it's so scary to sit down and start with a blank page, you know? I need to though... my fingers are itching.

Cheri Chesley said...

Thank you, Annette. I think I'm there. While I've known for the past few weeks I need to get started on the revisions for the second book in my trilogy (now that the first one actually has a publisher), I've been dreading it. Thanks for defining the problem for me. I haven't written anything new since NANOWRIMO in November. And all I have in front of me for the foreseeable future is editing. Though it's necessary, it's not my favorite part of the process.

And, once the trilogy is packed off to the publisher (assuming they take all 3 books), I have to answer the question of which project to take on next. Though I suspect my characters will choose for me.

Kimberly said...

So well articulated, Annette!

Karen Hoover said...

I am so totally with you, Annette! Holy cow, it's like you were talking about me. I've not written anything new since November either and I've got a deadline looming and am itching to finish the book. Thanks for defining the problem for me. I'll start fixing it on Monday!

Melanie J said...

This is funny because I've just been thinking about how much I don't like writing right now. I think it's just because I'm at the very tail end of my WIP and I just want to be done and I'm stressing out about it because the baby's due in four weeks and I'm trying to finish before that and blah, blah, blah. It doesn't help that I'm not a plotter and so I've hit a plot snag, 10,000 words from the end, that I'm a little stumped about how to work through. Oh, and did I mention I haven't done a lick of revision? I find the first revision tolerable but any after that . . . I told Josi that for me it's like death by paper cut. I guess I'll have to get over it, and maybe this whole WIP will teach me to plot just a tad more, but man, right now, I don't want to write. But I have to.

So I just remember how fun it is to start a new story and that makes me feel better. Hope you get to sink your teeth into drafting soon.

L.T. Elliot said...

You just put to words exactly how I feel! I love the drafting phase, the formation of a sentence. I hate the restructuring of that sentece. =P

wendy said...

I think it would be the most amazing thing to use ones creative iimagination..put characters together, make them alive, GIVE them life...and form the story.

Hey, I wrote a road show once and we took first place in everything.
Not a book---but a mammoth accomplishment for me.

Lara said...

I love this. Even though I am not a writer, I totally get it. I feel like my whole life is an ebb and flow, and certain things will always get me out of a funk. Good to remember.

And I can't wait for your new book!

Julie Wright said...

I cannot wait for your new book. It will be brilliant and I will love it!

Amanda D said...

I love the inside peek that you give us of what's it's like to be a writer. I love to write, but I'm not so devoted like you are. Thanks for sharing!

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