Keep up then

I’ve had a little bug in my ear kicking about for the past few weeks.

It landed when I listened to Milo’s first Micro-Podcast of May, and I’ve been struggling with it since then.

I was struck by the phrase, “keep up,” a common enough one. It was used not as in ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ but as in maintaining the level of productivity you expect from yourself.

I’ve been in what you could call a funk, or a dip, using up immense stores of willpower to get even an hour of editing in. I’d rather stare into space, put away papers, or set up marketing meetings than focus on this computer and polish my characters and their timelines.

burlap sack slide in rainbow colors with multiple people

It’s like I exist in a separate plane from the real world when this happens, like Time slows down to taunt me while my ability to focus is weaker than a goldfish’s. And that is when the feeling of ‘keeping up’ is really maddening, as you can peer over to Regular Life and remember when you brindled right along, but alas, you’re trapped in this bubble on the side, pusillanimous.

The writers know what I’m talking about.

Perhaps because of this lethargy of the mind, my eye has been caught by several blog posts dealing with creators and self-discipline. Authors and discernment. Artists and courage. I also happened upon an old magazine article dealing with how to order your day for the most energy (thank you, procrastination technique!).

It’s still quite useful, giving tips for mental and physical aids to keep up your energy and thus your productivity throughout the day: lighting choices, minimizing decisions in the morning, choosing energizing scents, prioritizing types of interactions, etc. The magazine also had a section on what to do to snap yourself out of a bad mood, another one that should help in this case: exercise, comedy, music, nature, letters.

I’ve got my own go-to Get Outta Jail Free activities, and it’s a very similar list: dance to favorite music, watch funny Youtube videos, hike in Washington Park, write letters.

Hmmm….

Maybe it’s not so much distraction or rest that I need but commitment and reconfirmation of its value. Commitment on my part, which has always been an ebb-and-flow kind of thing, and confirmation from others.

But that is what I struggle so not to need!

The practical part of me says that maybe if I could hear what other writers do with their long-term self-publishing schedule, that would be enough to normalize my own experience and calm down my nerves (‘why in hell is this editing so hard?’ ‘is the book terrible?’).

But I don’t think I’m dealing with the practical part of me. That’s not the part that refuses to move, insists that I can’t do it, and makes my dream-building muscles ‘lose the name of action.’ Nope.

I think the question, ‘Why can’t I just be more focused?’ is often just “Why can’t I succeed the way Valued People do?’ in disguise. We want the laser-like focus so we can plough through wads of paper, zip through lines of email, blast through any number of difficult people trying to tell us no. But once we get “through,” what’s on the other side?

Emptiness. We haven’t been driving ourselves, but letting ourselves be driven by social norms and expectations, outdated ones.

How do we find what really fires our dreams so that even the baby steps we make feel like part of the whole, and not a sidelined, ancillary, unnecessary pursuit?

How do we change ‘keeping up’– looking over from our side-lined world– to ‘being true to ourselves’ and get back in the driver’s seat?

 

Image via Debra Prinzing

What if you were stranded on a desert island with…

OK, authors and writers out there.

Question for you.

Yes, YOU.

What would happen if you were stranded on a desert island with your characters?

characters on a desert island

You can pick your favorites, if you have one.

Would you get bored? Would one of you end up killing the other? Would someone figure out how to escape the island? Would there be intrigue, catharsis, heartbreak?

I just thought of this. Google’s first page doesn’t come up with similar thought experiments, so I’ll call it an original exercise.

Paint the scene for yourself. Maybe it will help kickstart your plot.

 

Image via Kenneth Anderson

Editing Lessons

I forgot the cardinal rule of programmers.

DOCUMENT.

Last year, I spent several months editing the work that eventually became Memory’s Hostage. But did I take notes on the editing process? Record how long it took to accomplish the various phases? Analyze which stages I dealt with easily, and which I groaned my way through?

Of course not. It was my first time, and it was more of a blind groping of the cave wall than a documented meta-process.

So now’s my chance!

Haha. This year, I am feeling just as loathe to document my progress in editing my novel, due to the fact that it feels so agonizing and slow. As I mentioned in my recent newsletter (What?! You’re not a subscriber yet? Remedy that, stat.), I have managed to eke out two lessons, however.

1) Collate feedback before rehashing text.

I had some lovely editors who returned the manuscript to me earlier than the due date. These first four sets of comments I clumped together, as I should, into themes and parts of the book (beginning, middle, and end comments), and first tackled the beginning comments.

However, the next two sets I received, I went through the entire text with their comments instead of either fitting them in with earlier feedback, or waiting to do a second collation with the last four sets of comments (Yes, eight alpha readers. Call me crazy).

This led to a skewing of importance of the latter feedback, as well as an incomplete rehashing of the text with the earlier comments. So, now I’m having to go through ALL the comments at the same time as I go through the text for what feels like the sixtieth time since May 1st.

I should have simply waited. But you know how patient authors are rumored to be.

 

2) Be firm about the type of feedback desired, then follow those guidelines yourself.

I found a helpful page recently that describes the stages of editing:

To recap, the stages are structural, line edit, and copy edit/ proofread.

I made it clear when I asked my editors for help which one I was asking for: structural. This means themes, pacing, setting, character arcs, etc. Big picture.

And yet, I still got notes on typos and spellings and word choice. I know they are trying to be helpful, of course, but I couldn’t help myself. Instead of focusing on the big-picture comments, I went for the easier items to check off my list: Typos. Spelling discrepancies. Minor language choices.

So, my editors all went a little beyond the call of duty, and then I didn’t have the self-control to focus on what needed to be done first. Which means that now I am beating myself over the head with a shovel trying to do what needs to be done now. Oh, everything!

I should have ignored the proofreading edits and tackled the more thematic comments one at a time.

But you know how self-disciplined authors are rumored to be…

dogs on a typewriter

 

Have you got more Editing Lessons to share?

 

Image via GurneyJourney