Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Sustainable Rhythm of Writing

I made a bad mistake a few years ago that I've not yet gotten clear of.

I attend a writers' group. In such a group it is customary to bring something to read each week. It is bad form to bring more than a few pages. First, it monopolizes the group's time. Second, one's attention tends to wander after several minutes. I don't recommend you take more than three or five pages each week. This can be a trap, because you can think your written output per week should be three or five pages and that's wrong.

That's a trap I've fallen into and am trying to escape.

You should write as much as you can with quality. Or, if your project is at some points without quality. Let's go back to Heinlein's five commandments the first of which is "You must write." It's really easy for me to get out of the habit of writing, realize it's going to be writers' group tomorrow nite, then dash off 3-5 pages. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

You can't improve as a writer at this rate. Remember, you've got to write a million words to not-suck.

Every writer needs to maintain a rhythm of writing. When I've been on my game, I spend a while each night dashing off prose. It keeps my head in the work. And if I write last thing before bed, I've got all night for my subconscious to solve story problems for me. Maybe it's first thing in the morning for you. Maybe you can't write every day, but you have to maintain some kind of rhythm in your life where you're cranking out prose.

When you are putting together your first draft it is important that you write as much as fast as you can. For one thing you want to keep your head in the same place. You want a consistency of voice and you don't want niggling details like characters' eye color to slip out of short-term memory.

This can disrupt your rhythm of writing. I recently finished writing an important story to submit to a contest. It consumed my life in a non-sustainable way. But I got the story done, I got it edited, I ran it past beta-readers, I revised it, and I got it sent out on time. It felt pretty good to get done, but the burst of energy burnt me out for a little while thereafter. Going back to my novel was almost a let down.

That's because I have been attacking it piecemeal for over a year between distractions like this story, and before that this anthology. What I need to do is attack it as a whole, get Mycroft into and out of trouble in Kashmir, get him to Saskatchewan, and then back to London before Sherlock finds out he's been gone.

This is a sucky time for New Year's Resolutions, but here's one anyway. I resolve to establish a sustainable rhythm of writing and to finish the first draft of Steamship to Kashmir before I entertain anything else.

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