Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Me, myself and I: we aren't all good writers

Several weeks ago I blogged about the importance of not comparing yourself to other writers.

Today I feel compelled to blog about the importance of not comparing yourself to yourself.

It’s something I’ve found myself doing a lot the last few days and I’m driving myself a bit crazy.

(Insert joke here about the short drive)

I’m generally a pretty fast writer. On average, it takes me about three months to write a novel from start to finish.

However, that doesn’t take into account the fact that I’m abysmally slow at writing the first three chapters of any book. I spend those first 50+ pages figuring out who the characters are, where the story is headed, and what might take place between “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the end.”

Half of my brain is occupied by this task, while the other half is occupied by the dual tasks of berating myself for my slowness while distracting myself with more pleasurable tasks like clipping the dog’s toenails.

The conversations in my head go something like this:

Responsible Tawna: Hurry up already! You wrote five pages yesterday and we just deleted four of them because they sucked donkey dongs.

Slacker Tawna:
I wonder if I could find that funny online video about cats?

Responsible Tawna:
This book is already sold and your editor and agent will both hate you if you don’t finish it.

Slacker Tawna: Yup, found the cat video. Still pretty funny. It’d be even better if I had an ice cream bar.

Responsible Tawna:
Don’t you remember that weekend you wrote 75 pages in one sitting? Now you can’t even do five pages in a weekend? You’re blowing it, blowing it!

Slacker Tawna:
Heh-heh – you said blowing.

And on and on and on until I’m forced to find a bottle of Tylenol and/or Chianti to make the headache go away.

Though I probably do deserve the occasional scolding from myself, I also need to learn to cut myself a break. The me who can crank out four chapters in a weekend is still the same me who can stare at a blank page all day and accomplish nothing more valuable than cleaning the keyboard with a Q-tip. Both the speedy writing and the ridiculous time wasting are a part of the process, and I have to let that process run its course.

Even if I’m not always running at a very consistent pace.

So I’ll continue to slog through these early chapters until I reach a point where I feel more like the me who writes clever prose at a quick clip instead of the me who just spent an hour deciding what color T-shirt my hero is wearing.

How about you? Which part of a novel do you struggle with the most? Do you compare yourself to yourself? Have you found any effective medications to deal with it? Tell me about it in the comments.

I’ll be over here picking dog fur out of my mouse.

26 comments :

Matthew Delman said...

I find that ignoring my MS for roughly a week will usually result in me coming back to it with more ideas to move things along.

Sometimes I find myself slacking off midchapter, when I go "uhhh what happens now?"

With each subsequent draft that dips off until I can write the entire thing without stopping.

Linda G. said...

The Great Swampy Middle (as one of my writing heroes, Jim Butcher, calls it) is where I tend to bog down. Beginnings are fast and fun, because I can throw in anything I can imagine (and my imagination is *cough* vivid). But by the middle I start to worry about how I'm going to weave together everything I've thrown in.

Once I get past the GSM, the ending usually comes more easily--I ride the momemtum.

Of course, right now I'm stuck in the GSW with my current WIP. Ooops. Think I just lost a shoe...

Shadow said...

I find that the middle, from about 30K to 60K is the most agonizing part. I can fly through the beginning and the end, but that middle ground, ouch it hurts.
Thankfully I write short stories that always keep me in writing shape.

shalleemcarthur said...

Love your blog! I'm with Shadow and Linda, the middle is the hardest part for me. I tend to get the "soggy middle" that is the bane of my life. I do sometimes have trouble with the endings, though- finding one that works. The beginning, oddly enough, is the easiest part for me!

Candyland said...

I love the beginning. I loathe the middle. And I'm kind of into the end. There are also two of me, one who wants to work and the other who's writing this comment...
Effective meds? Chocolate, more procrastination, caffeine...

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I'm big on getting the "hook" sentence just right when I'm starting a short story. For some reason, until Sentence Number One is really good (maybe not great, but really first draft good) then I can't move on. Turns out, I'm the same way when starting a new chapter in my WiP. That said, I did come to a grinding standstill in the middle of my first draft...let's see what happens in the middle of my second first draft!

Karla Nellenbach said...

Me? I hate beginnings! I agonize over every little thing, but once my characters take shape, they pretty much run away, dragging me along. then, of course at the end, I get sad cuz I've spent so much time with them that I don't want to let them go.

KAK said...

Endings, mostly the last third of the book, drive me bonkers. It's the point I realize I have another 100k of story left to tell and 30k in which to do it. This results in unthreading, which means revisiting the first and second story arcs.

~writer chases her tail here~
~writer gets distracted by cream sherry and cookies~

Shain Brown said...

Funny Cat vids. Your aren't peeking over my shoulder are you? Yes, I burn slow in the beginning. It takes a while to get my character's shoes picked out,identify his habits, and not to mention picking his favorite type of music. Once I manage to get there then I feel i can relate to him/her and I'm off to the races though it take me slightly more than 3 months; though, I figure one day i'll get there.

Thanks for the whit

Daryl Sedore said...

Love the blog...maybe not phalluses so much, but love the blog.

I find the ending is daunting. When the idea comes to me and I start making notes, then writing, it is always how to sum it all up that smacks me hard in the side of the head.

I grapple with myself and eventually I win, finishing what I thought of myself in the first place...I think.

Tawna Fenske said...

Matthew, I had the most unproductive writing evening EVER last night, and then found myself pelted with brilliant ideas in the shower this morning. Go figure.

Linda G, I hear from so many people who struggle with the middle, but that's always where I hit my stride. It's those @#$% beginnings that kill me.

Shadow, how short do your short stories tend to be? I'm sure that format has a whole unique class of challenges!

shalleemcarthur, one of my critique partners is just likes this. She flies through beginnings and writes these brilliant partials that just soar. Then she starts to bog down.

Candyland, er, you forgot the most important prescription of all. (I'll give you a hint -- your new wine stopper will fit nicely in a bottle of it).

Nicole, were you ever a journalist? I'm the same way with getting a hook sentence just right, and I always wonder if it goes back to my reporter days writing leads.

Karla, so you feel my pain then!? I'm the same way -- once I know who the characters are, they pretty much take off running with the story.

KAK, I do a lot of tail-chasing myself! Will have to try cream sherry and cookies as the antidote!

Shain, isn't that cat thing hilarious? The important thing is not to beat yourself up over the slowness at the start. Well, not too hard anyway.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Tawna Fenske said...

Daryl, looks like you and I simu-commented! The ending always smacks me upside the head too. I still have a headache from the last one.

Tawna

OfficeGirl said...

I was on fire in the beginning of my WIP. I looked forward to writing. But not that it's a quarter of the way through..I find that I've lost steam. I panic that I don't know my characters as well as I thought, I feel like they aren't changing enough. I start to blame myself with things like "You suck and you never should have tried to write at all." and "Why don't you take a shower to clean off the stench off the stench of failure."

Sierra Godfrey said...

Beginnings are the hardest for me, especially because I know that whatever I write at the outset of a draft will be 100% crap. I require a baking period in which I get to know my characters and thier desires, and after the first (and probably second, too,) I can write a better beginning. So I have to write a beginning in order to get to the end, but the beginning is the last thing I write. Generally speaking.

Otherwise, I do a fine job of pissing away time on FailBlog and Antiduckface.com and Twitter and You Tube and …

Liz Czukas said...

The beginning, just like you. I HATE the first paragraph in particular. I spent all day working on one the other day and I'm pretty sure my molars are a good millimeter smaller from all the grinding I did.

Thank god I'm not the only one!

- Liz

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm another who begins to get bogged down in the middle. It's here that my energy and enthusiasm start to wane. Unfortunately, I'm there now but soon, I hope to be writing my way happily to the end.

Christi Goddard said...

The wind abandoning my sails. That's my best answer. I'll be trucking along, happy as a clam, then something from RL interupts me, usually stresses me out and throws me into depression, then I don't look at my MS for a couple of days. Oh, I'm crazy, btw.

Lola Sharp said...

I pound the keys fast and furious (allowing myself total freedom during my first draft) and feel pretty damn legit, until I hit a wall of right around the 60-70,000 word zone. Right around there is my swamp, where I realize I've backed myself into a corner with regard to a couple plot lines that I suddenly can't figure out how to connect. I start seeing the parts I have to rip out and fix. This discourages me enough to use all the Procrastinating Techniques in my arsenal. But eventually, perhaps while trimming my split ends, hair by hair, a solution will come to me, and I go at it until I'm 'done'.
I don't hit another wall until around the third draft, when I'm so sick of looking at it, I want to burn it and do a ritualistic fire dance around its ashes. That's when I know it's time to send it off to my betas, get it outta my face.

Great post.

Happy Tuesday,
Lola

middle child said...

Can Slacker Tawna come over and play?

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Are you a Gemini? It sounds like you're two Tawnas would get along with my two Karens. ;)

Tawna Fenske said...

OfficeGirl, hang in there! Do you outline your stories or just cruise along making it up as you go? I tend to be the latter, but I've found I have an easier time with what you're talking about when I make an effort to figure out a few plot points beforehand.

Sierra, you're smart to tell yourself ahead of time that you're going to write crap in the beginning. That way your expectations are low and you aren't as hard on yourself when you have to revise. And revise. And revise. And...

Liz, I've been working on the same first few pages for a couple weeks now, and just realized today that they're actually starting to shape up into something I wouldn't be mortified to show my agent.

Jaydee, so how do you motivate yourself when you get bogged down in the middle? Any tips you can share?

Christi, sometimes the best thing you can do is not look at your WIP for a few days. I always beat myself up a bit when I do that, but inevitably I return to it feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Lola, ah, the split-end-trimming procrastination technique. I know it well.

middle child, I'm sorry to say, Slacker Tawna was grounded today. All of her privileges have been suspended until she catches up with her writing.

Karen Amanda, I'm a leo. My two Tawnas would love to meet your two Karens, however!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Tawna

AchingHope said...

The half-end of the middle is always the hardest, when I know how it's going to end and I'm starting to get bored with it.

Haven't come up with any effective meds yet ;) Haha, just kidding. I just blather to my mom/sis forever until I get through it.

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

I hate the beginning, love the middle so much that I carry it way too far and then can't figure out how to finish. Blah!

Sydnee said...

It depends on the novel. For my first manuscript the middle was the worst because while I knew how the story would begin and how it would end, I didn't know what happened in the meantime, which meant I ended up bs-ing the entire thing. For my second manuscript the ending was the worst for the same reason - I had no idea where it was going. I really need to think things completely through. Le sigh.

Claire Dawn said...

Different strokes for different folks.

There are some who write for 2 hours every day, all year round. There are some (like us) it seems who crank out a first draft in a month, but spend another month dawdling. To each his own.

The part I struggle with is the part right before the end. When I start writing I've got an idea about the end. But by the time I am within sight of it, I've lost steam and I haven't though the penultimate scene.

The first book I wrote, I wrote 60,000 words in a month, and it took 5 months to write the last 10 :(

christinerice said...

Once I finished my first ms, I was ecstatic. Then I tried my hand at the query letter...wow! That one page was harder than the entire novel. I find wine helps!