Saturday, September 12, 2015

Smacking into a wall

Well, that didn't take long.

Four weeks into my stay here at Hogwarts for Historians. Two weeks into serious writing. One week after cranking out a jaw-dropping (for me) 4500 words in less than a week and learning a whole lot of new things about hard-tack and why you want a weasel on board your ship and all that... and I've gone and hit a wall.

This past week's progress has been fueled by the knowledge that I was going to work on a specific section this week, and I wasn't going to worry about perfection. I was just going to get the stuff down on paper. Today, though, I did my usual weekend thing of trying to plan what would be on tap for next week. And I realized that, while I had some broad general topics I needed to look into, I didn't have any good questions yet. And as any writer of anything from a five-paragraph essay to a 500-page book will tell you: no questions = no direction. And no direction, gentle reader, is the death of writing.

I will admit: I panicked.

And then I got out my pen:

There always comes a point in my projects when I get really, really stuck. Usually it means that I've written for too long with too little reflection. This can happen when I get all obsessed with word count and pages and goals and the like. But the truth is, I need to pause for reflection as well. And for me, reflection happens with a pen in hand, as I scribble summaries of what I know so far, accompanied by half-baked "what might it all mean" notes, and try to let the ideas come, rather than alternately shoving and dragging them. Shoving-and-dragging is good for word counts sometimes, but for me, I need to scribble my way in to this part of the process.

So that's my task: rather than spending the weekend stockpiling reading for the week's writing to come, I'm going to give myself permission for next week to be an extremely low word-count week so I can spend this weekend focusing on the ideas and where this chapter seems to want to be heading. Here are the questions I plan to ask myself (in no particular order, and not looking at my provisional outline):
  • What are the big themes of the book, and how does the chapter I imagined potentially contribute to them?
  • What type of chapter is this shaping up to be all on its own? What questions am I on the way to answering? What does it want to be about, versus what I thought it was going to be about when I wrote an outline?
  • How can I take advantage of that to help me answer a small piece of the larger question? Does this mean the larger question has to shift again?
If I'm being honest, the question I will probably come back to most this weekend is: "What made me think I could write a book? Is it too late to do something else for a living?" But believe it or not, I think that actually writing this book is the path of least resistance.

And besides: I'm at History Hogwarts. Anything could happen.


Comradde PhysioProffe said...

So why do you want a weasel on your ship?

Susan said...

I think the questions you are asking are key -- and suggest you're thinking about the book, and not a series of chapters. And always, we find that a chapter wants to do things that we had not expected. The evidence leads us where it does, and my outlines and the final thing never really match. (Actually, my outlines are more like checklists, this chapter will talk about A, B, and C -- but the order might be B A C, and D might sneak in there too...)

Contingent Cassandra said...

Sounds like you're on your way to getting unstuck, in pretty good time (maybe that's what we actually learn to do as we become more experienced writers: not so much to avoid mad dashed into writing cul-de-sacs, as to know what we do when we see the roundabout at the end, and thus avoid panic, or at least prolonged panic?).

For whatever it's worth, I'm finding your ongoing account of the process both interesting and encouraging, and suspect it will come in useful when I begin trying to make real progress on my own (planned) book. Thanks for sharing the sausage-making in all its messiness!

Bardiac said...

This sounds like it's going to be a fascinating book!