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