Tuesday, February 15, 2011

the importance of distance

when i hear writers talk about discipline, the advice is usually some form of "BIC" (Butt in Chair): sit down and write, even when you'd rather watch TV or play outside. force yourself to write.

this is excellent advice IN GENERAL. (i think i've already both applauded and criticized the BIC method in this blog.)
but i've realized over the past month that sometimes discipline is forcing yourself to NOT write.
when i got my incredible first beta notes on BILLY D., i was eager to jump right in and start fixing things. that's how i did it with BUTTER - got right to work, and it turned out well - so that's how i should do it this time, right? well, the same method doesn't always yield the same results.

after tearing apart BD's plot (working every day, morning and night, for weeks), i grew so frustrated, i nearly considered trunking it. i was unable to let go of passages i loved, so i squished them into new scenes where they didn't belong. i shoved my characters into situations and conversations they wouldn't naturally be in, so their voices didn't ring true. basically, i was making the book worse, because i was trying to force the manuscript into shape under some crazy self-imposed deadline instead of slowing down to let the first draft speak to me.

finally, after weeks of stress, Handsome said to me: "I think you need to get off books for a few days."
just like that. like books/writing are a drug you can overdose on.

well, Handsome is very wise, so i followed his advice. i took a whole week to clean the house, catch up on TIVO, chat on twitter - anything but touch my writing files.

when i did return to writing, i still felt a knot in my stomach about BD, so i worked on SOMETHING ELSE. i fleshed out the outline for GRIM, wrote a couple scenes and let myself feel the freedom of first-drafting.

once the wheels were spinning, i returned to BD, and surprise! it didn't seem nearly so daunting. over the next 48 hours, i deleted like crazy and churned out about 5,000 new words. that got me to a point in the manuscript where i know what needs to be added and which upcoming scenes need to go. i'm back in the groove, because i forced myself to walk away and come back later with a fresh perspective.

so, yes, "Butt in Chair" is good advice.
but so is getting your butt OUT of the chair and walking around in the real world for a little while to clear your mind.


Jess said...

Great advice~ it's so hard to just take a week off when you feel like you're close, but so important to get that perspective. Thanks for the excellent post!

Kristen said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes the harder we try, the more linear we can get -- and we don't see creative solutions for those intractable revision problems. I've found it can even save time to step away. Ever have those days you spend hours on a paragraph and it's still awful by the end?

Great new site, by the way!

Gem said...

'Put the MS down and step away from the desk' (read in stereotypical cop voice)

Revisions take time to percolate - time away from a MG may be the best thing for it.

Anonymous said...

Jess, i always think the hardest thing about walking away for a bit (for me) is the fear that i won't come back to it. that's the second part of the discipline, i guess. :p

Kristen, EXACTLY! if it's not working, i often feel like i'm wasting time. (it's one reason i don't 100% embrace the BIC method. quality over quantity and all that.)

Gem, LOL! i'm imagining backing away from my laptop, hands up in the air, nice and slow. :D