True Confessions, or Coaching Myself

I'm struggling.Book_work_teacher_238276_l

I'm having a hard time writing my next novel.

There, I've admitted it. 

I, the one who constantly harangues you to write every day, to keep the momentum going by checking into your project on a daily basis, I, that very same person, am having a hell of a time working on my novel every day.

Don't get me wrong–I am writing every day.  I get up every morning and write in my journal, I work on contracted projects, and I write a blog post every day.  Oh, and I write stuff on social media, though I'm not sure we can say that really counts. 

So I'm writing every day, and writing tons.  It is just that I'm not doing what I love to do, what I feel I've been set on this earth to do (well, partially, because coaching writers and blogging about writing is definitely part of my mission).  I'm ignoring my true love.  And we all know what that means.

My true love is dying.

And that makes it even harder, because if a project feels like it is dying, than who wants to spend time with it?  And so the vicious cycle gets established.

It is not that I don't have time for it.  At great effort, I have carved out a bit.  But during that time I am not writing.  Instead, I am re-reading the first chapter repeatedly, telling myself how very brilliant it is.  I make lists of things I should do for the novel (like, um, write it).  I jot notes about potential scenes.  Fill out character dossiers.  Convince myself I need to go sit on my office chair and take a nap meditate about the overall arc of the plot.

All this is great, but it is not writing.

Yesterday, after reading–yet again–the first chapter, I realized it is because I'm second-guessing myself.  I'm worrying about whether the work is good, whether than trusting the process.  Of course it isn't good, it is a first draft!  All it needs to be is enough to hang a story on.  And it is.

So I've decided what is in order are some words from the wise, ie., me.  It is time to coach myself with some tough love.  Here's what I've come up with for my marching orders:

1.  Remind Myself.  Of what?  That the last novel was once a first draft, too.  Yesterday I scrounged around and found the original scene list I had written for Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  Shocking how different it was.  Oh, the seeds of the finished novel were all there, but the original scenes I had laid out were very, very different.  I found this comforting, because it reminded me that the process does, indeed, work.

2.  Use the Time.  What's been happening is that I get to my allotted novel-writing time and when something doesn't happen immediately, I feel guilty for wasting my time and make myself go spend it more gainfully.  But creativity takes time, and when working with the large span of the novel, this is especially true.  So I'm using the time I've set aside every day, even if it means staring off into space while thinking deep thoughts about the novel.

3.  Turn off the Internet.  Yeah, right.  I hear this works well, but I wouldn't know, because it is not something I am constitutionally capable of achieving. 

4.  Short assignments.  The novelist Darnell Arnoult talks about this.  She advocates giving yourself short assignments about your characters or points in the plot.  Stuff you can write in 15 minutes, but which will help you gain understanding of the project.  I know this works because one of my short assignments made it into that brilliant first chapter which I have read and admired so many times.

So those are what I'm working with.  Anybody want to take a turn coaching the coach and tell me what works for you?

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9 Comments on "True Confessions, or Coaching Myself"

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Don
Guest
02/18/2010 12:46
The feelings you describe are ones that we all experience as well. They certainly can be discouraging, but as you said, breaking things down into smaller projects can certainly turn what can be discouraging into something that is encouraging. I like to use that method in a lot of situations including writing. I often think of the joke, “How do you eat an elephant? The answer: One spoonful at a time!” I was determined to read the entire Bible all the way through, but I couldn’t imagine actually succeeding until I broke it down into bite sized chunks, as you… Read more »
Patty - Why Not Start Now
Guest

I love it, Charlotte. We find so many ways to distract ourselves. Lately I’m thinking I have to go to a place with no internet connection to get anything done. It’s an addictive beast and I am trying oh so hard to draw better boundaries around it (ha, here I am on it!). The reason I don’t do twitter is because I’m convinced I simply could not handle it. I love this too: “creativity takes time.” Absolutely.

Karen
Guest
Karen
02/18/2010 17:25
Wow, Charlotte. I both want to alleviate the pain (and I know from experience how frustrating it is to be in that place) and advise you, but … hm … I’m not so successful myself in the writing of long fiction. Writing fast and furious is one way to go. Relying on “real life” gifts (in that you weave in something from your actual life today or yesterday assuming it is “given” by the universe to you) into your novel is another. (As in the film “Stranger than Fiction”–loved it.) Or, novelist/teacher Ron Carlson says “do not get up from… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
02/18/2010 17:53
Don, your story of reading the Bible a few pages a day 400 times is inspiring! Just proves what can be done. Hope that Naggy Waggy is treating you well. Patty, you are right about the internet being an addictive beast. I love it so…and it is such a distraction. And Twitter is so much fun but OMG it is worse than anything! Karen, so good to hear you chime in! I love Ron Carlson and today I followed his advice. I sat in my chair for my allotted time and what I came up with is a list of… Read more »
Jessica
Guest
02/19/2010 07:32
I’m working on using the ‘Remind Myself’ step as well – especially reminding myself of the wonders of editing. You can fix a multitude of problems during editing and polish a word until it shines, but only if the words are on the page. If there are no words, then editing tends to have no effect. The best piece of advice I found for this point in a novel was given me by my brother. He said, “It’s a first draft. You can do no wrong.” I also remind myself that in the process of writing your draft, you’ll most… Read more »
Christi
Guest
02/19/2010 07:36

Charlotte,
What worked for me is doing exactly what you’re currently doing. I put it off, thought about it a lot, then one day everything just burst forth and flew from my brain to my fingertips to the screen.
It was worth all the angst and worry.
Christi

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
02/19/2010 09:15

Jessica, I think you read my mind, I just finished a post on the writing process–ie, writing rough drafts. Love your comment that it is hard to edit if there’s no words on the page! And thanks, I figured it was better to be transparent than to pretend I never struggle with blocks.

Christi, I am hoping this same thing will happen to me! I dreamed I was pregnant last night, so my subconscious is clearly telling me it is gestating something! Thanks for the encouragement.

Lauri
Guest
02/24/2010 15:29

Hi Charlotte, turning off the internet does help, although it’s really hard to do. I sometimes make myself limits, like I’m only allowed to check email and facebook on the hour, or ten times a day (which is better than 40), or only after I’ve edited a chapter.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
02/25/2010 09:56

Oh lord, I find turning off the internet the hardest thing to do. I try to do the same thing you mention–check it only at prescribed times, but it is such a temptation, that is difficult for me. The times I am able to turn it off I get so much more done. Sigh.

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