Last month, I wrote a couple of posts on losing your first love for writing and my journey to rediscovery. If you haven’t read those posts, take a minute now to do so. They will give you a little background for this post.
It’s been five weeks since I wrote the first of those two articles. I’ve started a new story and it’s making wonderful progress. That’s all I’m going to say about it (see #1 below), but I’m thrilled with the way things are going.
Since writing those two posts, I’ve come to realize that the quenching of my first love for writing didn’t happen overnight and that several things contributed to the process. The sad truth is that I’ve already seen them at work in my writing life. Even sadder; I’ve fallen victim to some of them already!
None of the things I’m about to list are bad in and of themselves. They may work wonders for you. If so, wonderful!
But they can be hindrances for others of us. Hence, this post.
1. Too much talking
As in, too much talking about an idea or a story before it’s written. For me, that energy is best spent hammering out words and pages. Writing the story instead of talking about it.
So what should you do when someone asks what you’re working on?
I’ve started saying, “I’m working on a new story about….” and then I throw out my single-sentence summary if I have one. If I don’t, I stick with the bare bones.
“I’m working on a new mystery” or “I’m working on a new political thriller”. That’s about all most people are really interested in anyway.
2. Too much planning
I know. I know. I’ve written dozens of posts on the value of pre-planning. You know what? Pre-planning is great…. For those writers who actually benefit from it.
As much as I love pre-planning, it actually does more harm to my stories than good.
How can that be?
If I spend a week writing a long narrative summary for a story, my mind thinks the story is finished. Zip goes the energy for that idea. I may as well bury that story ’cause my brain is salivating for a new idea.
This was an especially painful realization because I have a dozen or more fully summarized—in long form—stories.
3. Too much journaling
I first started keeping a writing journal in 1999, after reading a book in which Lawrence Block recommended keeping a writing journal. But his idea of what a writing journal is and my version of a writing journal are not the same.
To Lawrence Block, a writing journal is where writers record new ideas, personal experiences that might play a part in a book, and things like that. That’s how my writing journal-life started.
But within a year or two, my writing journal started reading like a personal diary.
Then I started keeping a journal for every story and they started reading like a personal diary. There were still character and plot questions in the journal, but it was more about what was going wrong with a story than with figuring out how to write the story. Big. Difference.
And I’ve discovered in looking back over some of those journals that expressing those doubts, fears, and discouragements on paper didn’t purge them from my system. It nurtured them. Made them grow and multiply.
So keep a writing journal for ideas and experiences.
Everything else needs to be dealt with in some other way.
Like, say, fiction?
That brings me to the next point.
4. Too much navel gazing
The first time I used this phrase with Danielle, she didn’t know what I was talking about. So I suppose I should define what I mean.
The term navel gazing is another way to describe self-analysis. Especially excessive self-analysis. You know. As in sitting around with your chin on your chest, thinking about whatever’s wrong or going wrong or could go wrong.
When it comes to writing, this is one of those things that can completely derail a story or a writer. If you happen to be of a naturally melancholy nature—as I am—it’s especially counterproductive.
There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she needs to sit down and analyze what’s going right and wrong with a story, but don’t let that process take over your writing life.
Because there also comes a time in every story when you have to throw your self-analysis out the window and write with abandon.
5.Too much time spent considering plot options or story questions
One of the things I’m having to relearn is that it’s okay to make a note in a manuscript if a question arises. If a character does something and I wonder why, it really is okay to ask the question in the manuscript itself.
What isn’t okay—for me at any rate—is shutting down writing to brainstorm all those possibilities. As much as I enjoy brainstorming, there is a time and place for it. For me, that is not in the middle of the first draft.
So leave a note either as a footnote or insert a comment posing the question or suggesting a follow up scene, then let it go.
I like putting those notes into the manuscript itself so they’re there when it comes time to edit and revise.
So that’s my Top Five list of Writing Obstacles. Which ones resonate with you?