Friday, August 30, 2019

Self-Sabotaging Writing Habits

Sunset at Lake Cowichan
 If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know that I am a writer. I haven't updated you recently on what's happening in my writing world, so, first the good news!

How the Novel is Coming Along

For the last few years, I have been working on a novel. Last November, I announced that I had completed a first draft of it. But then I changed my mind and re-wrote the ending. Then I read the whole manuscript through and made minor corrections. Then I was finally ready to send the manuscript out to beta readers.

What is it about, you ask?

It is a dystopian tale that takes place in the near future. A small group of survivors, all female, have survived cataclysmic events that have destroyed their city, and for all they know, most people on earth. Years later, two best friends in the shelter come of age and begin to wonder what is outside of their protected enclave. The ecosystem of their little world is beginning to collapse. Each of the two has to make a choice whether to listen to her conscience or follow her heart.

Over the spring, I received feedback from my five beta readers. All of them were very positive about the story: plot, characters, the futuristic setting, the social commentary, and the writing. Two of them recommended changing the ending (again), and I agree. I left things up in the air too much, and that was unsatisfying. My amazing beta readers also gave me lots of pointers about specific changes to make.

I have also read out many snippets to members of my writing group, and their advice is always constructive, gentle, and to the point.

So, the good news is that I've written a novel and I'm really happy with it.

The Revision Process

I spread out all the notes from the beta readers around my computer and began to work through the revisions. That has worked well, as long as I sit down in that room and at that computer. I have found that it is important to not leave too long a time period between each revision session, because then I forget all the details I was trying to hold in mind about what to change, and have to read through all the notes again. Successful revising, for me, appears to be dependent on how I organize my time, space, and written notes.

Before I wrote this novel, I wrote two other novels that I never finished. With the first, I got about 3/4 through a first draft. With the second, I finished a first draft and sent it to beta readers who made excellent suggestions. And then I became so overwhelmed about how to tackle the extensive revisions that I couldn't bring myself to do them.

I am happy to report that I am not struggling with my motivation to do the revisions on this novel. I am enjoying the revision process, and I love sitting down at the computer to work on it. And I really want to finish these revisions and get on with the next phase because this novel is timely right now and because...

It's Going to be a Series!

Yes, it's not going to end with the novel that I have just written. It's going to be a series of three books, and the completed one is the one in the middle. Right now the prequel novel is burning a hole in my brain. I have written copious notes for it, and the opening scene.

Self-Sabotage

So where does the self-sabotage come in? Why am I not finishing the revisions?

I have no desire to avoid working on the revisions. I am eager to sit down at the computer and mentally jump back into the world of my story. I kind of dread the next step of seeking publication, but that is not why I haven't been working on the revisions.

I have always been a person who takes on way too much. They are all things that I want to do, like travelling to Crete, or going on an excellent 3-week vacation, or spending time with family or friends, or participating in art shows, or agreeing to do other writing projects. Or they are things that I have committed to do for others, such as volunteer work for my service group.

I am very disciplined about making myself follow through and actually do the things that I have promised that I will do. But the downside is that all those other things have specific more urgent timelines, so my writing time gets pushed into the background.

In the case of the revisions, my summer travels meant that I have had hardly any time to sit down at the particular computer where my revision notes are laid out. I was afraid to take the revision notes with me for fear they would get lost, and also because it takes long stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the head-space and work on revising.

In contrast, I was able to write background notes for my new prequel novel anywhere in any little fragment of time that I had. All I needed was a laptop or pad of paper.

There is a little executive manager in my brain who tells me how to allocate my time. The sabotage equation goes something like this: "I want to work on my revisions, but I've promised to do project X which is due [insert date coming up very soon] so I can't do my revisions until I have finished project X. But I don't really feel like doing project X right now, so first I'll [insert alternative activity such as do the laundry/go for a walk] to get myself into the mood to do project X, and at least [the laundry will be done/I'll get my 10,000 steps]. Oh no, the whole day has gone by and I haven't worked on my revisions or on project X!"

Or I'll be talking to a friend and the next thing I know, I'm meeting them for lunch or dinner, or to go on a bike ride, or X, Y, or Z.  

So that's how I have been sabotaging my revision process. I've been avoiding project X (which is actually a very interesting project and I'm sure I'll enjoy it once I'm actually working on it again), and not allowing myself to work on my revisions until project X is finished. 
Floaters on the River

Never to Old to Ride on a Swing
The other thing is, I've been too busy having fun! I have inserted a couple of photos from my excellent summer vacation to whet your appetite for my next blog post.

26 comments:

  1. "The other thing is, I've been too busy having fun!"

    Now see to me that line is what makes the most sense. Have your fun, do the things-- THEN come back to writing projects with a renewed sense of self and determination. Think how much better/faster your revisions will go with a little spring, or in this case summer, in your step!

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    1. Hi Ally. I am never one to turn down an opportunity for having fun. The trouble is, I can find fun everywhere I go and in every season. Walk in the rain? Sure! Drive an hour through slush to get to the ski hill? Let’s go. How about a cozy afternoon indoors with the grandkids? Yes!

      The age old writer’s challenge is to find a balance between living life and sequestering oneself to write.

      Jude

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  2. I am now intrigued, “for all they know.” I greatly admire you, Judith for writing a book (s). The one phrase that comes to mind is “the moss will not grow under your feet.” You have a great deal of “fun” in your life! And, yes, we were likely at Cowichan Lake at the same time. I look forward to hearing, reading and seeing you again:)

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    1. Yes, you can just call me the energizer bunny. Over-commitment — that’s me.

      We were at Lake Cowichan the weekend before the B.C. Day weekend. Gordon Bay was full and we hadn’t reserved, so we ended up staying further down the lake at a rec site that was quite nice. See you soon!

      Jude

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  3. Hi Jude - Have fun with family first makes total sense. I'll wait patiently for your book and the series. I can relate to how the summer fun affects other plans. August has been so wonderful weather-wise where I live and we have family visiting us from abroad so we've been outdoors doing fun activities with them. Some of my home projects feel neglected atm :)

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    1. Natalie, thanks for your interest in my book. It has been a very interesting story to write. And despite being about a serious topic, it is actually quite an upbeat tale about two young women coming of age and growing into their adult roles.

      Jude

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  4. Hi Jude! Congratulations on how far you've come on your book. I KNOW how challenging that is myself...although I'm fairly certain you are more of a perfectionist than I am. At some point we have to just let it go! And I'm sure that time will be fairly certain. But I'm also learning that rushing or setting ourselves up for a strict deadline isn't that good for us either. I've had another book planned now for over a year and a half and the only thing holding me back is my head. I do like publishing books, and I feel part of my "purpose in life" is doing that, but I don't feel the rush that i used to. It will happen when the time is right for me. Besides, this summer has been so much fun that I didn't want to hinder it with details like a book. As Scarlett said, "After all... tomorrow is another day." ~Kathy

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    1. Kathy, as a writer yourself, I knew you would understand. I gave up on setting deadlines for myself when I retired. Besides, deadlines don’t really work for me — they just make me start to dread the project even if it’s something that I really want to do. (Example: Project X). Then the avoidance behaviour kicks in.

      For me, writing is fun. But somehow short term immediate opportunities for fun with friends seem to displace the solitary fun of sitting at my computer.

      You’re right, though, that it will all fall into place when the time is right.

      Jude

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  5. Hi, Jude -Was it you who was worried that she would be completely bored in retirement? Just checking! :)
    Like your other readers, I will patiently await your book and am delighted that you are living your life so fully! I look forward to seeing you again soon.

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    1. Yes, Donna, I thought the world would come to a crashing end when I stepped away from my work responsibilities. After all, what is there to do in life besides work?

      I’m glad that you are interested in my book when it’s done. I think (no bias here) it will be a good read. See you soon!

      Jude

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  6. “Busy having fun” sounds perfect to me. Maybe now summer is coming to an end the fun will include your editing (or maybe not!)

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    1. Anabel, having fun always seems like a good plan to me. However, these edits and this book WILL get finished. One of my big regrets about my work life is that there were several really interesting research/writing projects that I started and somehow ran out of time to finish. When you pour hundreds or thousands of hours into something, it seems a shame to not take it all the way to completion.

      Jude

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  7. Although I know finishing the book is very important to you, life is too short to say no to fun! You will have plenty of time to hunker down when the weather turns cold. Interesting that you wrote the middle book first. Did you do that on purpose, or did you decide later that you wanted to add another book before and after to flush things out?

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    1. Janis, I had the idea for this novel thirty years ago. It began with the idea for the setting — an underground shelter located beneath a university in ruins (great significance there, given my previous worklife). The shelter is a fully self-sufficient closed ecosystem. I wrote a dozen or so longhand pages way back then, and then put it away. Years later, I can across my notes and became really obsessed with the story. I wrote a bunch of notes about the plot, what had led to the characters’ need to be in the shelter, and the way of life in this future world. I finally started writing the story about the life in the shelter some years after that as a NanoWrimo novel. The more I got into the lives of my characters, the more I realized I want to also tell the story about how they ended up in the shelter in the first place, and what happened to them after the events in the book I have already written (which take place over a year). So, no, originally I didn’t intend for it to be a series. Originally I just had the idea for the one book.

      Jude

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  8. I appreciate hearing your honesty and your process for getting back on track, and that you give yourself permission to enjoy the things that come up that take you away from the project at hand. Great idea - do a series! Congrats and best wishes for getting your project ready for sending to a publisher!!

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    1. I’m sorry to say I’m not yet back on track with my revisions. However, I’m now deeply into Project X, which is turning out to be a fascinating writing project of its own. And I keep having insomnia because I lie awake at night thinking up plot points and cool technology innovations for the world of my prequel novel and then not being able to sleep because I’m worried I’ll forget all the great ideas by morning. I really want to start working on the new novel! But the executive manager in my head says: first Project X, then revisions, then the new novel....

      Jude

      Jude

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  9. From reading the previous comments it's clear that no one is going to snap the whip at you and tell you to buckle down and get it done. Nor am I 🙂

    Actually you had me in awe at the fact you've written a first draft of a book ... and you have more! Obviously you're doing something right. Keep on doing what you're doing!

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    1. wow! My comment posted!! Woohoo 🙂

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    2. Aww, snap the whip, pleeeeease. I don’t want all my years of work to dribble away to nothing at this point.

      Jude

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    3. And Joanne, I’m super happy that you didn’t have trouble with your comment this time. I have no idea what the problem is. I haven’t changed anything in my setup, and I checked through it all to make sure I still had everything set on the most open permission settings.

      Jude

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  10. That sounds very familiar to my self-sabotage and priorities and other projects and travel distractions when it comes to my memoir! I hear you. And, my writing (unless paid) always falls to the bottom of the list, especially when I promised to help others with beta reading, for example.

    Like you, I keep my promises. Life gets overwhelming with all of these commitments and interests! And, I’m currently having fun on the road as well. But... once summer is over, work on our books will be easier! :-)

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    1. Liesbet, I know you’re facing lots of the same challenges. I think it’s the perennial lot of writers to have the whole world conspiring to take them away from their writing.

      I don’t think it will get any easier for me to find time to write once the summer is over. During the summer, lots of my regular meetings and volunteer obligations go on hiatus, and start up again in September. And soon enough it will be SKI SEASON!

      Jude

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  11. The creative process is an interesting one. I have been procrastinating for weeks, okay maybe years, about painting. Once I got set up, a whole process in and of itself, I had to pick up the paint brush and put out the paint. Once I actually did THAT, then I started painting. Like you I can very easily get distracted.

    One thing I found helpful is to keep notes in a small journal... more like lists of what I want to do. Then I prioritise and try to at least get one or two done in a day. Somehow it seems the more I do achieve or accomplish, then the more I do... Whereas if a whole day goes by and I have NOT been productive in one area such as painting, it is less likely I have been productive at all. And thats okay. We can cut ourselves some slack right?!

    Love the premise of your book. It sounds fascinating!

    I have been reading Elizabeth Gilberts book on the process of creativity "Big Magic". Don't know if you have read it. Easy read but has some good pointers for making it happen.

    Peta

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    1. Hi Peta. I have been procrastinating on my painting even more than on my writing. I have a lovely studio/gallery set up in my basement with my paints and easel all set out and ready to go. But do I paint? Not very often. But the minute I actually pick up a paintbrush, I am filled with joy and don’t want to stop painting. I painted one small painting this summer and I am really happy with it.

      Yes, I am a list maker. I have lists and lists and lists (lists for potential blog posts, lists for story edits, lists of errands, lists for academic projects, lists of things to get done this week...). A funny story: when I was working, I kept my work lists in a file folder, including the ones that had all the tasks crossed out. When I retired, I felt compelled to read through all the lists before throwing them out. Hmm. What does that say about me?

      Jude

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    2. Yes getting started is hard for me to. Once the brush is in my hand I am off and hard to stop. So I guess creative types have a lot in common.

      Oh man, it says maybe you have a lot of time on your hands haha I somehow doubt that is true. I am thrilled to check things off and then toss the list as that toss is the part that feels SO GOOD!

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