Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Perfectionism paralysis February 21, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:38 am

I decided to keep going with Meg and Nick rather than start the new story that was singing its siren song. I wrote some notes for it, and saw the perfect heroine on the Underground the other day- she looked so like I visualised Nellie I was gobsmacked. Poor girl, I think she wondered if I was a loony, I could not stop staring at her! So her description went into the notes too.

Anyway, back to Meg and Nick. I’ve thought about them, written more notes for their story this week. I know I have to avoid my tendency to on add more, more, more, and focus on simplifying. Here’s what I wrote-

Keep it simple, dig deep. What does that mean for my story?

It means that all the threads that are going to affect the plot and conflict need to be there from the beginning, even if in dormant form.

The financial shakiness, the threat from developers, Beth dating. All the choices they make need to somehow make things worse. That could be the problem with the “fling” at the moment- it’s a resolution of some conflict, but maybe it doesn’t cause enough new conflict. What if somehow sleeping with a guest gets her in trouble and makes things worse. So not just the emotional issue when he makes it clear he wants something serious, but it makes her external circumstances worse too. Ways it could threaten her security and home- pregnancy, some archaic bylaw that says to run a boarding house she needs to be of good character, ditto but more so for housing vulnerable adults. Then the developers, circling like vultures, close in. How does it make things worse for him? Trying to save her gets him in trouble. Fake engagement, upset parents problems at work. Whatever it is needs to impact his core inner conflict.

Her core conflicts- trust. Believing that she I attractive and desirable. Believing that lasting love is possible Taking risks. Losing/ givng up her safe controlled environment. Becoming willing to change- accepting that change is inevitable and the only control we have is choosing what we can of the changes we make.

His core conflict- believing he can have what he wants, finding a way to live authentically and balance competing demands and expectations. Breaking loose of family role. Being willing to let her go for her own good- choosing the path of honour and getting her what she most wants even though that may mean losing her.

It’s all good stuff. The problem is, I’ve not written one word of actual story since I decided I needed to start from the beginning again and rewrite. 

I have excuses, of course,  mainly yet another week from hell in the Day Job, arriving home late and brain drained. My excuse yesterday was that I didn’t get home from work until nearly 11pm on Friday, so I slept in late, then I had all the usual practical weekend stuff to get out the way before I could write.

There’s always an excuse. This job is not going to change. I need to either find a new job or find ways of writing despite the job. Right now, it’s not good enough to keep using it as an excuse, no matter how much of a time eater it is.

And it’s more than lack of time. I do have time, if I am honest. I’m just not using it to write. I simply cannot seem to start rewriting the story. I have pages of notes, three chapters that no longer fit my vision for the story despite me having a go at revising them, and a big resistance to starting again.

I wanted to at least be doing something writing related yesterday, so I started reading “Manuscript Makeover” as recommended by Michelle Styles. Even though it’s about fixing a completed story, the section on Riff Writing gave me the answer.

I don’t want to start the rewrite, because I’m scared of getting it wrong again.

This is insane of course, as if I don’t start I’m left with the chapters that I already know aren’t what I want, but who said my sub-conscious mind is sane!

My new mantra- It can be fixed. So just write it.

I need to start writing. Any old dreck, so long as it’s words related to the story. Take off this pressure to get it perfect. And write. Even if it’s only ten minutes using Write or Die, start this minute.

I’m off to do it now.

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8 Responses to “Perfectionism paralysis”

  1. waitingforthecall Says:

    Came back too add- twenty minutes with Write of Die= 637 new words to play with. Yay!

    Now I just have to get them in the right order… and add a few even better words in places.

  2. Marcie Says:

    Congrats on writing for 20 minutes!! Baby steps are great aren’t they?
    Maybe leave those 637 words alone and write 637 new words? That way you won’t get stuck with making it perfect. Easy for me to say though – if my beginning doesn’t feel ‘right’ I can’t move on. I told a friend of mine this once and she looked at me and said “it’s perfect”. I went home, read it, and heard her voice and moved on. It was as perfect as it was going to be for the moment. I did end up changing parts of it – once I finished the rest of the story.
    Don’t be scared – it’s those self-doubts running havoc in your mind. You can do this!
    I understand not being able to move forward. For me it means I’m missing a key part of the story. I just haven’t figured out what ‘it’ is! I find not thinking about it helps. I read.
    Oh – I ordered Manuscrip Makeover since Michelle has been talking about it on eHarl. Just think – it may be for a finished story, but you will have a finished story so it will come in handy. Or by looking at it now, you may be able to spot mistakes during the initial process and not have to go back later.
    I have a Day Job too. Sometimes it’s the Day Job from Hell. Mostly I feel like I’m in junior high with the way the people act. But I find writing helps my stress with the DJ and I don’t feel as crabby anymore.
    Your notes look good – and by adding you will be asking yourself more questions and next thing you know you’ll be ready to write all the way through til THE END!

  3. Sometimes I can’t even find an excuse not to write. I’m sitting at my computer, I have the time, the story is in front of me, I know where it is going and I still can’t write. I think it’s perfectionism. Knowing that it won’t be good enough. Maybe we need a 12 step program?

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    Marcie, I’m beginning to think baby steps are the only way I’m going to do this. If I wait for lovely uninterrupted slabs of writing time, it’s never going to happen. It’s got to be 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Though I still plan to give myself a Book in a Week when my work colleague who’s been out sick for ages is back working normal hours.

    Usually I don’t get hung up on getting the first chapter right, I am happy to do all sorts of first draft dreck and try to fix it later. I think there are two reasons I’m intent on getting chapter one right this time. One- I wrote myself a big mess last story, which I couldn’t fix (though to be fair, I knew when I read the first draft back it was a mix of two very different stories- mostly chick-lit style romantic comedy with some Presents elements thrown in, and my mistake was to try to edit it into a Presents. Did. Not. Work.) And two- I want to try to get an lovely edited first chapter off to Donna Alward as she’s still willing to give me a critique as a runner up of her pitch contest, even though my chapter is ages late. So I want to get the first chapter as good as I can first, then first draft the rest.

    I feel my early “stuckness” on the story in January was just what you say, not having enough idea where the story was going. I think I now have enough of an idea, there’s still some stuff I’m going to have to discover as I write, which makes it more fun than having it all planned out, IMO.

    Anne, a 12 Step for perfectionist writers would be great. “I’m Jane, and I’m a recovering perfectionist. I used to sit in front of my computer unable to write, but now I produce pages of firest draft dreck. Every day, I give myself permission to get it wrong. ” I’d probably just use the meetings as another excuse not to write though!

    Seriously, I think getting a rejection for writing we really thought was the best we could do rocks us for a while. Somehow, we have to find a way to do it better, we feel. And we sit there, unable to write a word, because if we knew how to do it better we would have done it the first time! This is where giving ourselves permission to write badly in first draft, just to get to know our characters and get the bare bones of the story down, is so important. Once we have that, the doing it better part comes in the editing and revising. I’m planning on playing a trick on my doubts and blocks when I sit down to write. I’m going to be telling myself I am not writing story. All I’m doing is writing an extended outline of the story. So it doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be lyrical, or emotional, or any of the other stuff we want in our final edits. It just has to get the story out, get these two characters walking and talking and falling in love and thinking they can’t ever be together and then overcoming everthing to get their HEA. The pretty stuff comes later. I love this article, even though the thought of that many edits makes me shudder.

  5. Jane Holland Says:

    Good luck with this re-commitment to your story. Yes, just getting anything down is important, before you get tied up in endless note-taking. And if you get stuck staring at a blank screen, just try starting some mundane conversation between hero and heroine, writing it like a film script, beginning with ‘Hello’ and letting it flow on from there, gradually moving out into your planned story.

  6. Eileen Says:

    Ack … rewriting the beginning without having the rest of the novel written is a giant speed bump for me. I just came back to my paranormal romance this past week and the only reason I have 4,000 new words on it is because I refused to even look at the original opening. I can’t make myself rewrite it to be better and if I read what I have I’ll just edit it and stay stuck … so I’m just picking up and writing (out of order) whatever comes to mind. And so far my mind’s been on a pack of sexy werewolves 🙂

  7. Kaily Hart Says:

    Yes!!!!! I find myself stuck sometimes and I know it’s fear of it not being good enough or even making it worse than it currently is. We just have to fight against our natures and get something on the page!

  8. Misa Ramirez Says:

    Good plan!!!! As Nora says, a blank page can’t be fixed, but a crappy page can!


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