Sunday, October 13, 2013

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: After reading the comments on my post yesterday on simplifying, I think that perhaps I am not as disorganized as I thought! There are some problem spots in dealing with daily stuff, but they are not unsolvable, or unmanageable.

The biggest issues for me seem to be scheduling, focus, and dealing with distractions.  (Not even mentioning the new Facebook Graphic thing on my phone lock screen, which is completely mesmerizing...)

My friend Deb Harkness has suggested a couple of work-managing software ideas--Pomodoro, which is an online stopwatch (I think Jan mentioned something like this before, didn't she, REDS?) and a flow manager called KanbanFlow.  I'll try both of these.  If I've learned to use Scrivener well enough to write novels in it, I can deal with the learning curve for a flow manager.

But--helpful as these things are, I suspect they are just nibbling round the edges of the real problem.  And that is the dreaded WRITING AVOIDANCE.

All you writers out there are shuddering, right?  You know what I'm talking about.

WRITING AVOIDANCE is not the same thing as the infamous Writer's Block.  Writer's Block, I assume, is having nothing to say.  I wouldn't know. I always have something to say (maybe too much.) I have characters, I have setting, I have a plot so complicated I don't know how I'll manage to pull all the threads together, but that's nothing new.  I always feel that way when I'm part way into a book and wonder why on earth I ever thought all this stuff would work out. I know from experience that if I just keep writing, it will.

No, WRITING AVOIDANCE is when you sit down at the computer and then suddenly find you are scrubbing the kitchen sink.  Or cleaning out the dog toy basket.  Or any number of useless things other than sitting and staring at that blank screen.

Maybe Stephen King doesn't suffer from writing avoidance.  But most writers I know do. 

What is this thing? Fear of failure?  Partly, probably. But I've written fifteen-going-on-sixteen novels, and I know I can do it, and that it will probably be at least all right in the end.

I think it goes deeper than that.  I think immersion in a novel requires a basic loss of identity. You are no longer entirely you.  You are your characters, living your characters' lives, feeling your characters' emotions, and that is downright scary. Or your characters are feeling your emotions, the ones you don't allow to surface in your ordinary everyday life.  And that is really, really scary. We resist that, heels dragging in the dirt.

Psycho-babble?  Maybe. Either way, it doesn't matter. The book matters, and maybe I just need somebody to push me off the cliff.

REDS and all you writers out there, tell me I'm not the only one!


  1. Writing Avoidance? Say it isn’t so . . . perhaps a gentle reminder of how well it always turns out . . . I looked up “A Share in Death” and found words like “seasoned genre master” and “great continuity, clever plotting, and hidden agendas” and “thoroughly entertaining mystery with a cleverly conceived and well-executed plot” . . . . So while I’m certain you’re not the only one, I’m also certain that you ought to go ahead and jump right in . . . obviously you know exactly what you’re doing and it will all turn out well in the end. It is, after all, something you do extremely well . . . .

  2. Halt! New and completely mesmerizing FB graphic thingie for your cell phone lock screen? You can't just slide past that. What's it called and where can I get it?

    Yes, I am hopeless.

  3. Yeah Debs, what Joan said!

    don't forget that it's also really, really hard work. I was on a long flight coming home yesterday, and thought to myself--I could get a lot of pages written during 6 hours. I got none:). I read Kent Krueger's TRICKSTER'S POINT instead--a good story but also wonderful writing and characters.

    Sometimes we just need a break to recharge the old brain cells too!

  4. You described it so well: I sit down to write but find myself across the room and feeding the dog -- or checking the mail -- or deciding to cook spaghetti -- or wondering if Matt Kemp is well yet. It's such a mystery!

    I think it's just work avoidance.

  5. Debs, you have no way of knowing this, but I felt as though you had written this for me. I was sure writing the second Whimsey novel would be soooo much easier than the first. I mean, gee - I have the characters, the setting, and I even have my plot (sorta). But I'm moving forward only in jerks and spurts. A writer friend tells me I'm scared I won't capture the same magic I did with the first, and that this "second book fear" is a normal thing. And now, reading what you've written, always knowing that your next book is going to bring me a huge amount of pleasure, well - I feel a little less like a fraud. a little.

    Lucy/Roberta - I love Kent Krueger's writing. The man just keeps getting better and better and blows me away. LOVED Trickster's Point.

  6. I just say:I'll write one sentence. It's okay, I can do that, And then I'll stop. Sometimes it's daunting to think about writing a whole book. SO I dont look at it that way.

    ANd I lure myself with the memory of how happy I am when i DO IT.

    Plus, Debs, all of us who are your big fans are eager for your book! (DOes that make it better or worse?) xooo

  7. And come see me at Facebook on Hank Phillippi Ryan Author Page--I'm doing a day-by-day revision diary. On FB and Twitter as #WRITINGTRUTHBETOLD.

  8. Reine, here's what I was talking about on the phone, but it's only for Android. Who knew! It is way cool:-) (And your photos look fabulous on it!)

  9. The lovely Louise Ure once said that she knew she was in avoidance mode when she had book work to do and suddenly she found herself cleaning her refrigerator. Again.

  10. Absolutely you are not the only one.

    Ramona DeFelice Long and I, and others, often join each other from hundreds of miles away in the morning for writing sprints. Get yer coffee, turn off yer internets, and write for an hour. No scrubbing, no dog stuff, no avoidance allowed. THEN you get to do whatever you need to until the next sprint. I find it works really for me (Ramona thinks so, too).

    But I think you're right about the immersion and losing yourself. I'm working on a proposal for a new thing and I'm all excited and then I remember how much HARD work and loss of self it involves. And then, of course, I keep going, because as Hank said, I remember how happy I am when I'm doing it.

  11. Hank, I do the "one page" thing, too. Although since I've been writing in Scrivener, I tend to do "just 250 words" then "just 500 words," etc. So funny all the little tricks we use...

    And every day I try to make myself remember my favorite writer's maxim of all time, from Nora Roberts: "Bad pages are better than no pages..." That's very liberating:-)

  12. Debs, this is so true. There are days when will do anything rather than write--loads in the laundry, dead head the flowers, even play solitaire on the computer. And it's not that I don't want to write and i certainly know about that deadline. It's not wanting to commit those words to paper even though they are in my head.
    Strange, isn't it?

  13. Lucy, I've never had any luck writing on planes. I can write in airports, in coffee shops, in hotel rooms.

    And be glad your transatlantic flight was only 6 hours. It's 10 for me:-)

  14. You are definitely not the only one! I do feel like you wrote this for me, too.

    I am not a fearless writer, even though I have a big sign on the wall across from my desk that tells me I am. Every paragraph, every page is a minefield of "How Dare You Think You Can Do This!" I have no idea how I've finished all of my novels and stories. I'm new to Scrivener and I do like having those little targets to hit--inching them up, 100 words by 100 words. When it gets really bad, I go back to the adage that you can do anything for 15 minutes, and soon I'm seduced by the words once again.

  15. Debs, I think it may come from having the time to do the work. I know that sounds odd, but when I have plenty of time and I want to write and know what I'm going to write that day, etc., I end up doing trivial tasks. (For me, it's picking up dog toys and putting them in the basket. Dyson takes care of cleaning it out--immediately after I organize and fill it.)

    But lately, I've had so many other things crowd out the writing time (or ridiculously tight deadlines), and I find I'm clinging to those bits of time when I can write and making the most of them. Because I know they're all I'm getting and if I misuse that time, there won't be any more to replace it.

    Thanks for the info about KanbanFlow and Pomodoro. I've been doing something similar with MS OneNote and a free online alarm clock/stopwatch in order to keep from overusing particular muscle sets and causing major fatigue and pain. But these are integrated and have more useful bells and whistles. So I think I'll get a lot of use out of them.

  16. Debs,as you know, I'm not a writer.........BUT, I am really good at Avoidance ;)

    you are not alone

  17. Debs, thanks!

    Based on comments here today, I'm checking out different apps for my cell phone. I am also checking new programs for my desktop, where I do most of my writing these days—now that I no longer spend most of my time trying to write in bed.

    Today's blog is a particularly good one for me I'm learning a lot from it about taking care of myself and my physical abilities... special thanks to Linda, because she is so good about that for herself and is generous in sharing it.

  18. And you are so kind, Debs, to mention my photos. xoxo

  19. This is so pathetic, but I'll tell you anyway. Thirty-some years ago, while attempting to balance my checkbook, I was desperate for a distraction. Changing the radio station wasn't enough. My laundry was current. The kitchen was clean. I decided to have a snack.

    I looked in the freezer for a bag of blueberries to blend with some yogurt, but the blueberries and the ice tray were icebound in the little aluminum compartment of my compact, apartment-sized refrigerator. So I got out my trusty icepick and began to enthusiastically chip away at the ice.

    It took me less than two minutes to puncture the tube in which the freon circulated. This resulted in a most sickening hissing sound emanating from the freezer, so I slammed that door and the door of the fridge and stood there paralyzed by fear. The next thought that came to me was, "I'll eat everything in the refrigerator, then give my notice and move."

    This is one of the reasons I follow a rule of thumb that states: "First thought wrong." And when I need a distraction these days, I try to make it something physical, like doing some stretches or walking around outside for a few minutes. Much easier on me and the household appliances.