Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trust Your Process (May Theme: Getting Through the Tough Times) by Laurie Calkhoven


Reading everyone else’s posts around this theme has been inspiring—learning about Claudia’s to do lists, Marcia’s journaling, and about how writing got some of my fellow bloggers through some very tough times. Thinking about this month’s theme, my mind kept going back to my toughest time as a writer.

I’ve always been a plotter in the plotter vs. plunger debate. I’ve never been able to plunge right into a new idea and write to discover my characters and my story. I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters first. I brainstorm lists of scenes and come up with the beginnings of a plot. I do all the research I need to do before I start writing. I’m open to things changing as I go along, but I’d always been a definite plotter.

I read a lot about other writers processes, writers I admired.  They were all committed plungers. I compared myself to them and decided that my process must be all wrong.
So I decided to become a plunger. And what better time than National Novel Writing Month, or NoNoWriMo? NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30 with none of the advance prep work of the kind that I normally do. I signed up with a few friends with the sole purpose of plunging into a new idea. All I had in mind was a vaguely drawn main character and (maybe) an inciting incident.

And not only was I going to plunge right in, I was going to write a dark, edgy YA novel.  Even though my ideas were mostly for middle grade funny or middle grade action/adventure, edgy YA was what all the cool kids were writing. Even in my 40’s, I was still trying to be a cool kid.

I sat down on November 1st and had no idea where to start. No words came. It didn’t get better the next day or the next. My friends were happily reporting their enormous word counts, sometimes multiple times a day, with statements like, “Oh, this is so freeing. Why didn’t I ever do this before?”

But I wasn’t free. I could barely eke out a few hundred word. Without a roadmap, I flailed around miserably. I couldn’t write to get to know my character. I had to know her before I started writing. I needed to know the bones of her story before I could put words to paper.

I dropped out of NaNoWriMi, abandoned my dark, edgy idea completely, and did all the things I do to trick myself into writing—I wrote morning pages, I read books that usually make me want to write, I gave myself writing prompts, I played with ideas—but I was blank. I didn’t want to be a bad friend and teammate by dropping out of the NaNoWriMo check ins, but reading my friends chipper e-mails about their word counts every day just made me feel more anxious and more depressed. It was time to face facts—I wasn’t a “real” writer. I was a miserable failure. I had evidence of that every time I opened my e-mail.

I felt that way for weeks. And then, finally, I got a new idea—a funny idea, an idea that made me laugh. November was over, and I was tied up with a new freelance project, but just having an idea felt like a miracle. When I finally sat down to begin working on it sometime in January I decided to trust my process. I got to know my characters. I made lists of scenes. I had the barebones of a plot. And when I sat down to write in earnest, I had no trouble writing 1,000 words, or even 2,000 words a day, because I knew where I was going.

I learned two very important things that now I rely on to get me through:

1. DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER WRITERS!
2. TRUST YOUR PROCESS!

By all means, if you’re just beginning, try on other writers’ habits and see if they inspire you.  But once you’ve found a process that works for you, trust it. It’ll get you through the tough times.

5 comments:

  1. There's plenty of dark, edgy YA. What my library really needs is more Boys of War books. I cannot keep those on the shelf, and we're all eagerly waiting for more!

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  2. Good advice, Laurie! What works for one writer doesn't for another and, though it isn't easy, comparing yourself to other writers doesn't benefit you or your work one single bit! ;)

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  3. I ADORE this post, Laurie. Just ADORE it! I've been going through some self-doubts myself along these same lines and so needed to hear this reassurance that different writers have different processes and that we need to trust ourselves here. I love you!

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  4. #1 is SOOOOO important. We all have our own unique journey...

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  5. Excellent post, Laurie. Thanks for the honest peek into your process. This is very helpful and affirming! Your two lessons are something I need to post over my desk! And, BTW, you ARE cool!

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