Now that have Zero out of my system (for now) it’s back to my main project, The Road Elsewhere. I was pleased and somewhat proud of myself that I not only managed to come up with an idea for another novel, but that I was disciplined enough to get down the sample chapters I’d worked out and then was able to put it to one side and return to TRE. I was also proud that I returned to TRE with the same level of enthusiasm which I left it and I think this is because the undeniably encouraging effect productivity can have.
I have found the key to productivity to be discipline, even more so than inspiration somehow of late. I have been writing for many years and it was easy once I left university to just drift along, to do a bit at a time when it suited me. I dabbled but never really got anywhere. Even The Road Elsewhere has been on the go for a long time. It has only been since the beginning of this year and my visit to Gladstone’s Library that it has really started to build up a head of steam, along with my writing in general.
The writing holiday at Gladstone’ Library gave me a long weekend and an environment in which to concentrate wholly on the writing. It’s been years since I had so time with nothing else to do but write. It threw petrol on the embers of my determination and as I motored forward with the draft, so my excitement grew and got rejuvenated. Reluctant to let up on the progress I had made, since coming home again I have allocated myself a weekly ‘Writing Night’. Every Tuesday I make no other plans but to get in from work, have my dinner, stick on some music and just have at it until I can’t keep my eyes open. And so far I’ve managed to stick to it and sticking to it helps me to continue…sticking to it.
It’s true I don’t get as much done as I did at Gladstone’s. I got down almost 20,000 words during that weekend but I average between 1,000 and 3,000 on my writing night. But it pushes the draft forward, keeps the momentum up, keeps me engaged and means I haven’t flagged again.
Productivity is particularly important since I am still at the drafting stage. This process for me does tend to be quantity over quality. I need to get the story down, need to push it forward, need to keep it moving until I have the whole damn thing down. Then I can go back an polish and primp and streamline. So Writing Night really is a huge help.
When I first started TRE, for months I fell into the deadly trap of the ‘Editing Loop’. I was constantly going back over what little I’d written and editing and chopping and rephrasing, over and over, until I had been working for ages and progressed very little. And, as everyone will know, as one writes, no matter how well the story is planned, things change. Continuity alters, characters reveal themselves to be different from what you expected, events unfurl that need some sort of starting point. And so you go back and you re-draft. Over and over. Until that’s all you’re doing.
It took a tremendous effort of will to break this cycle. Even knowing it’s the only way to get where I need to go, I hate how clumsy and slap-dash my writing comes out as I’m drafting. I’m still used to short stories where you have the luxury of re-editing as you go to your heart’s content since the overall word count is relatively manageable.
However, with a project that is likely to top-out in the hundreds of thousands of words,I soon realised this was not something I could do and expect to make any progress.
And so now, I push forward. I very rarely allow myself to read back over what I’ve just written because I know my pride will tempt me to polish and edit. But if I cave then I will be caught in the Editing Loop forever. And besides, I don’t know how much more it’s going to change by the end. Better to have the whole thing in a raw, editable form that is easier to streamline than something so heavily worked on that it’s rigid and unmovable.
Writing Night has so far been a resounding success and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to make progress but finding it hard to find the time or get in the mood. Make the time. Allot the time. Never waver, no matter how many other nice alternative things to do might crop up. Best to choose a night when there aren’t likely to be social functions or good TV. A work night works for me. (Also the fact that I don’t have TV probably helps too, but this is maybe a somewhat drastic measure to recommend for most people).
Tuesday night I get in, eat my dinner, sit down and go for it. I don’t read back and I don’t let myself edit and I push forward and so I have kept the pace up. This discipline has not only kept my productivity up but also has kept my imagination fired. I find the more I write, the more I get into it. Ironically, the more I do, the less of a chore it is. The pace I have maintained, I have marvelled to realise, is so productive that I have even managed to get distracted and write out some sample chapters of Zero, which will probably be my next work, and still come back to The Road Elsewhere fired up and excited for what is going to come next.
Writing Night has indeed worked wonders and I’m so glad I made myself work it into my routine. It has kept up my productivity which in turn has encouraged and fired my inspiration and has stopped me falling back in a rut. Without it I wouldn’t be so excited about what I know I can achieve. I know now that if I just go for it, even I surprise myself with what happens. And it’s impossible to keep an inspired writer down.