Tag Archives: clutter

Breakthrough!

25 Sep

Confession: at an underwhelming 143 new words written on my novel this week, it’s safe to say this has been the worst week to date on my novel’s progress.  

Now.  I could hurl my computer to the cats and let them have their way with it, but that’s not really the best solution, I’ve decided.  I could scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush, but distraction doesn’t help much in the way of progress, either.  

I wrote the other day about the need for a peaceful place to write.  After reading the comments, it was increasingly clear to me from all of your experiences that words ache to get out if they’re in there, and ideas refuse to be silenced.  If words aren’t fighting to get onto the page, a change of location doesn’t work too well anyway – like Jennifer Neri said in her comment, “It’s got nothing to do with my setting but with head space.  If [the writing]’s not coming, it won’t come anywhere unless I figure out why.”

That resonated with me – I keep trying to find someplace clean, uncluttered, without distraction.  What I realized, though, is that it has less to do with physical clutter and more to do with the mental clutter. 

I sat down at the library¹ this morning, determined to make much-needed headway.  I opened an outline² I created back in June, just to evaluate my progress and see where I should go next, since it has been a week since I wrote something solid on the novel.

Then, a breakthrough:  I’m overwhelmed.

I feel like I know my characters, that I’m doing them justice in my draft.  Looking back over that outline, though, what I hope to write and what I’m writing aren’t exactly the same thing.  

I know that in a novel, what the reader sees is just the tip of the iceberg of the character’s entire personhood.  I’m trying to bring their entire story above the surface through layered action or dialogue, conveying much meaning, so that no matter how much face time my characters are given, they have a story.

What I have right now is decent.  Not incredible, but decent.  I’m trying to weave a lot of threads but while I focus on one, others are left dangling.  There’s a fine balance between a rich story and a story in which you are bombarded with way too much.  Obviously, I’d rather have a rich story, but it takes a lot of work to weave so many threads in a way that comes off as seamless instead of frayed.  

My story is frayed right now, and I need to tighten it all up.  Then, I remembered: hey, wait.  No one says I have to complete the draft before I go back and evaluate what I have.  Why not give it a read-through and see what needs tightening, or if I’ve introduced a piece of neon orange string in an otherwise earth-toned tapestry?  After all, isn’t that the very definition of editing?  

Ahhhh.  I have a LOT of work to do.  It’s tempting, like I said, to hurl my computer to the cats and let them go at it like they do my feet.  But…no.  As much time as this will take to evaluate what’s good so far and what’s not, I’m itching to get started.  Then I’ll continue to write the draft.  From day one, I’ve said I’d rather write an amazing novel than a quick novel; I’m not one for mediocrity.

Though I have a lot to think about now, I don’t feel mentally cluttered anymore.  That problem eluded me for days.  Now that I know what it is, I think I could work on this thing with both cats in the room.  Fighting.  Any time of day.  With a mess all around me, hungry, and without my morning latte.  

Okay, I lied.  I’d need my latte.

¹And, side note?  Why have I lived in this town for a decade and never discovered the city library?  I’ve been to the libraries at the universities, but never the public one downtown.  It’s quiet and there are a lot of great tables and outlets.  As far as peaceful places go, this may be my new go-to spot of the moment.

²The document is a major-conflict-by-major-conflict outline that details what my main characters feel at those big points in the story, and how that motivates them to act next.  It’s super helpful for creating cohesion, and I got the idea from Karen Wiesner’s From First Draft to Finished Novel.

Peace, Please

23 Sep

DeskThe peaceful desk you see here is where I normally sit down to write.  

There are times, though, when I cannot focus for the life of me while at this desk, or anywhere at home.  I get wrapped up in life’s infinite to-do list, distracted by dishes, dirty clothes, and other necessary tasks that beckon my attention.  It certainly does not help that over the weekend, we adopted a second kitty.  His name is Dexter, and he’s the most adorable three-month-old bundle of fluff who chases my feet, swats my curls, and runs around the room with a worn workout sock dangling from his mouth.  Cute, yes.  Also?  A fun distraction!

When I get in these can’t-focus-funks, I head to Starbucks or La Madeleine.  The problem with this, though, is familiarity.  Not only am I on a first-name basis with every Starbucks employee, but they’re my friends, as well.  Plus, it’s hard to focus when five chatty businesspeople take the seat right beside you – seriously, two feet away – even though it’s plain you’re trying to concentrate.

One day last week, I ended up writing 1,500 words from the passenger seat of my car, for lack of other private (or quiet) options. Rain splattered my windows the entire time, the sky was gray, and I parked in a place overlooking a green field lined with tall, green trees.  It turned out to be an amazing place to write, something I’d never tried before.  I’d go there now, except my battery is about to die.  

I don’t know what my problem is.  Some days, I can write until my wrists hurt in any location, no matter how loud, no matter how many chores are begging me to spend time with them.  Other days, I feel like I have to have just the right environment or else my productivity (in terms of writing, anyway) is doomed for the day.  Sometimes this depends on where I am in my novel.  Sometimes I just feel like life is cluttered; the clutter closes in on me as I sit in the midst of it, whether it’s noise clutter or chore clutter or too-many-thoughts-about-other-things clutter.  

When this happens, I either push through it, go elsewhere, work on a different project,  read, or succumb to the clutter.  If this happens, I try again later in the day, sometimes with better results, sometimes still under a fog of funk.  Today is finally getting back on track, after writing this blog.  Victory!  Hopefully that will translate to my ability to make necessary headway in my novel this afternoon.  

How much does location affect your ability to write?  How do you beat the clutter, the to-do lists, short of forsaking your writing time to eliminate them?  If you have no place else to go, do you have any tricks for setting your mind to work, and then getting it done?