On Self-Doubt and Goldfish

Goldfish in fishbowlI’m finishing up a draft this week, a particularly rough book for me. (I know I say that all the time). I was about 1/3 of the way through my manuscript and completely on schedule when tragedy struck our family. I ended up spending 3 weeks out of town with no opportunity or desire to write. When I finally returned home, there was another week of getting back into the household routine. My kids had missed a full week of school. Their load of makeup work wasn’t pretty.

By the time I was able to get back to my book, nearly a month had passed since I’d last worked on it. Who were these characters and what on earth were they doing? I struggled for the next couple of weeks, my deadline looming on the calendar.  Frankly, I didn’t care much about the story, the characters, or the plot. The whole family was still grieving and  struggling to catch up. Teachers were the usual mix of helpful and horrible. Stress was spelled with a capital S.

So, what did I do?

Friends suggested I ask for an extension, but the very thought of missing a deadline gave me a case of hives. I still had some time. I was just going to have to hustle. But every day, my lack of progress dug me deeper and deeper into a hole. I was beginning to think I would have to call my editor after all, despite the fact that contemplating it made me hyperventilate.  My editor is a sweet, sweet person. She was aware of the situation and would have understood. But time  wasn’t the entire point or the heart of the problem.

I was Austin Powers. I’d lost my Mojo.

My answer? I wrote.  Every day. A net gain of 2,000 words at minimum. No excuses. No matter how much I wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head, I dragged my sorry ass into my office each morning. The first week I was up until midnight nearly every night. But I refused to leave my desk unless I had made my progress. 2,000 words a day shouldn’t be that hard. But when you aren’t in tune with your story or characters, it sure seems like a lot. I was doing a lot of deleting, some days logging over like 4,000 words or more just to keep my minimum net daily gain. The first thing I’d do when I opened my document was delete half the crap I wrote the day before. I couldn’t keep the plot lines and character arcs in my head from day to day. I was a goldfish in a bowl, swimming all day and not going anywhere. I sucked.

But another 2 weeks went by and I was deleting less and adding more. I started keeping a list of notes. I added two additional subplots that hadn’t been in my plan. Then one day I woke up excited to write. YEAH!!!!

Hello, Mojo! Where have you been?

I’m not quite finished yet. I have maybe 10,000 words to go to finish my first draft. Does it still need work? Yes. Do parts of the book still suck. Yes again. Am  I super-enthusiastic to work on it every morning? Not really. But as long as I finish this freaking draft, I can fix it. It’s not like I chiseled the words into a slab of granite. All I have to do is type over them. It’s not that hard. Why couldn’t I look at it this way a month ago?

So, when self-doubt strikes, I recommend planting your butt in the chair and write if you have to duct tape your ass to the seat.  Yes, the goldfish feeling sucks, but I haven’t found a shortcut to getting back into the groove. Has anyone else?

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4 responses to “On Self-Doubt and Goldfish

  1. It’s true, and it’s been said many times: the only way out of writer’s block is to write you way through it. Thanks for this inspiring post. It’s good to know a multi-published author such as yourself still suffers from the same debilitating issues as the rest of us! Happy Monday, Happy Writing!

    • Thanks, Gwen. Even without a major life curve ball, I seem to hit a point in every book, somewhere around 30K, that it all feels awful. It’s never going to work. It sucks. It won’t sell. My career is over. I spend the next month miserable. Then around 60K, it all starts to come together again. I guess everyone has a process, and this is mine.

  2. Thanks for the pep-talk. With or without an editor or looming deadline, no excuses, plant my butt in my chair and write. Kudos for taking the time to write and post this blog despite your distress. You are one of the strongest, kindest women I know. What an inspiring way to begin the week.

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