Faith in the Writing Process

GollyGforceOne of the reasons (the fun one!) that I didn’t make my NaNoWriMo goal this year is—I had the unexpected opportunity to work on another project, this one a nonfiction book for young readers. In the past two weeks, I’ve gone through a series of writing ups and downs that are starting to feel strangely familiar:

  1. Exhilaration. This is the best book idea ever! It will work this way, and this way, and this way, and is such an amazing idea, I’m going to explode! And it will be so EASY! I’ll have this thing knocked out in a week, two weeks tops.
  2. Optimism. This might be harder than I thought, but I can do it. This is when I start diving into the research: I order a hundred reference books through interlibrary loan, make a trip up to my local university library to access journal articles, buy a half dozen more books from Amazon, and check out every picture book I can find from my publisher of choice. And then…
  3. Despair. Once I’ve done the research, I start trying to find the form of the book. I piece together one story outline after another and realize, without a shadow of doubt, that my Great Idea will simply not work. Ever.
  4. Obsession. This is the point when I know the book won’t work. There isn’t enough research available, I can’t find the right photos, and the story form that sounded so great in theory is stupid once I actually try to implement it—but I can’t stop worrying at the idea. It keeps me up at night and wakes me early in the morning. I muse over angles while running or cooking. Conversations with my exceptionally patient spouse turn invariably to analysis of other nonfiction books and discussion of different ways to tackle my topic.
  5. Depression. Why am I still working on this? I don’t even know any more, but every day I do a little more. I take more notes, look at more photos, and write new outlines, none of which quite work. I know they won’t work, I know there’s no hope, but I don’t have anything else I’m working on right now so I keep plugging along. Just in case.
  6. Eureka! In the middle of writing yet another outline, something clicks! I find a different lens through which to tell the story , a different twist that might…just might…actually work. And I start writing a new outline. It rolls off my pen, and for the first time I see the hint of the book I want to write.
  7. Confidence. why was I worried? This is what my writing process always looks like–the darkest. moment comes just before the dawn, and even when I think I know enough to know that a project is irretrievably flawed, I’m often wrong. I buckle down with renewed confidence and vision and get to work. Because after all, I’ve got a book to write.

It astonishes me that every time, for virtually every project, I go through a phase where I’m absolutely convinced that I’ve found the best story idea ever—and through a phase in which I’m equally convinced that the book won’t actually work. And I’m not even bipolar :).

It’s hard to keep going when I hit that low point, but it helps to know that I *always* go through it, if you know what I mean. It helps me to keep plugging along, waiting for that Eureka! moment. Because somehow, it always arrives.

What about you? Do you go through, or struggle with, different emotions during your writing process? How do you get past the low points? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

This post was originally published November 29, 2009–at the end of the 2009 NaNoWriMo. Debating whether to join NaNoWriMo this year? Read on!

I suffered a crisis of confidence during this last week of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). One week left to write–including Thanksgiving day–and I still had 18,000 words to go.

Could I do it? Maybe.

Was it worth it? I was starting to be less and less certain.

I’ve been demanding a bit more of myself during this year’s event. I’ve been revising (a big no-no) and doing a fair bit of pre-writing, so that when I did write, the material was good. It’s been great for my page output—I’ve written far more than I would have otherwise—but with 18K to the finish line and far too few days to write them, revision and pre-writing would have to go by the wayside. Doubt attacked. Should I be pushing so hard? Am I neglecting family in order to meet a meaningless goal? Will I even be able to use the writing I’m producing?

Time and again, reason told me to quit. Time and again, I kept plugging forward. I knew I probably couldn’t make it, but I couldn’t…quite…give up.

There are a few days left until the finish and, miraculously, I think I’m going to make it. In the end, this year’s NaNo is proving to be incredibly beneficial, despite all my doubts to the contrary. So…here’s my partial list of what I’ve learned during this month of craziness:

  1. You know those little motivational emails NaNo sends out every week to encourage writers forward? They really help. Encouragement isn’t a waste of time, but a way to refill my creative tank.
  2. When doubt attacks, just keep plugging forward. Experience shows that I’ll (eventually) come out on the other side.
  3. I’ve learned that if I practice long enough, even I—and avowed pen-and-paper gal—can learn to write first draft material on the keyboard. It’s much faster!
  4. Even when I feel like I’m writing useless schlock, it’s never long before the scene starts to come to life for me. Maybe I won’t be able to use this draft of the novel word for word, but through the practice of intense word production, I’ve made discoveries that will appear in the final draft. Over and over again.
  5. Reaching for an impossible-seeming goal stretches me in more ways than I ever expect. It’s led to a month of rediscovering what I value about writing—and rediscovering how to balance writing with the rest of my life. It’s also stretched my ability to write quickly, which is a valuable thing for any writer to learn to do.

Even if I don’t write another  word this month, I’ve already gained more than expected from this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes, pushing yourself is the only way to discover what you’re capable of doing…and discovering your best is, I think, one of the keys to thriving on the writer’s road.

:-) Cheryl