Thursday, July 06, 2006
As I've mentioned before, focus has been a problem for a long time (like for the past three years.) I've got five novels in progress and each time I start writing on one another calls to me, which means that I've got between 45,000 and 80,000 words on five different stories, with none of them finished, and none of them going anywhere fast. (And I'd really like to get at least one first draft, and preferrably three of them done by the end of year). I finally figured that it was mostly a matter of discipline, and that I should simply sit down, pick the one I think is most saleable, and make myself write on just that one.

The only problem is the writing got more and more tortured feeling. This is not the way writing is supposed to be. Writing is supposed to be a joy. And the words have always flowed easily and well for me. When I went back and read the stuff I'd written, it was actually decent quality, but I was totally unsatisfied with how the process felt, and forward progress seemed to be glacial.

I finally gave up on my discipline plan, and started working on one of my other wips (works in progress). I had almost come to the conclusion that I needed to scrap some 250 pages of writing with the first story and start all over, but I couldn't quite face that, 1) because there are some great scenes in it, and 2) it represents a huge amount of time.

Well, of course, as soon as I started writing on the other story, bang two insights hit me about the first one... solving two major issues which had been holding back progress. The first will require a bit of rewriting (fortunately a minor bit), and the second will require no rewriting at all, but they literally solve the problems that had been making the writing almost impossible to move forward.

Which makes me think, ok, maybe I shouldn't have tried to force the process. Maybe I just have to write on what is calling to me... and that will give me time to come up with the ideas I need for the other story. Maybe I need to be working on two at once. (Five, however, is definately too much.) That give me percolation time.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel (ok, technically my second novel, but the first one I wrote in seventh grade and is mouldering in a big brown accordian file, deservedly, I suspect.)... yes, well... I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about five months, working three nights a week, 3-4 hours a night. It was very intense, and the scenes flowed one from the other. I expected my future novels to be written the same way.

But maybe that is unrealistic... I had originally come up with the idea for the frist novel ten years before; it grew and morphed and changed and deepened, and so it was just waiting to pour out. My current novels have all come to me in the past couple years. The one I'm working with was inspired by a single word. The second was engendered (not even inspired) by a social commentary I want to make. It shouldn't be surprising then, that it would take a while for the plot elements and the characterizations to come together and gel.

What is most amazing is how the sub-consciousness works away at these things, when you don't even think you're thinking about the story, and then suddenly, you're sitting at the breakfast table, munching on a muffin and drinking a cup of coffee, and boom! the resolution to your problems is sitting in your brain!

I guess the moral of the story... writing is a wild and crazy ride and you just gotta go with the flow and do what is working for you at the time. It may not be what worked last time, and it may be, all that really matters is that it's working.
You concluded near the top of your post that you thought discipline was a problem. Discipline is only part of the equation. It’s the how, not the why. Motivation is the why.

There’s an inverse relation to the two. The greater the motivation, the less discipline we need to get something done. Conversely, the less motivation there is, the more discipline is required to keep at the task.

As writers, we’re always supposed to be aware of our characters’ motivation, but what’s OUR motivation to write? Or more appropriately, what’s nibbling away at the motivation we’ve already found?

Being distracted by another great idea could be a problem, but I think there’s something else that’s unique to writers looking for that first major sale. How much easier would it be to maintain discipline on one project if the last one was already sold, or if we knew a publisher was waiting for the completion of this one?

It’s hard to stay motivated when a manuscript takes YEARS to go around to the publishers, looking for someone to buy it. We can’t devote months of our lives to writing a novel, thinking “this stinks,” then send it off hoping it’ll sell. We’re sending our manuscripts out because we believe they’re good enough to sell. It’s hard to find rejections encouraging after that, but the matter is compounded by the long time it takes to hear back from publishers.

Without a sale to a publisher and without an agent, I’ve found my motivation is the joy of actual writing. But I’ve developed a secondary motivation -- come up with a manuscript that I believe will garner more interest than any other idea I have. Fantasy apparently continues to sell well, so I’m writing a fantasy novel. But that secondary motivation probably won’t last after that. I’m certain when the fantasy novel is complete and out making the rounds for the next several years, I’ll be back to writing a science fiction novel.

I know my motivation isn’t rock solid. If it were, I wouldn’t be so worried about discipline too.

Hey Bob,

I hear you about the years it can take to get word back about whether a book is accepted or not. That is a real drain on motivation, for sure.

I write for the joy of writing, but I have definate goals to be published. Would I write if I never expected to get published -- somethings, but not necessarily novels.
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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