Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When Writing Takes a Vacation

Sometimes I wonder if these pauses of more than a week in posts concern the readers of The Elephant's Bookshelf. (It's probably worse for readers of Matt Sinclair's Coffee Cup, which often goes several weeks without an update.) But then again, it's still summer, and readers and writers often take vacations.

You know vacations — those all-too-short respites from the workaday jobs that pay our salaries, feed our families, and are the source (too often) of stress as well as self-definition. The problem is, I don't know them very well. As a writer and father of young children, I tend to live without too many luxuries, such as disposable money, a flush savings account, and a reliable car. I've also been a writer long enough to know that even if I'm fortunate enough to sell the novels I write, they'll likely never account for much supplemental income. But I'd like some supplement, anyway.

Which brings me to the challenge. Should you take a vacation from your writing? I don't know about you, but having failed to take any time off this summer, my brain is much more fried than any portion of my skin. So I'm wondering if the work I'm putting into the manuscript is good enough or if I'm just wasting my time.

Of course, it could be that the evil demon over my shoulder is whispering snippets of doubt and pessimism into my ear.

My inclination is to keep writing and reading it after I've done — or have my trusted readers give it another go.

What do you think? And what do you do when faced with writing while mentally fatigued?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Do You Do It?

I don't know if you regularly look at the comments on these posts or return to see what other folks have said after you've left your mark; I get the wonderful task of moderating all that lands on the Elephant's Bookshelf, so I see them all. But if you didn't come back, you may have missed a great question from a reader who I presume is a relatively new writer.

Dr3am3r said, "I've just begun working on a manuscript, and the enormity of the task freaks me out like nothing I have ever before experienced. How do you all do it? What keeps you focused and how do you not become overwhelmed?"

As someone who has penned stories and poems and songs and anything else my little heart imagined since I was a small child, I can't really speak to the whole freaking out part of things. I've always written and started without any expectation of making money at it. As I grew up, I was more concerned with telling stories that I thought were interesting, and if I could get other people interested in them too, all the better. But I've worked with writers most of my professional life, and I've seen some of them freak out. I accept that the blank sheet of paper can be daunting.

The question reminds me of the story behind the name of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I don't have the book in front of me at the moment, but it went something like this: As a young girl, she was putting together a report about birds and hadn't done all her research. The night before the report was due, she was in tears and her father asked why. She confessed what had happened and he agreed to help her. "How are we going to get it done? There's so many of them!" And he said, "We'll go through them one at a time, bird by bird."

Again, I may have gotten some of the facts wrong, but the gist of it is that her dad helped and explained that to reach your goal, you take it step by step. Perhaps I even said something like that when I offered a review of Bird by Bird back when the Bookshelf was still a young elephant.

But I'll ask you all, fellow readers and writers, how do you do it? What compels you to tell a story? What makes you go back to the story you've started to make it better? How do you overcome the seemingly enormous task of writing a novel? What have you been smoking to make you think you can do this and do it well?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Rediscovered Quote

I'm in the midst of cleaning a desk and found several old notebooks from conferences I covered as a reporter. Written on the inside cover was this quote. It's probably not mine, but I'll claim it if no one else will. It sounds like something I'd write.

If you stand around waiting for destiny, you will only meet fate.

It seems appropriate today, as we start a new month. I've had a sense of destiny lately. Some things are clicking, and the revisions of my "completed" manuscript are moving ahead nicely, though I've put the work-in-progress on hold for the summer. Of course, as we discussed in a previous post, we're always writing and I know of some significant changes I'll be making to that manuscript once I return, and I'm sure it'll be much improved.

So, welcome to August, friends and fellow writers. What are you working on?