On a break, or “I hate downtime”

When looking for tips on writing on a book, one of the big ones you’ll be given is that once you finish each draft you should put it away in a drawer for x amount of time. This gives you a break, letting you relax your brain and come back to it fresh.

What they don’t say is how hard this is!

Writing is, by its nature, something that totally engrosses your mind. You’re crafting something by putting yourself in the middle of an imaginary world, creating, destroying and rearranging every little piece one by one. First you work in broad sweeps, then slowly dig deeper and deeper until you’re swapping words and punctuation back and forward as you try and find the perfect configuration of language. By the time you’ve finished a draft you’ve thought and rethought over ever bit of it so many times it becomes impossible to see the wood for the trees. You can remember every change and option not chosen to the point where you honestly can’t tell whether or not you made the right choice.

This is why giving yourself that space is important. You need to be able to clear out your mind and come back to it later with a new perspective. It’s a simple thing, really. Often, problems you couldn’t get through for love nor money suddenly give up obvious solutions you just couldn’t see before. The mistakes that need correcting become clearer, as does the realisation of which bits work and no longer need as much attention.

The problem is how suddenly having nothing to work on is something I’m not good at.

After so long trying to cram as much writing into what free time you have – especially when you have a day-job or family – suddenly having that time free just feels wrong. Today on my lunch break I’ve gone through some messages, organised some photos from the holidays on my phone, browsed social media a little, and written this blog post. And there’s still ten minutes left to kill.

But all I want to is get on with my book!

I think a large part of this is down to the fact that when you’re still looking for your big break its hard to fight the feeling you’re not moving forward. I can’t get an agent without sending them my work. I can’t send them my work until it’s finished. It’s not finished until its good enough. It won’t get good enough without my putting time and effort into it.

And when I’m not actively writing, then it doesn’t feel like I’m trying.I want, more than anything, to get my writing career off the ground. I have a – relatively – organised mind and I know each of the steps I need to follow. But the main step – the process of actually writing the book – takes so long that it can feel like I’m not moving forward at all. I hate the people who say they want something and then don’t try as hard as they can to make it happen. I don’t want to be one of those people, but I can’t help the fact that’s how I feel between drafts.

And so here I am, not working on my WIP, and forcing myself to believe that’s okay.

Luckily I have the fact that there is no point in my working on my WIP until I get notes back from my Alpha Readers. Currently I’m waiting on two more people to give me their notes, and until then it’s pointless my doing any work. And so I’m forced to stay away from my manuscript until they’re done.

I often wonder if this feels different for established authors. I know they have a entirely different set of worries, but when you have a agent and a publisher, when your work has been published before and you have a solid book deal in place, and when you can know that whenever you finish your WIP it will almost certainly get published, is this need to keep writing to get to the point where you can actively push forward with the “real” steps towards getting published still such a big thing? Or are you able to step away when you need to without feeling guilty?

Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back at this post and answer my own question. I can but hope.

The cat is staying, because of Quantums

It’s funny how the brain works when you’re writing.

In my current manuscript, I’ve had a cat appear throughout. There’s nothing particularly special about it. It’s not a magic cat or anything like that. It doesn’t talk, or lead my protagonist to hidden treasure.

But the thing is, I’ve not known why it’s been there. The idea came to be during the initial vomit draft, just one of many ideas I threw out during that messy initial version of the story. And when I eventually got past that draft and started considering why I’d put it there, I couldn’t work it out. I knew it worked, but not why.

And if there is something in your story that you like but doesn’t actually add anything to it, then in most cases it has to go. “Kill your Babies” is one of the universal mantras you’ll hear in any writing course. If it’s unnecessary, lose it.

But I didn’t want to lose the cat. I just felt that, somehow, it made sense.

And yesterday, while I was working on the first big edit of my first draft, it suddenly clicked. I knew what the cat represented, why it fits into the story where I’d put it, and why it should stay.

I love moments like this, when something suddenly makes sense and you get a fleeting moment of realisation that maybe you actually know what you’re doing.

it’s funny how the brain can work sometimes, isn’t it? These bursts of intuition. That it can throw out an idea, but then take literal months before it can work out why that idea worked. When you get these ideas, I wonder if the full thinking behind them is there in your mind and it just takes a while for it to put it together. Or do these intuitive leaps have something deeper behind them?

Maybe it’s a temporal thing. Where somehow in the brain can get a glimpse of a solution you’ll have reached in the future. Maybe “Intuition” it’s something we’ve evolved to show us that we’re on the right track and not to give up.

It would be cool if the brain had some ability to see glimpses of the future. I bet it would involve Quantums, somehow.  I’m not a scientist, but it feels to me like Quantums must have something to do with it.

Anyway, the cat is named Scrat, and he’s staying.

Quantum Cat