My Pal, the Subconscious (and my Smart Spouse)

041016subconsciousNot Writing… Consciously

For the last week, I’ve been camping on a barrier island in the Florida Keys, running around with a group of Boy Scouts, including my son. We explored, we fished, we snorkeled, and we ate – a lot. I discovered the joys of sleeping in a hammock, after years of tossing and turning on the ground. It was a joyful time spent with the young person I love the most.

I did not think about writing my novel once…

…not consciously, at any rate. But when the sand started to come out of my ears at the end, I discovered the novel was still there. I hadn’t been thinking about it, but somewhere in my brain, the story was churning away, telling itself to my subconscious.

When we left on the trip, my second novel (working title, “The Farthest Hour”) was giving me some small measure of fits. I had to get my heroine out of a compound surrounded by a formidable wall – thick, tall, and topped with a myriad of pointy bits. I was getting her over said wall, and there was plenty of action, but on the whole the result was, well, kind of meh.

The Subconscious to the Rescue041016mindtriangle

My clever wife had suggested that I send the character under the wall instead of over. It was a good idea, but somehow, I couldn’t wrap my imagination around it and I had to leave that loose end dangling when I left for the wilderness. Then, with the island trip over, my subconscious knocked on the door of my waking mind and presented me a silver platter with a vision of the idea. Not only could I take my heroine under the wall, I could use the scene to build up two or three characters whose roles in the story have to this point been uncertain. In addition, I had an image of what “under the wall” would look like and what it would take to get there – think miserable prisoners and metric tons of stinky muck.

Certainly, going underneath the wall has been done numerous times before, which opens me to charges of being trite, but if it’s good enough for George R. R. Martin (in one of her early conquests, the forces of Daenerys Targaryen go under the city walls via the sewers to attack) and J. R. R. Tolkien (they went under the mountain, remember?), surely it’s good enough for me, And surely I can make it my own.

What’s In It for You?

So, what’s the point for my fellow fiction writers, especially those of us who ply the craft part-time? I’d say there are bound to be times in your life when writing is just not going to fit, no way, no how. But that doesn’t mean your creative process has to stop altogether. Let your subconscious chew on things for a while, and hopefully when you return to creating fiction you’ll have some choice ideas on your plate. (It also helps to have a clever and beautiful wife.)

Tweaking the Subconscious

Here are a half-dozen ideas to keep your brain-pixies percolating:

  • Don’t worry about not writing; the time will come (with some attention on your part, but attention is not worry).
  • Keep an ideas list.
  • Knock out a 5-minute mind map of ideas once in a while.
  • Keep a swipe document with you when you watch TV and jot down good ideas you want to use.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • In bed, before you drop off, think about your novel; it might prime the pump of your subconscious.

I wish you the best. See you next time!

 

A Novel-Writing Easter

keyboard fingersKind of About Writing

Well, great God almighty, noveleers, it’s been a hell of a first quarter here at the house of Carson Craig.

There may not be a load of stuff about writing in this post, but there’s going to be a little, and I think it’s important.

The Day JobdayJob

At my day job, content-spinner for a big corporation, my whole work group started the new year all excited about a wealth of new post-fodder we were about to come into possession of, and new people coming in to swell the digital might of our chattering band. All this was thanks to some reshuffling of corporate principals and powers.

Then, on the first Friday of the year, we were all informed that instead of enhancing our efforts, said reshuffling had resulted in our entire group becoming redundant, meaning: no job for you! We were given two options: 1) Stay 30 days, get a severance package, and say goodbye. 2) Enter the 60-Day Dance of Death; that is, take 60 days to find another job inside the company and, if that doesn’t happen, get severance package and say goodbye.

What with a teenaged son to feed and a self-employed spouse to insure, I took the Dance. I was fortunate. On day 57 I landed a job. Deep breaths were taken. Brows were mopped. Scotch was drunk.

The 60-Day Dance sucked. But, upon reflection, there was more to it than suckage.

easterEaster Day

Now I am sitting here writing this post and it is Easter Day. Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s fairly likely you’re aware this is a day when we (I’m an Episcopalian—“Catholic lite” should give you a rough idea) celebrate Jesus’s return to life after being stone dead for three days—or more like, two and a half days, maybe, since he is crucified on Friday, buried on Saturday, and then busting out of his tomb on Sunday.

Whether or not you believe this literally happened, the story itself is about amazing and wonderful things coming out of complete and total garbage. Jesus dies a horrible death, but comes back to life and soon inspires his followers to start a new religious movement.

My experience is nothing compared to that, but I did find that flowers quickly grew in the muck of the 60-Day Dance.

Co-workers from my entire, long tenure at this company came out of the woodwork to help and touched me with their concern and generosity.

My wife and son impressed me anew with their love and patience with me, a person who is often not so easy to live with.

People prayed and meditated for me. They asked me how it was going and supported me. My neighborhood community. My Boy Scout community. My church community. My workout community. My writing community.

I got a cool new day job. It’s kind of technical and kind of customer-facing (big company customers), which is very cool.

And now, here’s the writing part. I discovered that I really could write fiction under conditions of adversity. On the days—and there were many—when I felt absolutely drained of imagination and ability, I was still able to sit at the keyboard and knock out paragraphs, the majority of them somewhat serviceable. I think that means I probably have the intestinal fortitude to stick with the art.

So, yay. A writer’s life for me, at least part-time (for now).

Maybe you’ll have a writing Easter one day. I hope you come out of it okay, and I hope it makes you a stronger writer.

See you next time.

  • Carson

 

Tools for Novel Writers: Multiple Editing Passes

old wooden fence post
Get it? It’s an old post!

Not too long ago I published a post entitled “Tools for Novel Writers: The Editing Checklist.” It’s about using a through-going list as a guide for making multiple passes through each scene of your novel, checking for things like overuse of simile and metaphor, grammar blunders and the like.

I’m still using the checklist and it’s still working out very well, thank you very much. My first rewrite is looking good, if you ask my writing group (you can trust them—I pay them handsomely).

After spending even more hours with the checklist, I’ve discovered an added benefit that was staring me in the face the whole time. It was just so big and obvious, I couldn’t see it. It was the forest, I guess, and I was down in the trees, as the age-old metaphor goes.

pass imageUsing the checklist forces you to make multiple passes through the same material over a period of days. In my case, that’s 19 mandatory passes and 14 optional ones. Granted, some of the mandatory items, like “Adrasteia as priestess – Perhaps make her Artemis priestess from the start” require just a quick “N/A” or a scan and then a little work putting in something about her priestess-hood, if it’s necessary.

Still, a quick scan is still a scan, and I do catch things when I’m doing these, as well as when I’m tackling one of the heftier items, like checking for telling versus showing. I’ll catch continuity errors, things that don’t make sense unless they get foreshadowed earlier, things that need splitting up or rearranging, and things that just plain stink (I often find those while working the “read aloud” item).

the word discovery under a magnifying glassOne of my favorite discoveries recently is the realization that I could flip-flop the roles of a couple of characters to increase the surprise later in the novel. Basically, the one who seems good at first turns out to be bad, and vice-versa. (Thank you, J. K. Rowling!) I was looking at the beat sheet to see if I had any changes to make noted there (that’s one of the checkpoints) and there was the change, begging to be made. If I hadn’t been making multiple passes through the sections, I probably wouldn’t have seen it.

Maybe you’re a checklist kind of person, or maybe you’re the laissez-faire type, or something in between. Whatever your bent, I’ll bet you a nickel your writing could benefit from your making pass after pass at it. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s dreary, but sometimes it’s fun, too and, besides, there’s gold in them there passes. Give it a shot.

Tools for Novel Writers: The Editing Checklist

guy marking off a checklistEditing Your Novel with a Checklist

A rare and wonderful thing happened to me the other night. I was at my writers’ group meeting, getting a critique of my rewrite’s first 30 pages. Everybody said it worked—and believe me, they would say if it didn’t, bless them—and, best of all, one person called the submission “flawless.”

Let’s just take that in for a minute…

Flawless.

Ahhh…

The Checklist Works

Okay, time to snap out of it. Praise great, but I always keep in mind it’s important to keep it in perspective and continue to be your own strictest judge of your work (inasmuch as you can do that without making yourself crazy). Still, it seems that in this case I did something right. This being a relatively rare occurrence, I thought I’d step back and try to figure out what it was, this thing of rightness.

After some consideration, I came up with this: After researching best practices, I came up with a rewriting checklist and started using it to grind through my first draft.

The best practices come from a variety of sources: My sainted wife, my writing group buddies and books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne, The Essential Guide to Writing a Novel, by James Thayer and others.

My personal list is set up in Microsoft Project, because it’s great for tracking a sequence of tasks. I got a sweet price deal on it (thanks, day job!) and know how to use it (thanks again, day job!), so that works for me. For most people, a spreadsheet or a plain old word processor list would probably serve just as well. You could even go old-school and use some kind of paper setup.

The main thing is to have a list, regardless of how it’s physically constructed. I’m going to share mine, leaving out most of the the checkpoints specific to my particular story, except for examples.

To use the  checklist, I edit one section/scene at a time, grinding through one task at a time until I’m ready to move on to the next. It’s not as much fun as writing the first draft, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, either. And yes, I am so retentive my checklist has sections. Don’t hate me because I’m over-organized; hate me because I’m beautiful.

Section 1: Make beat sheet changes.

This section doesn’t have any sub-headings. As part of the rewrite, I revised my beat sheet so the story elements are cleaner and hang together better. The first thing I want to do is make those changes.

Section 2: Writing checks.

This is the big kahuna. If I can fix these, I can be pretty sure that my prose isn’t garbage. It might be a day away from going sour, yes, but garbage, no. The checkpoints are:

Show/Tell: Is there anywhere I’m telling instead of showing, at least too much?

Watch for info dumps: Am I laying information on the reader and not trusting her to figure stuff out from context?

Minimize interior monologue. First-person italics best, but still minimize. In my novel, the lead character is alone a lot, so I use italicized interior monologue to show his thoughts. It’s easy to go overboard with that, so I try to pare it back.

Beats (bits of business) – balanced use: A beat, or bit of business, is something a character does during conversation or when you want to remind the reader that they’re there when perhaps they are just standing to one side. This is stuff like scratching, or unwrapping a stick of gum, or engaging in a nervous tic. Too much of this makes dialogue too busy, too little makes it drab and unrealistic, so you have to find a balance. Have fun.

Watch overuse of metaphor and simile. I love metaphor and simile like I love beer and chocolate! They are the shoals upon which the raft of my craft often runs aground… because I use them too damned much. Here is where I cut and weep, cut and weep.

POV clearly of the character, consistent, focused. Make sure the point of view is consistent and that it belongs to the character it’s supposed to. It’s easier that you think to whaz this up.

Section 3: Character checks

This section is mostly specific to the needs of my novel, but there are couple of ideas more than one person could find useful.

Characters arcs (especially lead): I got a big clue from my writer’s group that, in the first draft, the lead character hadn’t changed much by the end of the novel. So now, in every scene, I check to see how, or if, the POV character is developing at all, even a little bit. I pay special attention when the POV character is the lead. If there’s no character development at all, I have to ask if the scene needs revision or even if it needs to take the USS Scissors to Cuttingroomflooristan. Just last week I zapped an entire section because, despite its cool action sequences, it didn’t do squat to advance the characters… or the story.

Character-specific checks: This is a list to remind me to work on certain aspects of characters when they appear. For example, one of mine is “Adrasteia and Colin: build the love story.” Since the love story is new for the rewrite, I need to keep a watchful eye on it. Yours could be anything you like, from “Remember Fred has a nervous tic” to “Zelda sometimes has three legs, but not always.”

Section 4: Scene checks

I use this section to look at scene structure.

Action scene; goal, conflict, setback: Does the scene meet these criteria? Is it supposed to be an action scene?

Reaction scene; reaction, dilemma, decision: Does the scene meet these criteria? Is it supposed to be a reaction scene?

If the scene doesn’t match one structure or the other, what is it? A big blob of wordy goo clogging up your story, or a hidden gem that needs cleaning and polish?

Is the POV character the one with the most to lose in the scene: Be sure the scene centers on the right person. Not long ago I struggled with a section for days before realizing it wasn’t working because the character I was using as the POV wasn’t the one with the most to lose. Once I fixed that, the section worked.

Section 5: Novel structure checks

Here I have a list of the generic names for the main points in the novel, like “plot point one.” My list conforms, more or less, to the dramatic structure laid out by Larry Brooks in Story Engineering. You can use whichever structure you want, say, just Acts 1, 2, and 3. Brooks works for me.

Section 6: Specific scene/story checks

This is another list of reminders, like “more foreshadowing of the revolution,” and “Library Angel – pick him up later.” These are things I want to develop in the revision or make sure I come back around to. Pretty straightforward stuff, methinks.

Section 7: Read aloud

No subheadings or lists here, just the one thing: “read aloud.” Reading your stuff out loud is, I believe the primo way of catching your goofs and improving your writing. Reading aloud slows you down, making it easier to catch the missing commas and whatnot. It also makes it very clear when your prose is a malodorous pile. If you do nothing else, do this!

That’s it! Yes, it’s long, yes, it’s tedious, yes, working your way through it for each section is a festival of rump pain, but it seems to be working, at least for me. I expected writing a novel to include a lot of just plain, slogging hard work and I was right.

Yeah, I know… For once I’m right and it turns out to be that.

It’s a long road we’re on, fellow part-time novelists. I hope this helps. Good luck.

Rewriting Your Novel: The Deadly Game of “Compare Yourself”

The Rewriting Jungle

jungle to represent the rewriting jungle

So, there you are, the part-time novelist, maybe the nascent part-time novelist, and you’re working hard on your rewrite. It’s tough going, because, no matter how many craft books you’ve read, this is unknown territory, jungle territory no less, and you’re hacking your way through with a metaphorical machete. Despite your careful beat sheet revisions, you come to a point where the 83rd unexpected plot hole jumps out and surprises you. “Ohmigawd,” you think, “this is never going to work. I am wasting my time on what is possibly the worst travesty of literature ever committed in the English language.” So, realizing that you are getting a bit strung out, you take a break to relax and read a bit.

Which only makes things worse.

The Comparison Game

A sign that says stop the comparison game

Things get worse because you start comparing your work with whatever it is you’re reading. This happened to me the other day. Thinking novel #2 might be a lighthearted thriller, I thought I’d pick up One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich. Well, not only is that sucker light, it’s tightly plotted, it has sparkling, well-defined characters, plenty of excitement and a ton of humor. My book stinks, I thought. It is nowhere near good as this.

Well, that was depressing, so I turned to my current audiobook, Shades of Gray, by Jasper Fforde. Oh, man, the world-building that guy has put into this book! It’s about a society in which people can only see one shade of color and the whole social pecking order is built around a colortocracy, with purple vision at the top and mere gray at the bottom. And that’s not all. There are roads made of living material, giant swans, libraries empty of everything but librarians… it’s amazing. The world in my book seems shabby by comparison.

Feh, I thought, feeling doomed.

Avoid Idiot Syndrome

An idiot with a paper bag mask on his head the mask is on fire

But then I thought some more, and realized I was being an idiot. (This often happens.) Here’s why:

  • The books I was reading are finished. They’ve already been through the whole rewriting process. If they aren’t better than my second draft, something’s wrong.
  • The authors of these books have had a lot more practice than I. Both have several published books, and I’m willing to bet they both wrote a lot before they got the first one in bookstores. I didn’t write much in my youth (or early middle age), so here I am. I will never make up the experience gap, unless I live to be 200. (I’ll get back to you on that.) Might as well accept the fact and do the best I can.
  • One for the Money and Shade of Gray are great, but they aren’t my novel. Even after it’s all polished up, my book is going to be utterly different. I’m a different author with a different vision, voice and skill set.
  • For a writer, reading is sitting at the feet of the masters. There’s much to be learned from Evanovich and Fforde if I can set my ego aside and see it. Can I plot as tightly as Evanovich? I can try. Can I make my world as thoroughly as Fforde? I can try. The more I try to emulate the virtues of good writers, the better my writing will become.

Armed with Spackle

Man spackling a wall

Having thought all this, I feel better. I can finish my novel and make it the best book I can write at this stage of my development. I can learn from other writers instead of falling into the deadly game of Compare Yourself. Now I can tackle my rewrite fresh, with some positive ideas instead of a head full of put-downs.

Have spackle; will fill plot holes.

a monkey with a gun demanding a comment

What do you do to lift yourself up when you feel your writing stinks? Leave your thoughts in a comment for the other three people reading this blog. Thanks!

I Met A Passionate Writer

Become terminally passionate... by Louography on Flickr. Link: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7240/6874378932_33f7befb77_m_d.jpgWriting About a Writer

I was going to write a post about a handy spreadsheet I figured out for tracking rewrite progress and maybe throw in some thoughts about the random discoveries you make during the editing process. I still think I’m going to do that, but this week I can’t, because I met Lauren.

Lauren

Lauren is a young woman I met at a place called Gilgal, where women go to recover from addiction and abuse which often – surprise! – go hand in hand. I don’t know Lauren’s whole story, but I do know she’s trying to put her life back together after a significant amount of time spent dancing with Dr. Feelgood.

Lauren is bright-eyed, personable and very curious about the world. I think this might be because she hasn’t really spent much time recently in the land of the mundane. We got to talking a little about the Internet, and she was not sure at first what Google was. That’s how out of touch she’s been.

A Passion for Writing

So what does this have to do with writing?

Well, we’re sitting there eating some pizza and chewing the fat, and she tells me she’s a writer. When she was ten, she told me, she wrote a book called “Killer Fleas” (if I remember correctly) about a flea that gets exposed to lawn-growth chemical and grows to huge size. Mayhem ensues.

Along the way, Lauren told me, she lost her writing because of drugs, but now, in a safe environment that fosters recovery and spiritual growth, her gift has returned in the form of rap poetry. She recited one for the rest of the women and our group of visitors. I wish I could quote it for you; it was a moving piece about finding your strength.

I think if you journey through a long dark, like Lauren has, and found your art again, you are truly blessed by God, the universe, human nature, whatever you want to call it. And you’re also passionate. Lauren was perky while we were talking, but when her poetry started to flow out of her she was glowing.

Make An End To Complaining

A lot of writers, particularly us part-time ones, complain about the obstacles that stand between us and our art. Our families keep us too busy! Work is too demanding! I can’t get the quiet I need!

Look, folks: we need to stop whining and lay hold of the passion that started us down this road in the first place. The everyday stumbling blocks most of us face are NOTHING (YES I AM SHOUTING!) compared to what Lauren has been through, is going through.

Lauren is very busy rising from the ashes.

Yet, Lauren writes.

Can we do less?

Recalling the Fiction Writer’s Childlike Imagination, Part 1

A girl playing with soap bubbles has the imagination a fiction writer needsWhat a writer wants: childlike imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. “ Einstein

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. “ King James Bible

That icon of scientific discovery, Albert Einstein, recognized the primacy of imagination over knowledge. I think that might be because imagination inspires you to seek knowledge in the first place and to see it in new ways. Jesus got it right when he recognized that minds of little kids are much more like heavenly minds that old, mucked-up ones. Imagination is a writer’s number one tool and kids have the purest and most free.

A childlike imagination is what we want, but when you’re all grown up, it can be hard for your imagination to flow freely, even if you’re a hard-working part-time fiction writer. Maybe it’s because you know too much, or think you do, and every idea you have gets shot down by some fact or probability. Maybe it’s because you’ve come to feel you know almost nothing and you feel unable to build a bridge into the vast, dark sea of your ignorance. (I am in the second category, if you’re wondering.) Maybe it’s because you’re just tired. (Put me in that category, too.)

Remember when we were kids? Our imaginations could take us anywhere. We could be angels or dragons, football stars or fairy princesses. We could stare off into space during Math class and ride off to any number of wondrous places. (At least that’s what I did, which might explain why I’m a writer now, and not an engineer.)

Lack of inhibition

When my son was about three, he attended a ballet performance in which my wife (she of infinite lovely awesomeness) performed. At intermission, he hopped out of his seat, walked up onto the stage and did a dance in front of the curtain. The crowd went wild!

We adults would cringe at doing anything so forward, but my boy yet lacked all the inhibitions we pick up along the way. He wasn’t worried about being wrong, or being weird, or not pointing his toes. He was in the grip of enthusiasm, which fired his imagination, which led to the creation of an original dance.

Inhibitions are pretty useful to have for an adult. They curb your behavior and keep you more or less within social norms. Everybody gets along a lot better that way. The trouble is, that those useful inhibitions are usually accompanied by some that aren’t so useful. Most painful of those for a fiction writer is any inhibition that squashes the lively imagination. You can become hesitant to write about things because you’re afraid of being wrong, or weird – of not pointing your toes, so to speak.

Recognizing the problem

Ask yourself if your writer’s imagination has become inhibited when you hesitate to write something because:

  • It might make you look silly.
  • It might hurt somebody’s feelings.
  • It might offend a particular group.
  • Your mother or somebody else from whom you seek approval might not like it.
  • You think something isn’t appropriate for someone of your seriousness, talent, maturity, or what-have-you.
  • You have an intuitive desire to put something into your story, but you aren’t sure it’s “right.”
  • You have an idea, but your fingers pause over the keyboard and you’re not sure why.

No doubt there are other symptoms I could list, but I hope these help. After all, you can’t fix a problem you haven’t recognized. If, armed with this list or your own list, you realize your imagination is becoming restricted, you need to do something about it. I’ve got a few mental yoga moves to help loosen us up, which I’ll talk about next time.

Meanwhile, how about letting me know how you recognize when your inhibitions are getting the better of your imagination? I could use the advice! Thanks.

Onward! Even When Your Fiction Writing Stinks

02-27-13 OnwardIf I have learned anything about writing fiction this week, it’s that the magic genie comes and goes. I’m talking about the magic genie that makes your writing worth someone’s putting an eye to.

Monday was painful. I had to squeeze fiction in amongst a bunch of other stuff and what came out was corny or wooden. Tuesday was much the same. But then, on Wednesday, something happened. My imagination woke up, the cork came out of my word-bottle and the next thing you know I was writing about pirates-turned-gladiators-in-Hell and a prison where the inmates are encased in solid blocks composed of some – let me exercise some delicacy for once – especially unpleasant materials. I had action, sights, smells, characters, plot movement—joy! Thursday and Friday continued this happy pattern.

So what does this have to do with you, dear reader, who is perhaps, like me, a time-challenged part-time fictioneer?

Everything. Well, okay, a lot.

The one thing I did on each of this week’s five working days was sit down and bang out some fiction. Stinky, glorious, whatever its quality, I hammered on it. That happened for a few reasons, handily revealed by hindsight:

Habit. Over the last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve become accustomed to the routine of carving out about an hour or so five days a week to work on the not-so-great American novel. So part of getting through this last weird week was just reflex, one I’ve developed through some early discipline.

Big Picture. I kept reminding myself that this is the first draft. It’s okay for the first draft to be rough—okay, terrible—in places, or even all the way through. I’m just at step one of a lengthy, multi-step process.

Permission. I followed the advice of J. A. Konrath and gave myself permission to write crap. It never fails to surprise me how that little attitude adjustment will help you keep going.

Associative Causality. That sounds important, huh? Let’s say it again, together: “associative causality.” Ooooh. We are smart. Actually, I’m not smart enough to come up with a term to encapsulate the notion that because our thought processes proceed by associating one thing with another, that even crummy writing produces thoughts and ideas that eventually cause your brain to spit out something halfway decent. This is just a pompous, ten-dollar way of saying I realized that if I kept going, something good would happen. I just didn’t want to call it “optimism,” okay? Too cheer-leader-y.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope it’s helpful. Good luck with your genies, folks.

Overcoming Obstacles in Fiction Writing and Life

02-21-13 cellWarNotebooksI’m late to this party, but I’m going to join it, anyway.

Earlier this year, Duolit (selfpublishingteam.com) posted an article about about Julie. Julie is the author of the the Cell War Notebooks, a chronicle of her battle with cervical cancer. Julie lost her battle, leaving behind a daughter, Luka. The book is still being published and all proceeds go to Luka.

The folks at Duolit proposed that on January 31st, its community of readers write posts about overcoming an obstacle, include a link to the Cell War Notebooks, and publicize the post via social media.

I have an old friend who is suffering from cervical cancer right now. I don’t know how it will turn out and I can’t do much about it, but I can do this.

First, the link to the book: http://amzn.to/W17WN4

Now, about overcoming an obstacle…

One of the chief obstacles I find among the aspiring novelists in my writing group is time, or, rather, lack thereof. One friend has an invalid wife to care for, in addition to his day job. Another just had his first baby (with the help of his wife, of course). Another has care of her young children. We’ve all got responsibilities of one kind or another that make fitting the writing in difficult.

How to overcome this obstacle? We sacrifice something else. In my own case, I sacrifice taking a normal lunch break to relax, socialize, or catch up on work. Instead, I get away to a coffee shop, the library, or an empty conference room and spend about an hour writing. My friend with the ill wife does the same thing.

One member of our group tells a tale of when her three children were very young. She would lock herself in the bathroom for short periods and write in a legal pad braced on the toilet seat while the kids shouted for her outside. Many writers carry their work with them and write in snatches whenever the opportunity arises—at stop lights, at baseball practice, while waiting at the dentist’s office.

In the past, I despaired of writing because I was convinced I had to do it in blocks of at least two hours, so I could get warmed up and then produce a satisfactory amount. When I finally let go of my perfectionist ways and started doing what I could, instead of what some false ideal told me I should do, the creative dam broke and now I’m three-fourths and 80,000 words into my first novel’s first draft.

Before I could find time, I had to give up and attitude, an unreasonable belief, that writing had to be thus-and-so. If you’re unable to find time for your art (even if it’s not writing fiction), step back and check yourself for such an illusory barrier. If you can identify it, you can work to give it up or work around it. Then your creative work will take off. It might go more slowly, but it will go.

Finding time for writing is nowhere near the obstacle cervical cancer is. I’m grateful I don’t have to face such a thing. May all those suffering from serious illness or issues similarly daunting find healing and peace. May all those seeking time for their art overcome their blocking attitudes and find the time they need.

The “Ikea Effect” and Re-writing Fiction

Ikea store frontThe other morning, after dropping my son off at school at 0-dawn-thirty, I heard a report on NPR about something called “the Ikea effect.” In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years—which is fine, if that’s your choice—Ikea is a chain of stores that sells housewares, including a lot of furniture. The unusual thing about Ikea furniture is that you purchase it in a box, unassembled, take it home and—you hope—put it together yourself.

Some researchers at Whassamatta U. or some such institution did some research and discovered that while people who buy new tables like them, people who buy new tables from Ikea and put them together love them. They love the tables more intensely and for longer.

Why? Because they put some effort into them.

If you’ve ever put one of these things together, from Ikea or anywhere else—my kit was a desk with a hutch—you know that you had darn well better love the thing, because it was such a pain in the buttocks to construct.

By now you’ve probably guessed what this has to do with fiction writing. We don’t just pour knuckle-flesh, blood, time and our cussword vocabularies into our craft. We pour our hearts into it, our deepest emotions, a measure of our souls. Even something that might seem less than deep to the reader has come out of our boundless, crazy need to create worlds on paper with the magic of words.

So, naturally, when we’ve finished writing some slice of fiction, we tend to love it with a passion that makes an Ikea table-lover look like somebody who… well, somebody who really, really likes a dumb table.

There’s a problem here and that’s the strong temptation to send our literary babies off into the big world before they’re ready. I know, I know, you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating (and besides, I wanted to write about the Ikea effect because it was cool, and it’s my blog). Let that manuscript sit in a dark drawer for six weeks, at least, after you finish it. Then, and only then, drag it back out, read it and improve it. Time will separate you from your passion for the thing.

And that’s not all. Get your writing group or some beta readers to give you impartial feedback and then rewrite yet again. If you’re able to and your manuscript is a big enough deal, have it professionally edited—not just proofread, edited—and rewrite again. Then rewrite some more.

Okay, so maybe you’ll do fewer rewrites, maybe more. I’m not trying to dictate a process. But it is undoubtedly very important to put some emotional distance between yourself and your fiction before you polish it, so you’re not blinded by the Ikea effect.

The world has plenty of wobbly, lopsided tables already. Let’s all be sure we don’t add to them.