Wednesday, January 8, 2014

TTYU Retro: Why you shouldn't rush your writing

I wonder if any of you have had this experience: you feel the completion of a story coming, and you want to slam that baby out and submit it!!!!

I suspect most people have felt that urge at one time or another. Some of those same people may also have had the experience that once the work was submitted, they wished they could have changed something about it. I certainly have experienced this - once was enough for me to give myself a good hard kick and say, never do that again!

Every time I get toward the end of my revisions, I feel that sense of urgency and rush. I'll be pushing hard, but when it comes to getting the book out the door, I need to force myself to wait. I'll ask for one or two more readers. I'll give myself at least a week to step away and do other things before I come back to it and send it out (I think that's the minimum time, honestly).

If you are working on your own deadline, and particularly if you are trying to achieve something unique and distinctive, TAKE YOUR TIME. Yes, of course there are sometimes deadlines. Actual ones, where you have to get the story out the door by a certain date or else. In that case, do your best to build in post-draft rest time to your schedule.

I have heard writing likened to trying to build a mountain out of marbles. If you actually think about the number of words in a work (my current novel is at about 125,000), and you think from a logical standpoint about the number of different patterns that can occur in a set of so many words, it's mind-blowing. I've been writing this book for more than a year now, and I'm still finding little subtle things to make it better. If you take the time to really sink in to your book, and to consider it on all its multiple levels - character, world, plot, theme, symbolism, chapter structure, paragraph structure, dialogue, syntax, lexical choice, metaphor, meter, etc., etc., two things will happen. First, you'll be amazed at the complexity of what you're working with, and second, you may be able to develop your sensitivities and abilities at each of these levels to achieve something new and really exciting.

You may hear the argument that you're over-thinking things. If you find yourself going over and over the same material and changing things with no consistent reasoning behind those changes, you may indeed be over-thinking things. But if you're changing something to conform to a larger structural pattern, that's different. If you're seeing resonances in your work that you haven't seen before, that's valuable.

You may also hear the argument that there's no point in being overly literary, and that's all silly unnecessary stuff because nobody really notices that stuff anyway. The fact is that even though we may not notice things consciously about the way we read, we can still feel them. How many of these things are absolutely necessary to comprehension and the success of the story? That's arguable - after all, people can do unusual things with the rules, and as long as the story itself holds up by other means, then the effect can still come across. But think about the way that people love to find inside jokes in movies, where if you happen to know about the right sorts of things, you'll find a little nugget in there just for you. People love that. And it takes time to know the right sort of things to add in, so that it will fit smoothly into the whole, and not seem added in or inexplicable. Besides which, putting in patterns which are literary is not about having to make the curtains blue to make people sad. It's about finding the patterns which fit into your work, not into some outside model of symbolism. Especially in a worldbuilding context, color symbolism may be totally different (in Varin, the color of grief is moon-yellow), so making curtains blue when everyone is sad might be just as silly as it sounds!

The point here is that if you don't take your time to let the details and patterns sink in, you might miss something really exciting. There is a point in creating a story where you may not be able to detect anything wrong - but there may still be opportunities available to raise the story further, and you wouldn't want to miss them.

So don't rush.