Wednesday, January 4, 2012

When Writing Becomes...Work

Up until now there were very few occasions where writing felt like honest drudge work.  The first draft is always a thrill for me- getting to know my characters and being surprised at the twists and turns as my story takes on a life of its own.

The first, second, third and fourth round revisions aren’t so bad.  I’m still passionate about the story and focused on making it the best it can be.

I love receiving feedback, weighing my options and finding solutions to obvious problems.
In short, the ‘honeymoon phase’ pushes me through until I have something ready to pitch to agents.

But eventually, if you read enough blogs written by published writers- they all say the same thing.  At some point, writing becomes honest to goodness WORK.

Finding that perfect balance, after testing and tweaking things a million times (but it still isn’t quite right) becomes about as fun as solving a really hard math problem.

The honeymoon period is totally over.  The passion is gone and your manuscript feels like it’s put on 100 pounds and started vegging out in front of the TV.  It doesn’t speak to you anymore.  So it’s up to you to carry both sides of the conversation.

On one hand, you think the relationship might be over for good- after all, how can you possibly work like a mad-woman on something you’re no longer passionate about?

But then I realized, as the words no longer tugged at my emotions- that they became just words.  Easier to remove.  Easier to identify as flowing or not.  And even more easy to replace with something better. 

When you’ve spent enough time with your characters and finally take a step back, they become more transparent.  You made them the way they are.  You can change them. They aren’t set in stone.  You could have written them differently from the beginning.

Yes it’s work.  Yes, it’s not fun. But sometimes the ‘real work’ is the best and most gratifying work you’ll ever do.

What makes you drudge through revisions when the magic is gone?  Do you find it’s harder or easier to make effective changes when you are officially sick of your own words?  How do you stay motivated?

***PS-I have MISSED you guys so much!  I hope you all had a fantastic holiday and it’s great to be back after my two week hiatus!  Can’t wait to catch up!***

52 comments:

Miranda Hardy said...

Hope your holidays were fantastic!

I put the book away for a while, maybe forever. Lol It's hard to come back to a work that you ate not as excited about any longer.

Laura Pauling said...

I'm in that stage now and in some ways it's great b/c I cut and remove things that I wouldn't have a year ago or even 6 months ago!

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Keep that cute nose of yours to the grindstone! You're in the homestretch now... and yeah, it's work. I find the entire writing process work - rewarding work, for sure, but work nevertheless.

You can DO it!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Welcome back!

Well, you know I enjoy revising and editing, so I don't exactly see it the same way. However, yes -- there does come a point when the story doesn't inspire passion any more, when I've read it so many times I'm beginning to get sick of it.

I think that makes the editing and fine-tuning job harder for me. With the passion gone, I have a *harder* time determining what improves the work -- and what doesn't. Should I delete that sentence? Should I change that word? For me, those choices become more difficult when I've read the story too many times.

Jen Daiker said...

This post was absolutely brilliant. Such a great way of looking at things. I get to that point where it feels like so much work I'm suffocating, I think next time I'll remind myself cutting could be all the more easy!

So glad everyone is getting back into the blogging groove! I hope to be a better commentor this year. Writing really does take away... too bad the full job couldn't disappear (as long as I'm still getting paid, that is).

DL Hammons said...

I know its probably gonna happen someday, but I guess I haven't reached that point yet. From how you describe it, I fear that if I do reach that point I'll have become so numb to the emotions that originally crafted the words, that idea's will be removed for the wrong reasons.

stu said...

Generally, I'm able to maintain some kind of sense of it not being work, because I have writing that is definitely work. The struggle is going on to do mine after a day producing other people's for them.

Christine Rains said...

Revising is one of my least favorite things to do, but knowing that it does have an end and I can then start querying is enough to keep me going.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A detached view is best!
Ironically the editing doesn't get me down. Trying to get the first crappy draft down on paper is what wears on me.

Matthew MacNish said...

You are so right. I actually like that I've gotten to the point where I'm detached from it. It's easier to make it my bitch that way.

Summer Frey said...

I think I hit this point before I'm even done with the first draft. I have finishing things, but I'm too bull-headed not to. So most days I just force myself to sit there and do x amount of work, no matter if it takes me an hour or 10.

Sometimes I drink.

C D Meetens said...

I'm at that stage now. I had to force myself to sit down and work on my rewrites the other day, and then I didn't like what I came out of that session with, so I'm going to have to rewrite again.

I'm not sure what keeps me going. The love that I have for it. The knowledge that it could and would be better if I would knuckle down and do work perhaps. The desire to see it as I believe it could be.

April Plummer said...

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and welcome back!

When I get to the place I call the Writer's Hump...I push through. I just do it. Sometimes, I make it over the hump in a day, sometimes 10 days, sometimes a month. But I push and push and once I break through, it's like magic. The magic is back.

salarsenッ said...

Ooh, you mentioned math. *shivers* I write to avoid numbers. lol :)

Happy New Year!!

Tamara Narayan said...

Maybe because I have a degree in math I'm completely backwards. Writing the first draft is the painful part. Fixing problems in the editing process is what I love.

The Phoenix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slamdunk said...

Welcome back CQG and happy 2012. I like the way Alex phrased it as the "detached" view. Being able to see your characters through different eyes helps a writer create dynamic characters.

Best wishes with your good work.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm not big on the first draft. I love the revision stage, but I'm with you on how it can lose the magic after sooooo many drafts.

Fortunately I'm not so in love with my words that I can't part with them. I actually get satisfaction when I get to delete them. Some how I feel like I'm taking a step forward instead of backwards. Weird huh?

Old Kitty said...

Happy new year to you!!!!

Oooh real work! It's gotta be done and it's gotta be done well!

Take care
x

LTM said...

shew, I've gotten to this point with BOTH of my books w/Agent K. I find it helps to have someone read it and have a really great reaction to it... LOL! Also, just putting it away for a while, like a month or so, and then going back to it can help.

Missed you, too, honay! Happy New Year~ :o)

Cherie Reich said...

Sometimes if the editing/writing becomes too much work, then I'll try to capture what I loved about the characters in the first place. I'll think of backstory scenes, not for the novel, but just something unique about their experiences and perhaps write it as a flash fiction piece. Sometimes a bit of a new element can bring the passion back.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'll take a step back, let it sit for a little while, then read it. Not to find errors or nitpick, just to try to recapture the love I had during the first draft. That usually works.

Kristin Rae said...

"You made them the way they are. You can change them. " LOVE THAT. Thankfully (and regretfully at the same time) I haven't made it to the trenches of such major revisions that I'm sick of my own words yet. I know it's going to happen, and I'm nervous about it, but I know the honeymoon will start again with a new story!

Tom M Franklin said...

I'm now entering Year Two of revisions to The Book. At the start of this revision process I was still very taken by my story, my characters and the possibilities of writing further adventures. Now? Not so much.

(Details can be found here: http://tommfranklin.blogspot.com/2011/12/on-bus.html)

The thing is, this latest round of revisions have felt like work. It didn't matter that they were completely necessary (correcting a fundamental flaw in the book's structure); it didn't matter that I had developed a strategy for not only meeting my Hopefully-Soon-To-Be-Agent's revision requests. I'm so over this phase of the writing that any further revisions to this story feels like work.

But, it is work that I feel begrudgingly compelled to do. No, I don't wanna rewrite the same scenes for a sixth or seventh (or eighth or ninth) time, but not doing so would be even worse. This is one of the few bits of work in my life that I've had my ego so involved in. This is MY story, MY story to tell and, as such, I'm the only one who can do it.

And if it's going to be done right -- which is something my characters deserve -- I am the only one who can do it.

(I just sent off the latest Revise and Resubmit revision to the agent last night.)

-- Tom

Lindsay said...

I love that you mention that we made our characters who they are. We can change them.
Usually when I'm stuck in the revision suck I like to take a break and write something (like a short story) just for fun that I won't edit. It clears my mind enough to get back to editing on the MS.

mshatch said...

Oh you are so right! And I don't like feeling like that about something I loved so much in the beginning. Revision IS work, no doubt about it - unless you're Miss D :)

Hart Johnson said...

I do that set-aside for every revision if possible and it's funny--sometimes I come back and fall in love again and sometimes I come back and think it's crap. The distance DOES help though. And I keep myself going with deadlines... contest dates or self-imposed (finish editing THIS before NaNoWriMo) for instance.) Current one is for the ABNA contest. Though I have an editor one needed, too.

Anne Gallagher said...

The easiest way for me to get through it is to edit/revise as I write. That way when I get to the end, and I reread the whole thing in one shot, I can see where my weak spots are, my typo's, grammar, word choices, that I missed with the first edit/revise as I wrote. So the first read through is actually the second or third. And I feel so much better about that. Then I only do one more pass and send it out to the beta's. Then I let it sit for a month, and write something else. By the time I get back to it, it's like a fresh new book.

Nice to have you back. Happy New Year. How are you feeling?

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I'm at that stage on my first book. It's a tough slog, but well worth it.

The thing no-one tells you about the end of the honeymoon period is that eventually you reach the marriage stage, when the real payoff happens. ;-)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

When writing becomes drudgery for me, I'd be lost without my crit partner. She's brutal about keeping me going! LOL. :-)

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

I hope you had a good break!

This is a great post. So true! I like that you reminded us this is our creation so we can still change it ... unlike the spouse lazing in front of the TV, who we CAN'T change. LOL! (My husband doesn't do that too often, thank goodness, but I loved the analogy!) Yes, novels are nice in that way. We may not feel like they're pliable, but they are. I'm about to dive into another (feels like the billionth) revision of mine. There is something nice about working hard, though. Even though it's work, it's still gratifying.

Happy revisions and Happy New Year, too!

Jay Noel said...

My honeymoon phase ebbs away by the third revision. So I take frequent breaks - not doing a thing with it for a week, and then coming back to it with fresh eyes.

Hope you had a great New Years!

Roxy said...

All phases of writing are work for me. To begin with anyway. Then I get caught up and the magic happens. I think the key is working on your story each day. Some days that's easier than others. Here's to the easy days!

CNHolmberg said...

It's almost impossible for me to work on something I'm sick of/lost passion for. Fortunately, my off-days are just that--days. I get over it (except once, when I stopped writing a novel #3 after 80,000 words). Or work on something else.

Getting through it... I don't know. I motivate myself, ha. The thought of being published is enough for me. ;)

Elana Johnson said...

Yes, writing is work, but the end result is so rewarding that it's worth it. To hold that book, to know that you crafted it... Priceless. That's what motivates me through the hard times when I'm not sure where to go or what to work on next.

I know the answer will come, and I know that I will be able to mold the book into what it should be.

And then I know that I'll get to be proud of my accomplishment!

LD Masterson said...

Sometimes I just have to put it away, not look at it for a while until it becomes fresh again. Then the fun returns.

Cynthia Lee said...

I prefer the editing process to the pantsing part. I don't know why exactly, maybe it's because I've already pantsed out the story and now I can take my time with the editing. It's more fun.

I don't know how writers rewrite for years however. I just won't do that.

prerna pickett said...

I step away and work on another project. Eventually I get curious as to how the other story is sitting, and go back to it. The passion doesn't return right away, but I find it easier to get back into it.

Cheree said...

When I find I'm sick of the writing, I try stepping out and doing something else or starting another project. I'm glad I have a good critique group and readers that always know the right things to say to keep me motivated.

Helena said...

I get so close to a manuscript I can't see it objectively. But when I leave it alone for a while and then go back, I can read it far more objectively and the editing comes more easily. But the passion always has to be there. I have a couple old manuscripts somewhere that I'd rather burn than see in print, and a couple others I'd give a chunk of my life savings to just for them to be printed.

Angela Brown said...

Yay! I hope your holidays were filled with fun, smiles and great wine or cider.

I rather enjoy the honeymoon stage. I'd perfer not getting to the work part. But like a marriage, there is work involved for what you truly love. So I've got to wait a bit to get to my end-of-honeymoon stage. Hopefully, I'll still be in the throes of honeymoon bliss even into revision number five, six...oooo...scary.

Lauren Alissa Hunter said...

Haha okay I am right there with you on the whole stalking of literary agents... it is ridiculous! I haven't begun the querying process yet (my query is currently a long stream of sticky notes posted above my desk...) but I have folders full of documents with all my stalking and sorting of agents... I hope no one ever digs into MY life that much.

In response to your questions, I am HOPING to find that it is easier now... I've revised my WIP 5 full times and am now on a nice break from it while it's being critiqued by writerly acquaintances... so I'm hoping it will be easier to sort through once I reopen it.

Wish me luck..

Theresa Milstein said...

I've missed you too.

When I can't stand the sight of my manuscript anymore, I take a long break. "It's not you, it's me."

Meredith said...

For me, it depends on the situation. Sometimes I keep working, just trying to get through it. But if my inspiration is totally gone, if all I want to do is throw the manuscript against a wall, then I take a break for a few days and try to come back fresh. Good luck!

Botanist said...

I haven't yet got sick of my own words, and I find it hard to imagine wanting to carry on if I ever reached that stage. Obviously I'm still a newbie then :)

Welcome back. Hope you had a great Christmas. Happy New Year!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

One thing that motivates me is seeing other people succeed. I must admit that I envy them, but at the same time I think that if they can do it, so can I. If they can keep writing and working hard enough to succeed, then I should follow their example.

Enid Wilson said...

It's hard if it becomes work. If I have enough time, I would prefer to put it aside for a week or two. Then I'll forget about it and the angst.

The Spinster’s Vow

Dean Crawford said...

Yep, it does become WORK when you're published. That said, if you've been writing a while ( as I have ) you start to learn not just the best method for yourself, but also your own weaknesses as an author. Good planning and plotting BEFORE writing the first draft remove much of the agony of editing for me, something I've learned ove the years, and that's very important now because there's really only one difference between published and unpublished authors: DEADLINES.

Christina Lee said...

Wow sounds like you are working HARD! I'm kind of the opposite--first drafts are so tough for me, so I'm thrilled revising and tweaking. But even still there comes a point...

hang in there!

Melody said...

This is encouraging, Katie. I'm glad you found the pros of the work and the end of the honeymoon. :)

Avadonja said...

I have to actually put it completely out of sight, out of mind, while my betas have it. I work on my next project and stay excited about my new work. By the time I see the old stuff for revisions again I'm more objective. This last time I was actually really impressed with myself as I read through. I kept enjoying parts and thinking this person was a good writer. :)
Good luck. Just make sure your book doesn't start eating frosting from the jar.

Vivi said...

Wow, this post is totally hitting home for me. I've just drudged through major revisions on my book and you couldn't have captured my current state of mind any better!! But for xmas, I got a "Keep Calm and Carry On" coffee mug, and I decided to make it my new writing motto. Even when the writing felt forced and my heart just wasn't in it, I just kept going. And toward the end of the revisions, I found a little bit of the magic again. But it is hard, especially when you're just ready to put it to bed!!

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