Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 8, 2012

TMI: The More I Learn about Craft, the Less I Know

I’m sure I’m not the only writer in the world to get overwhelmed by the millions of little things we have to think about in every single sentence in our novel. Every time I feel like I’m getting a handle on this writing stuff, I learn something new and that gets added to the list of things to check for in my manuscript.

Don’t get me wrong—most of the time this constant learning curve is what I love about the writing craft. You never do stop learning, and most of the time I love that. I also usually love the challenge of trying to get to that next level with your writing, or making this novel better than the last. Most of the time I can’t wait to dive in and get started.

Most of the time.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit defeated by the whole thing. Perhaps it’s midwinter blues, or just the exhaustion that comes with being a 40-something mom-of-a-toddler who hasn’t had eight hours of sleep at night in about three years. Whatever it is, I have felt less like a mountain climber and more like one who has been caught in an avalanche.

I will bet every writer has felt this way at some point in their career. In fact, I found this eloquent and encouraging post by Stephen Parolini that addresses this very feeling.

I have been taking workshops, and what I have been learning has been fascinating. So many nuanced techniques to use in my writing, the mechanics of which I am still learning. So many details to track while I write. There are times lately where I feel like I will have to revise my manuscript a hundred times just so I can make sure all those details are in order. Which in turn makes me feel like I will never finish said manuscript. Which is a little depressing.

Overwhelming.

So much to do, so much I WANT to do with my manuscript, and so little time. Part of my feeling of eternal revision is that my writing time is incredibly limited due to my toddler’s demands on my time. So all these millions (okay, thousands) of things I want to track and check and try with my manuscript seem to stretch before me in a stream with no end.

It’s enough to paralyze me.

But, as whenever I get overwhelmed in other areas of life, I know that the only way to the end is through. In theory, giving up is an option, of course. But not in my world. Some would say I am stubborn, but I prefer to consider myself persistent.

So to get through this funk, I will work on one thing at a time. And if that means doing a hundred passes on my manuscript so I can give everything the attention I need, I will do it. I know, too, that the more I work on these skills, the more ingrained they will become. As they become second nature, they will show up in my manuscripts without my having to think so hard or revise so much.

In a word, my plan to get through this funk is to write. How do you get through your funks?

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Responses

  1. Chocolate!

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  2. As a singer, I have always had the problems you describe: wanting every note to be centered, perfect and pretty…. so I feel your pain! This sounds really simplistic, but have you ever tried writing a short story? I know you have, but maybe you could do a fresh one… I would think that a novel can be overwhelming, especially now. Your commentaries are always right on, perhaps because they are “of the moment”, and new. Giving up is NOT an option!

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    • Nope, giving up is not an option! And short stories are actually really hard to write. I find them harder than novels. They are a completely different art form, requiring a skill set I do not have in toto. I could learn it, of course, but I think I’m already learning too much I don’t have time to process properly! 🙂

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  3. I agree with Nancy–chocolate–and, while we’re at it, cinnamon tea…Also, thanks to some Harvard teacher who makes his students do warm up exercises, I follow the same rule as part of my writing routine. 10 minutes of morning pages a la Julia Cameron then 2 minutes where I pick a letter from the alphabet and come up with every word I can think of that begins with that letter. Basically, I trick myself into writing. Oh, and that just leaves the rest of the time, when I’m not writing, and have time to think about all the problems associated with it…Now if there was a formula for that? 🙂

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    • Stephanie – Just tried the chocolate… 🙂 I never could get into writing exercises. I find I’m too impatient–if I have time to write, I want to write something I NEED to write. When you only have 2 hours a day to write, spending 12 minutes on exercises would make me nuts. All I’d be thinking about is the stuff I COULD be getting done! When I’m not writing, I am usually too busy chasing after Toddler to dwell to much on the problems of writing. So there’s your formula – have plenty of small children around! 🙂

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      • I don’t want to harp on the exercises, okay, I do, but I fought them, too. Even if you write 30 minutes a day and 12 minutes is exercises, those other 18 minutes are going to produce extra amazing writing. The way my teacher explains it, the first two pages we write without a warm up will be crap anyway, so why not do a fun warm up instead? Musicians warm up so why shouldn’t we? And the beauty is even if you do your warm up and don’t get around to writing until later in the day–the warm up still counts! It lasts the entire day…(I love that part!) Whatever the case, hang in there, day care won’t last forever.

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  4. Get some family help in watching your toddler for a few days, rent a hotel room by the beach and write 8 hours a day!

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    • Catherine – That sounds wonderful, but not gonna happen anytime soon! But maybe the visualization will be enough!

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  5. When I got stuck on my ending, I found that having chocolate before starting helped (the caffeine in it). I found that giving up isn’t an option, not with the “I gotta” bug. I have a day job – much needed day job – so I have to budget my time. When you have a toddler, you can’t budget. Can someone watch him a couple of hours to give you a break?

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    • I get torn about someone watching my daughter. After all, she is my main proirity – my day job! Our family lives too far away to call on easily, and we recently moved, so don’t have babysitters in the area that we know. Toddler will be starting school in September a few mornings a week, so I will get some time then. Just need to keep plowing ahead until then!

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