Thursday, March 3, 2011

Flexible Writing (Yoga Optional)

I once met a mother who said she liked me because I was a "flexible" parent. No. I can't do the splits or turn a cartwheel, but I have learned that sometimes rolling with the child's schedule and adjusting the parenting dial of discipline helps me be a better mother.

I wish I could say I am always in tune and know when to adjust the dial, but I am not perfect. Sometimes I just realize that there are too many bumps in the parenting road and I rethink my position about how to handle my attempts to raise a well-rounded citizen of the world.

The same can be said about my writing. I'm a writer. I write stories. I have goals and personal deadlines because I treat my writing like a job, not a hobby. I am a professional, unpaid writer who desires publication. I tend to move forward in a nice, linear fashion when I start my books. I write fast. Messy, sloppy first drafts are my game. I like to get the story out.

It doesn't seem to matter how much I plan, the map is not even a guideline by the time I get to the middle of the book. Things get quite murky and I toss the dang outline aside just to keep writing forward. I've learned I'm better at tearing apart a first draft and finding the real story inside the shell I've created so I'm always itchy to finish my first draft. That's when the real writing can begin.

This year I set my writing goals. One goal was to complete two books in a four book series. I outlined four books. I had my characters all planned out. I had the story arc for the entire series written out in an overview. I had the first book plotted/outlined and I began writing it in earnest in January. It's "finished" but not really, because I had another project pop into my life that required my setting aside the book I was working on, rethinking the entire series in a new way, and working on a revision for another book.

I had to do the "downward facing dog" of writing yoga and look at everything from a different perspective. I had to be flexible as a writer. Twist my brain inside out and make it work in a new way. The only thing I knew I was capable of doing was the cutting of the debris that was no longer deemed necessary. But once I cut the debris out, would I have a story? Would the characters I had not hung out with for a long while actually come out to play again? I immediately went into "child's pose" and whimpered a bit at the prospect.

Even worse, I had to wait to start. I am not a patient sort, so waiting was very hard. Very very very very very hard. I admit it: I am not good at biding my time. I was actually quite worried about the waiting period. The dominoes of time were falling fast. I panicked. I was very scared I'd fail before I started because I'd lost so much time (my freakish obsession with time is legendary in my family--I'm not allowed to wear a watch when we go on vacation as a result). Thankfully, I have amazing friends and writing partners who encouraged me and told me I had plenty of time. The dominoes slowly reassembled into their neat little timelines during my biding time.

Waiting was actually a good thing. It gave me time to think, mull, ask questions, search my mind for solutions, and cajole my characters out of my noggin. Biding my time meant I could gently tiptoe back into the story while banging out the first draft of the other story I was writing. When I finally sat down to work on the revision, I had a more flexible attitude about the entire process.

Now that I am in revision mode, I've also realized that the type of writing I do often impacts where I sit down to write. I can write a first draft anywhere, any time, any amount of words. There are no constrictions to the writing. It flows. I can tune out the people and noises so easily when I am in first draft mode. I can write in airports, restaurants, coffee shops. I just write.

Revisions? Not so easy. I have to literally move my computer out of the office and sit at another table so I'm not tempted to do the "business" of writing--okay, check emails and facebook and tweet. I readily confess that I am great at distracting myself in the cyber world. During revisions, I need to sit at a table, in the kitchen area, with my notebook close at hand. I have to think more, jot notes, walk away, come back, sit down, pour tea, anything I can do to trick my characters into telling me more about their story.

It is their story. I know their story. I have it inside me. I'm slowly letting it come out and trying really hard to be patient with my characters. Whenever my patience is tried, I get up and walk away. I adjust my thinking. I return with a new idea and ask them, "Is this what you were trying to tell me two years ago? Oh, okay, I get it. Then I will write it for you."

I also take a lot of showers. No matter what kind of writing phase I am in, I tend to get the greatest inspiration while washing my hair and putting on my makeup.

How do you switch gears between different kinds of writing? Does place or time matter to you? And what brand shampoo works best for you should your go-to method for inspiration be the same as mine?


Katherine Bone said...

I love the way you compared writing to yoga, Christine!

What works better for me? Just sitting my butt down and doing the work. I prefer my computer but I can work on my netbook too. If I could just make the time to consistently do it, I'd be on a roll.

Christine said...

Kathy, writing does feel like I'm twisting myself into a pretzel at times. And yes, getting the time to do it consistently when there are so many other pressures on us is the key.

I know you can do it!!!!


Gwen Hernandez said...

Sometimes I just have to move my MacBook to a new spot in the house. Or outside. Or the library. Swim practice is good because there's no Internet!

I usually get my best ideas while running, but the shower was good to me this week. Burt's Bees Raspberry and Brazil Nut shampoo was my muse this time. ;-)

Christine said...

Hi Gwen: I'll try the shampoo and see if it works for me! Sounds yummy smelling. And yes, anywhere there is no Internet access is a good place to write. :-)

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Hey Sweetie,

Like you...writing isn't a hobby for's a business and I work 7 days a week...tho' I have cut back my 16 hour days to 8 these days.

I always work in my Office (den) unless my babe (My yorkie-poo) is sick and then I move my laptop into my bedroom and work there were he can lay next to me (actually on me) so he knows I love him even tho' I'm still working one, not even a dog wants to be sick alone...but, other than that...I'm in me office/den.

I'm a plotter most of the time...but I tend to do a chapter and then before I start the next chapter I go back at the start of a new day and re-read what I wrote the day before to pick back up on the mood I'd set...I make changes and add things and delete things and then I move on to the next chapter...after about eight chapters done I go back and re-read all of them to refine, add and delete those chapters as the story takes on it's own life and starts really getting good...I lay clues and other hints to the readers and then I move on to the next chapters and I keep doing this all the way through the book until the final read.

I want to's what keeps me focused and motivated.


Houston A.W. Knight said...

Hope you don't mind I put a link from my blog sight to yours's on my link page! Is that alright with you?


Christine said...

Hi Hawk: I love your process. I think that is the way I roll more and more as I move forward in this journey. Each book I write teaches me something about myself as a writer. I am doing what you do: writing, getting up and reading what I wrote the day before, making minor edits, then writing forward. Seems to be working. I do like a road map, but I veer to places not planned by the middle of the journey.

And I move around a lot due to the Dowager Feline Clancy -- also aging and slowly losing her vim. But she's still a great companion who deserves lots of love and cuddles while I am in writer mode.

And by all means, yes! I am happy to be linked to your page :-)