Today I finally started working on my book again. Actually, I started completely rewriting it from the beginning. Not a huge rewrite – I’d only fleshed out three chapters (twice). But I think this book might actually have potential. Not that I think it’s amazing or groundbreaking or anything like that. It’s just that I think this might be the novel I actually finish. I’ve probably started around fifty books in the past ten years, and I think the longest is somewhere around 5,000 words (for reference, a short novel is around 50,000 words). I just have trouble pushing past the point when I sit back and think, “oh my god, this sucks.” Which is the thought I have about almost everything I write. I am insanely self-critical – it’s something else I’m trying to work on.
Anyway, I started procrastinating by thinking about all the ways I usually procrastinate writing. Super productive, I know. And I realized that I have a bad habit of hyper focusing on the tiny details. For example, when I first started writing this book, I wrote two different versions of the first three chapters because I couldn’t decide which tense or point of view to write in. Important elements, but things that can be changed later. I once spent an entire eight hours downloading custom fonts to write in (including one that looks like Jane Austen’s handwriting). And then never actually wrote what I was meaning to write. Another time, I spent
two four hours looking at designer dresses online so I could write an unnecessary one-sentence description of what a character was wearing.
Over the years, I have done the following instead of writing: memorized all the US Presidents in order, learned a good amount of Latin (another thing I want to do more), read about a thousand books, looked up famous first sentences approximately five-hundred times, taught myself a lot of bad words in German, repeatedly added thousands of dollars worth of stuff to a shopping cart on the Anthropologie website (and never bought any of it), looked for apartments I can’t afford in cities I don’t live in, created a database with thousands of first and last names to use for characters, took almost every single quiz on Buzzfeed, binge-watched half the shows on Netflix (some of them more than once), learned how to make French bread by hand, memorized the entirety of “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, taught myself how to knit (and crochet and cross stitch), and started this blog.
Every time I encounter a decision that I have to make in the writing process, I become utterly incapable of moving forward. What kind of flower should be growing in the yard? Let me look up flower meanings and where they grow and colors and whether or not they need shade or sun. And then instead of writing, I get sucked into gardening websites. Sometimes, having internet access is a horrible thing.
I know I should just write. Just get it all on paper and then go back and deal with the flowers. And the bizarre thing is, I have absolutely no problem doing this with academic work. I can spit out a twenty-page paper on Pride and Prejudice in a day, maybe two, no problem. But three paragraphs of fiction? Give me a week. Quite possibly a month.
It’s honestly discouraging because, at this rate, I will literally never finish a book. So I know it’s something I need to get past, and I am working on it. Right now, I’m going to force myself to keep writing instead of picking up my iPad to read (which is really tempting right now). But it won’t be long until I let myself get distracted. (Also, it’s four in the morning which means I probably will get distracted soon/take a nap – I woke up at one and couldn’t go back to sleep. It’s also why this post is so ramble-y.)
I’ve heard the advice a million times: just keep writing, get it on paper and then go back and make it good, just finish it. But for me, that’s a huge challenge. It’s something I’m working on, but I haven’t found a good solution yet. I am making a concentrated effort to start each writing session without reading what I’ve already written because I will start editing, I can’t control myself. And I occasionally leave brackets when I can’t think of the exact word I want to use (which is painful and I hate it). But I still can’t seem to get past the decisions involved in writing.
What are your tips for writing? Do you have any sort of system or schedule? I’d love to hear what works best for you – maybe I can find something that works for me.