A Writer's Quest for Focus and Balance (Stephanie Kuehnert)
So I finally sent a revised version of the Bartender Book to my agent on the 26th. (You may remember from my last post that I'd really wanted to send it on Friday the 13th because of my whole lucky 13 thing. Well, as my husband pointed out 26 is double 13!) The last week or so of revisions (the process of which is recounted in detail on my blog here) was intense. We're talking working from 9 or 10 am to 1 or 2 am (yes, you read that right 2 am, not 2 pm) on the revisions with breaks only to feed myself or my cats.
Since I'm a
total masochist binge writer, I totally loved it. I was in my zone, progress was sometimes slower than I wanted it to be, but I was happy, in tune with my characters and my story. But now I am at loose ends. It seems that when I don't have a reason to be focused like a deadline (whether it's one I invented for myself or one I was given), I lose all focus. Also when I don't have one primary task like "finish revisions" and instead I have a bunch of smaller tasks like "try to write a new scene," "write a blog entry," "catch up on reading other people's blogs," and "make a grocery list," I become extremely overwhelmed.
The Bartender Book has been my primary focus for a year now. I was going back and forth between two books for a while, then my agent tried to sell one on partial, failed, and said I was going to need to write fulls for her to shop. Knowing that I'm a slow writer as is, I decided that I had to pick one project to finish. I chose The Bartender Book, a decision I spent many months regretting, but then I finally got in the zone and was pleased. During that time I've flirted with a couple of other ideas, had two "affairs" like April Henry described in her post (though those dalliances only resulted in 15 pages or so each and a bunch of jotted notes). And now it is time (I hope!) to begin working in earnest on either finishing that partial that didn't sell or one of those affair books.
Of course there is a massive difference (at least for me) in the way I write when I'm starting a project and the way I'm finishing. I am now used to spending hours on end in front of the computer screen, happily tapping away. I can't really do that on a new project. In fact now it's been so long since I've started a new project, I've kind of forgotten how that works. Plus I have a couple of things holding me back. The biggest one is that I don't know if my agent will thing my revised Bartender Book is as solid and ready to be shopped as I do, so part of me wonders if I'm just going to start something and then be called back. Part of me would find that incredibly frustrating, but there is a tiny little piece of me (really really tiny, but it's there), that would be slightly relieved because then I wouldn't have to take the risk of starting something new. You see that's my other problem. I learned the hard way that I really only can do one project at a time, but my self confidence has been shaken so much in the past couple of years that I can't decide which is best.
I took a long weekend away from writing and just read, hoping it would revive me. My plan is to write a solid 25 pages plus a rough sketch of both of my two "affair" books and reexamine the partial that didn't sell, then go over them with my agent and critique partners to figure out which to pursue next. I also had this glorious idea of leading a more balanced life than I have been as I finished up the Bartender Book. I will actually start seeing/talking to friends on a regular basis and responding to email in a timely manner and blogging again and reading blogs and magazines and I bought all these books on craft plus there is my massive TBR pile....
Ever since I left my full-time job in September of 2008, I've been seeking this kind of balance and a routine that left me feeling well-rounded rather than constantly playing catch-up. I only work 3 nights a week, so it should be a lot easier than when I worked 5 days (or before that when I was juggling grad school with two, sometimes three jobs), but it really isn't.
There are only two things I know for sure:
1. If I don't start the day by writing, I will either never get to it or if I do get to it, it will be sporadic and sucky.
2. Word count goals don't work me. I get hung up on them instead of focusing on the story.
I've tried to come up with a routine for myself that involves writing 5 days a week in two or three 1.5 hour increments with 15 or 30 minute breaks between. Then doing all the online stuff like blogging and emailing, plus carving out time for reading each day. Then I have one day a week to run errands and play catch up and one day a week to hang with friends or do something I want to do.
I tried this last week and it worked really well.... on Monday. The rest of the week totally crashed and burned and I got next to nothing accomplished. Part of this is because some seriously crazy stuff was going on in my personal life last week that made focusing on anything else next to impossible. So I'm going to give it another go this week (even though this week is already going to be thrown slightly out of whack because I'll be out of town on Friday and Saturday).
The problem is while I was so good at turning off my internet and hiding my smartphone during revisions, I'm having a hell of a time doing that to focus on my new ideas. I used to just plunge into a story, writing whatever scene took my attention, but now for various reasons (self-doubt, nervousness about what will come of the Bartender Book, and every book just being a new process), I can't really do that anymore. So I'm looking for tips, writing friends. How do you get the motor running on a new project? How do you bring focus and balance to your writing life?