Friday, January 27, 2006

Keep 'em short!

I thought of a new metaphor for my writing mood/confidence swings. A sine wave! I oscillate up and down, up and down, on and on, over and over.

Forgot your high school trigonometry? Here's a link from Wikipedia: What is a sine wave?

I wonder how many times in history a sine wave has been used as a metaphor for one's mood? Maybe I'm the first one to do it? Probably not, but it's something to ponder...

Anyway, I'm up right now. I just finished another section and figured out more details on how the book ends. My moods can definitely be traced to the point I've reached in the scene I'm writing. When I start a scene I'm usually terrified, but that quickly changes to excitement as I bang out the scene's skeleton--the bare bones of what happens. After this stage I feel pretty good, since in I've finished the first draft of the scene and have moved the story ahead. That positive state of mind lasts until my next writing session where I read over the crap I've written and have to start reworking it.

Have you heard of the "Shitty First Draft" concept? I first learned of the SFD from a Martha Beck article on perfectionism in the Oprah magazine. Recently, I read an even more detailed description of it in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (a terrific book on writing, by the way).

The basic idea behind the SFD is accepting that the vast majority of the time, your first stab at a story, article, or scene is going to be pretty bad. And that's okay. You can improve it during the re-write/polish stage. But if you don't let yourself be bad at first, you might freeze up trying to be perfect right from the start and not write at all. This is a very helpful realization to perfectionists like me. It's better to get down something--anything--rather than agonize over every word.

Still, the result of the SFD is pretty dreadful writing. And it's reading over the SFDs of each scene that make my spirits sink so low. Because they are so bad, and require so much reworking, and the polish/re-write stage can last forever. I spend days polishing up a scene. And that makes me feel like my progress has come to a standstill, since while I'm polishing/re-writing, I'm not moving the story forward. Re-write/polish days are the ones where I practically have to tie myself to the chair to keep at it.

But eventually, I get it the way I want it and that's a terrific, wonderful, fabulous, feeling! Then the scene truly is done and I get to add it to all the other scenes I've already written. This is where I am right now. I just finished a 10-page scene that took me forever to get in good shape. Now it's done, though. Yay!

So I know all this about myself and the reasons behind my sine wave-like oscillations in mood. But understanding why my mood fluctuates, doesn't change the fact that it fluctuates. So I'm going to try break up my scenes more and write shorter SFDs so I can complete the whole cycle quicker. 10 pages are too many to agonize over. If I keep my sections to 5 pages or less, I won't have as many days in the excruciating re-write/polish stage. Not as many days in a row, at least.

Eh, who knows if it will help, but it's a thought. Keep 'em short. Cycle through the mood swings quicker.

I'm going to give it a try, anyway.


Karenna said...

I haven't commented in a while, Renee, but I've been reading all your entries! I have a question (or a few, I guess):

Did you research about the writing process before you started your novel, or did you just dive in?

Obviously, you've done some research. What have your sources been?

Have you written other works, like essays or articles or short stories? Published anything?

OK -- that's good for now. :-) Congrats on keeping the fire burning and getting your goal realized!


wyo said...

LOL ... a math reference. LOVE IT! :)

wyo said...

I'm back ... had to say I did a SFD today and it was a big help. Thank you so much for the idea! I'll send you a link to the column after the editor's hacked my ESD (excellent seventh draft) into bloody little pieces. ;)

Renée said...

Karenna- I decided to answer your questions in the form of a new entry. ;o) Let me know if there's anything else you want to know.

Wyo- Glad the SFD idea helped. Can't wait to see your ESD!