Friday, August 10, 2007

Word by word

So, I’m deep in the throes of writing my second book in the Fat City Mystery series, which is titled A KILLER WORKOUT.

I’m sure each writer is different, but during the writing process I’m prone to mood swings. I experience creative highs, followed by troughs of despair. Mid-cycle, there’s often a disturbing echo of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s Five Stages of Death.

Here’s an example of one of my cycles:

1. Shock, Denial: "The deadline cannot be this short. It took me two years to write Book One. I’m expected to write Book Two in ten months? That can’t be right—someone must have torn a page out of the calendar."

2. Exhilaration, Self-delusion: "I’m the Next Great American Novelist. Every word I tap into Prose Pro is worth its weight in diamonds. I’m a Writing Phenom! Bwah-ahh-ahh-hh!”

3. Bargaining, Depression (For me, this strikes at approximately page 200. And then repeats): “Just let me get to the next page without the plot bogging down or developing a fatal flaw. Please.”

4. More Depression, Anger: “I cannot believe I set up this secondary character like this. I’m gonna have to go all the way back to the beginning and tear sh*t up.”

5. Serenity, Dollop of Happiness (upon rereading what I wrote yesterday): “Hey. This is okay. This is even sort of…good. Hallelujah! On to the next page.”

To regulate both ends of my bipolar swings, I keep a stack of books about writing by my elbow. These books function for me kind of like literary Prozac. When I’m riding a high, they remind me how far I have to go to achieve perfection. When I’m in a funk over a flat line or paragraph, they’re full of useful tips and guidelines for making things better.

Here are the books on writing that are currently keeping me sane:

On Writing, by Stephen King

Natch. Stephen King is the master of writing popular fiction. I loved seeing the example of how he edited his own work. But even more than the writing advice, it’s Stephen King’s voice that I find soothing. Just knowing there’s a writer like him in the world gives me hope.

Don’t Murder Your Mystery, by Chris Roerden

The author walks you through the most frequent “manuscript killers,” and tells you how to fix them. There are great examples by authors of how to put all the advice into practice. Recently, I lent my copy of the book to a friend. After a week, I was in such a state of withdrawal that I demanded it back.

Bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

When I first started to dare let myself dream of becoming a novelist, Lamott’s book inspired me to try. When I stumble, I reread this book for a shot of hope.

What about you? Do you experience “cycles” while writing? How do you cope?


Camille Minichino said...

How creative! What writer does NOT identify with your Kubler-Ross analogy? And for me it has gotten only marginally better with each novel.
I just finished book 2 of my miniatures series, actually my 10th novel written under contract. Even so, I start every time with shock and denial, and move through the stages!
Thanks for a nice start to my day, Kathryn.

Joe Moore said...

Don’t feel alone. We're all swingers. It’s not unusual for me to feel elated one moment over a particularly clean chapter only to drop below carpet level in self doubt wondering if anything I’ve written makes sense. To me, writing a novel is just like playing golf. You only have to remember approximately 300 things every time you hit the ball and a 100 more as you wrestle with your story plot.

Regarding On Writing by King, my favorite line: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Here’s hoping all your mood swings are up!

Linda O. Johnston said...

I empathize, Kathryn! Mood swings must come with being a writer. After I wrote my last post, in which I was all excited because I had sent in my manuscript, I faced the computer and a story I had started before but laid aside to do that Kendra book, and wondered whether I could continue. And got unhappy with myself as I procrastinated. And then started writing again... and, miraculously, liked what I had done! And I've been doing this for a long time.


Kathryn Lilley said...

Thanks, Camille! Good to know it gets a little better. Joe, I love that line of King's too. So I guess that means I shouldn't say that the road is paved *solidly* with adverbs, lol.
Linda, I envy you your track record! And congrats again on completing the latest book!

Deb Baker said...

What a great post! I thought I was the only one. I have a t-shirt that says "every day is a new adventure".

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I have a "crap" moment where I'm comvinced my characters, my plot, and the whole concept is just that: crap. But I persevere!

Monica Ferris said...

I'm with you on writing ups and down. Yesterday evening I took a chapter to my writers group and read it with real apprehension. I thought it dull and that it didn't move the plot along. But my fellow writers all said it was really excellent, that it set up a group of characters in a friendly relationship and the territory they moved through was beautifully descriptive of Minnesota. OTOH, I've read chapters I was proud of only to have it shot down in flaming tatters. So I think authors are often the worst judges of their writing. BTW, I think Don't Murder Your Mystery is *wonderful*!

rosemary harris said...

Yes to everything..two years for book one and now you want book two when?? Curious to know, how much do you all revise as you go along, or do you wait until a first draft is completed before going back to add/change, etc.?

Deb Baker said...

Hey Rosemary, I like to have a clean first draft, so I revise as I go. Every day I go back over what I did the last time. When my draft is finished, I read and rework a few times before sending it to first readers.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I revise constantly as I go along. My worry would be that if I built in a mistake early on, the mistake would grow as the book went along. So while I'm moving forward, I'm also always going back. Two steps forward, one back, or something like that!