I’ve just passed 80,000 words on the first draft of my novel. The first three novel reports were posted in March, June, and July. What’s the hold up? Reasons are just excuses for failures, but lessons can be learned from failures. Each cause of a slow down in writing suggests a solution in the opposite direction.
August and September – Misplaced Priorities
June to September are the busy months at my day job as a hotel clerk. You can skip the long paragraph below if you’d rather not know the details. The one that follows gives a summary.
Summer is a time of year when handling both check-ins and reservations can be too much for one clerk. The people calling to make reservations get upset at being on hold while I check people in. The people checking in get upset at waiting while I take reservations. Others come around to the side counter while there is clearly a line waiting to check in and get upset that I’m not jumping to see what they want. Rich people get upset that their hundred dollar room is not the five star accommodation they expected. “The hotel is too close to the highway.” “The people next door look weird.” They can’t figure out how to set their alarm clock or make a long distance phone call. They can’t work the air conditioner or it’s not cold enough. They need an extra blanket, extra pillow, forgot to bring a tooth brush or razor. “Where’s the liquor store?” “The people next door are drinking. I want a different room.” Another problem. Once a room is used, it can’t be rented to someone else and it’s a full house every night. Some go to their room, it’s not what they want, they come back immediately, are refunded, and go on their way. Others are in the room for an hour or more and decide they don’t like it. Nothing I can do about that. They already ruined it for anyone else to use. They rage about it, but they did it to themselves. With 53 room rentals a night, there are enough complainers each day that it’s easy to get overcome with negativity. And then I was going home at 11pm and browsing reddit to try and get in a positive mood.
Long story short, a lot of negativity gets directed at a hotel clerk. It’s all minor complaints, but people unhappy with their lives often fly into a rage over nothing. I was taking the negativity home, browsing the net for a couple of hours to cheer up, and going to sleep thinking about hotel problems. The next morning I would still feel down and waste more time on the net or watching TV.
Never Take Your Work Problems Home
It’s said you should never take your home problems to work. You should never take your work problems home either. Interactions with an emotional component can stay with you. Emotions are reflective and contagious. When you talk with a happy person, your mood brightens. When you talk with an angry person, your mood darkens.
The customer’s problems didn’t need to be overwhelming. I kept writing through June and July. I just needed a solution that allowed me to keep my home focus on writing no matter how long problems continued at work. I’ve had other jobs where the negativity went on for much longer and caused mild depression. That shouldn’t happen. We all need to be able to separate our work and home life.
The solution is a consuming vocation or avocation. In my case, writing.
Completing a piece of writing is always a mood brightener. It can be an article or a book chapter, but finishing something is beneficial. It’s a positive result to focus on.
Recently, I had another customer raging at me about a problem just before the end of my shift. I can’t even remember what it was. Why? When I went home, I worked on my novel and focused on my characters’ problems. Their problems are much worse; people are killing their friends and they may be next. Instead of having a bad sleep thinking about problems I can’t fix, I fell asleep thinking about my novel where I can fix any problem.
Don’t Collect Problems
There’s a management strategy for dealing with employee problems. When an employee comes to see you with a problem, they take the problem away with them when they leave. Don’t collect problems. Deal with them and move on.
The same can be said for writing problems. Either solve the problem or leave a note behind. Don’t save up a list of problems to be addressed. If you remember all the problems with a full length novel, you could lose hope of ever finishing it. Just look at what’s next. The notes you leave behind will be there when you revise.
The lesson learned here is that problems that distract you from writing are caused by not writing. Writing while in a bad mood will gradually put you in a good mood. Entertainment doesn’t help you forget because there’s little to think about. Writing always requires thinking and can wipe out negativity.
October – Revising the Outline of the Novel
The most popular wisdom about writing first drafts says you should sit down and write the whole thing in one session. It might be a session that takes months, but you shouldn’t work on anything else. Great advice, but what about sleeping, eating, work, and people? It can be a long haul and time changes a story. It becomes more complex. Within limits, complexity is more interesting. That’s what happened with my novel. The story developed beyond the outline.
I spent several weeks changing the outline. Every change affected some other part of the story. Sometimes it affected what was already written. At least I didn’t go back and re-write any chapters. I added notes that will be waiting when I revise.
My first novel attempt had no outline and resulted in an 8,000 word short story.
My second novel attempt had a bullet point outline and resulted in a 25,000 word novel that stalled.
This third novel attempt has a 7,000 word outline and is going to reach the needed 100,000 words before it’s done.
What’s the lesson to be learned here? I believe James Patterson has pointed the way. He says he writes 50 page outlines. I estimate most of his books are around 100,000 words. They would be 300 pages long if the chapters weren’t so short. That makes his outlines about 16,500 words long. The lesson is to spend more time on the outline. Spend more time getting to know the personalities of the characters and put in more details. Since an outline is substantially shorter than a novel, it stands to reason it takes a lot less time to fix problems.
November – Back in the Writing Groove
In November I was back into writing every day. I alternated between articles about writing and my novel. The only writing problem I had was the minor one I mention for December.
December – The Misplaced Deadline
I reached 400 pages (double spaced) in early December. It had been so long since I posted a novel report that I thought my goal was 80,000 words. A minor problem. I’m now on page 443 of the first draft.
Since this is already a long article just from talking about lessons learned from delays, I’ll save the other lessons learned for the next novel report. With only three chapters to go on the first draft, that report will be right along.
Article by Ivan Izo.