Side Projects

(Note: I know I said the soundtrack posts were coming, but I'm finding that this issue is more appropriate for today.)

Diana Gabaldon wrote a post recently about her work process. As I admire her both as a creative writer and a determined human being, I drank down every word of it as fast as I could. It’s here.

If you’re not interested in reading, I’ll summarize the part that was most interesting to me – something she dubbed “the rotation.” When she was writing her first book (Outlander, for all of you who are living in the dark), she was also in the midst of raising children and holding down two full time jobs. Sound familiar? Probably. Her only time to write was late at night after her kids were in bed. She’d sit down to write her novel, and then, as most writers do, she’d fizzle out after a certain amount of text. For her, this equated to about two thirds of a page. That’s not much, especially when you consider the epic length of most of her work.

Now, she could have sat there staring at the blinking cursor until inspiration hit, but that wastes time. Remember that she’s only got this precious, finite amount each night. There’s no time for staring. So what she did is she cycled through projects. When she hit the wall with Outlander, she’d move onto her text book project, or grant proposal. By the end of her time allotment (which I believe was something like three hours), she’d have accomplished a few pages of each.

Momentum is a huge factor in writing. It’s like anything else, but I’m going to use running as my metaphor. I hate running. The first few moments of it are so dreadful that I feel as though my lungs or legs might suddenly give out at any second. But after a few minutes of running, my body acclimates and I’m able to run farther and longer than I thought at the start. Your writing “wall” is that ugly running spot where your legs and lungs threaten to give out. If you stop, chances are you’ll be stuck at the same place the next time you try. But if you keep going, you’ll improve. Since it’s nearly impossible to keep writing once you hit the wall on something, it seems the only way to overcome this hurdle is to write something else.

Writers need side projects. For most of us, time to write is extremely precious and rare. Who wants to spend it working something that takes away from your main work in progress? While I agree that you should definitely devote as much time as possible to your main project, I firmly believe that a side project will make you a stronger, better writer in addition to improving your productivity.

So, why am I talking about this today? I’ve been working on my second novel. It’s Book 2 of the Watermarked series, if you’re wondering. Not many people have read Book 1, so I doubt anyone’s wondering. I’m in the same boat as Diana with the whole full-time job, raising young children, no time to write problem. I was moving along at a frighteningly rapid pace on the rough draft of Book 2. It’s worth noting here that I usually write painfully slowly, so anything faster than that gets labeled as “frightening.” Yesterday I got stuck, and I panicked.

The reasons for my sudden halt make sense: oldest kid had a double ear infection, I had several doctor’s appointments this week, my entire Monday was occupied with work meetings, book sales have completely stagnated, and I’m questioning the silly notion of having a writing career, etc. Knowing these things did little to remedy the feeling of doom that had wormed its way into my brain. I indulged it for a whole afternoon, and if I’m being truthful, even part of the next morning. While I’m not fully recovered from the anxiety ridden downward spiral, I’m doing better right now. Why? Because I started working on a new book.

It’s an idea that’s been rattling around in my head since 2012, according to the save date on the outline document sitting in my Google drive. It's a little YA, a little fantasy/fairy tale, and a little out of my wheelhouse. Writing it feels like I’m betraying my main work, but I’m fighting hard against it. Progress on Watermarked Book 2 is slow moving today, but you know what? It’s moving. And that’s something.
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