I still feel so new at this being an author thing. I know I’ve been writing for quite some time, have labored over my novel, have worked hard to learn the craft, and have managed to land myself a two-book publishing deal for my debut young adult novel, but I still feel a bit like an imposter. That’s why I’ve hesitated to offer any sort of writing advice, because who am I to tell people…well, anything?
But there is one thing I know plenty about, and today I’ve decided to boot myself off the cliff, Thelma and Louise style, as I lay some advice on you.
Distraction and procrastination are, of course, two of the greatest enemies of creativity. The reality of the technological age is our medium (writing) coexists on a machine rife with distraction (hello, interwebs). As authors, there is now an expectation that we create and maintain a web presence, and when we are already predisposed to distra—ooh! Shiny!
Sorry, what was I saying?
Right. Distractions and procrastination feed off one another, playing into our natural tendencies to doubt our abilities. We’re a neurotic bunch (see agent Rachelle Gardener’s spot-on description:http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/05/bad-habits-of-authors/ ), easily falling prey to self-doubt, which only fuels the procrastination monster. And the aforementioned web presence we must develop can lead to further procrastiona—excuse me for a sec. I need to go check Facebook. Oh, and somebody mentioned me on Twitter. Plus, I haven’t checked my Klout score in like three days. How many hits have I had on my blog today?
The distraction monster may still get the best of me at times, but I have one such monster I’ve recently figured out how to defeat. The research monster.
Research is an important part of storytelling, and no place for shortcuts. If you are not accurate in the realistic/verifiable details in your world-building, you lose the trust of your reader and cast doubt over the entire world you’ve painstakingly created. As a reader, I hate to find glaring errors in the logic or details of a story. To me, it shows the author didn’t care enough to do the extra work, and when you don’t do your research, it shows. Publishing is a competitive world, so why give your potential audience a reason to put your book down and grab something else on the shelf (virtual or brick and mortar). There are, literally, millions of choices.
It’s a delicate balance, the writing game. Most writers have day jobs (or happen to be stay at home parents, like yours truly), families, social lives, and this passion for writing that we cram in wherever and whenever we can. When you throw the necessary research into the mix, it makes the task of getting the words out of your head and onto the paper seem daunting.
And we’re perfectionists. We want the words we put to page to be perfect, living in a constant state of disappointment (and occasional elation, when we hit the sweet spot and manage to impress ourselves with our storytelling). This constant struggle for perfection feeds the monster, and she’s always hungry.
Research can derail writing momentum, so what do you do? Because if you’re anything like me, you can’t just give yourself permission to skip over the research bit and ride the writing momentum. But if you let the momentum slip away, you face the very real danger of getting stuck in research mode. Forever.
It becomes the perfect excuse to unchain the distraction monster. Well, I need to interview a physics professor about this next chapter, so I guess I’ll stop writing for the day—oh, look! A new cute baby video!
It really is as simple (and as hard) as just giving yourself permission to not have every detail just so in your first draft.
Crazy, I know, but it works.
For example, in my current WIP, I have the following sentence written:
Blah, blah, blah, medical stuff and lingo and so on. Interview a medical professional so you don’t sound like Dr. Drake Ramore.
I stared at the page for a moment, horrified, and then, guess what? I got a lot done. It was empowering to realize that first drafts are just that. Imperfect. Sometimes terrible. First drafts are not finished products, and if you allow yourself to get stymied by research at that stage, you will never get to a final draft.
Allow yourself to write it wrong. Just get the sentiment on paper. Keep going. The details of what a patient would see upon awaking in an intensive care unit just don’t matter in your first draft. It’s okay to get it wrong, so long as you make sure, later on, to get it right.
So stop what you’re doing—right now—and insert some senseless drivel into your WIP. And get on with the writing! I promise, your manuscript will survive.*
*But save a backup file, just to be sure. And if something horrible happens, it’s TOTALLY not my fault.