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Shifting gears

My inner critic is confused.

For the nearly six months I was working on the first draft of The Polaris Uprising, I kept her locked in a room, with nothing but jigsaw puzzles and Angry Birds to keep her entertained. Occasionally, I’d let her out to take a whack at a particularly egregious typo (I couldn’t let her muscles atrophy, after all–I needed her in tip-top shape when I unleashed her for the editing process), but for the most part, I was pretty disciplined about keeping her in that room, no matter how many times she’d bang on the door and beg me to unlock it.

But then the editing process came, and I set her free, and boy did she have a field day. How she mocked me with her cruelty and hinted I was a hack writer with flat dialogue and repetitive phrasing and plot holes the size of Rhode Island. I bowed to her whim, fixing everything I could, pouring out blood, sweat, tears to get to a draft that was a far cry from what it was when I first typed “The End” (ok, I never actually used those words, but you get my meaning). It was a grueling process, but one that brought me results I was proud of, and when it was all over, I thanked my inner critic for all her hard work, and then…

… forced her back into the room and locked it up again, because I had a new first draft to write as I begin book 2.

She’s in there now, whining and pouting, calling me all sorts of nasty names. I can hear her still. The thing is, she had a taste of freedom, and she was enjoying it a little too much. Now she’s back in her room and the jigsaw puzzles ain’t cutting it, and she wants out again.

See? Confused.

That’s the thing about switching gears. You get used to one thing, and you start to get proficient at it, and then you change things up again, and it’s like starting at the beginning. In theory, I know it’s not the absolute beginning; I know I’m starting from a far stronger foundation than I did before. I know this world. I know its people. I know the story inside and out, backwards and forwards. I’ve constructed a story structure that’s very sound, mapped out a character journey that’s compelling and (hopefully) moving. And yet, all my inner critic can focus on is the crappy words I’m producing right now, and she’s sure letting me know it (even from way inside her locked room).

It took me a while to get good at learning to ignore her. I suspect it’ll take me just as long this time, too. Beginnings are especially hard; it’s where I struggle most in a story (once I get in my groove though, man, there is no stopping me!). But the only way to get through it is… to get through it. Just keep hacking away at it. Eventually, she’ll get bored and go back to putting together those puzzles. She’ll leave me in peace to just get this draft down, knowing I’ll let her out eventually so she can have a field day with it. I’m in those negotiations with her right now.

Until then, it’ll be painful for both of us.

At least until I let her out again temporarily after I get my editor’s feedback on book 1 and need to shift gears again back to editing mode–boy that’s going to be fun. But then, back in she’ll go, and hopefully she’ll give me a good 5, 6 months of harassment-free writing.

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode...

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode…

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Surviving the writing taper

First, let me get the squealing out of the way.

I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT!!!

160 days later, I now have 113,983 words’ worth of raw material from which to create my final manuscript. This is the good news.

The bad news? Now the real work begins. In other words, I finished my longest run of my marathon training. But now I’ve got to run the actual marathon.

In marathon training, the last stage is called “taper.” It’s the three-week period after your longest training run, during which you drastically pull back in mileage and intensity of your workouts. This is all done to prepare your body for the grueling experience of the marathon itself: you’re saving up energy; you’re letting your tired, aching muscles rest; you’re getting yourself mentally prepared for the mind-**** that is a marathon (and yes, there really isn’t any other way of referring to it without resorting to profanity in this case ;)).

But when you’ve spent the last 16 weeks or so building up in mileage and pushing yourself to the very limit in your workouts, suddenly pulling back can feel like a shock to the system. You’d think that at this point, your body is begging for some rest. But surprisingly, taper is difficult for many runners. We often feel cranky, restless, and bored.

And we just can’t wait to run the marathon already.

I realized something yesterday (the first day in 160 days that I wasn’t writing or thinking about this novel), as I spent the entire time twitching through my withdrawal and wishing more than anything I could just dive into the editing process. I am now in my writing taper.

It sucks. I’m not going to lie. I can count on two hands (maybe even only one) the number of days in the last 5 1/2 months when I wasn’t writing about this world and its people. I’ve hung out with these characters more than I’ve hung out with many of the people in my life in the time I’ve been working on this. They are lifelong friends to me now. Family. As much a part of me as my hands and my feet. And being forced to spend time away from them (they say distance will make you more objective so you can kill your darlings; right now, it just feels as though distance will make the heart grow fonder) is sheer torture.

But I know it’s necessary. If I want to take my first draft from “suck” mode to “brilliant,” I must go through the taper diligently. My coach likes to say, “Nothing you can do now can help you in your marathon. But doing the wrong thing now will most certainly hurt you.”

And so, I will keep away for the next 4-5 weeks. I’ll read other books, I’ll develop other stories that have been floating around in my brain since I’ve been working on this. I’ll try not to think about Ryla, Alanna, and Owen. Because I know when I finally return to them — when I finally get ready to start my marathon — I’ll be that much stronger, that much more clear-minded, that much more prepared.

And I plan to kick some major tail on that course.

See y’all on the flip side.

Counting down the days till I can reunite with Ryla, Alanna, and Owen…

An excerpt…

Working on a first draft is a lonely endeavor. It takes years before you finally get to the stage where your WIP is ready to see the light of day and be shared with others, and in the meantime, you’re bursting at the seams because you are so in love with this world and its people and you wish you could share it with the whole world now.

Patience, grasshopper. The time will come eventually.

In the meantime, I would like to share a little tidbit, just to whet the appetite… Here’s a snippet from a scene in the middle of the book:

Ambulances collected in the runways—they were rarely ever used these days, of course, with nearly all of the battle simulations done virtually in the holo chambers—but today, they were crowded, already clogged with the dozens of fighter jets that had crashed in today’s ill-fated mock air raid before the doctors ever arrived on the scene, raising the level of chaos as soon as they began streaming out of transports to sift through the debris and wreckage strewn all around in the surrounding airfield. 

Hoping to find survivors.

Fire had bloomed and raged, taking their anger to the skies. Alanna had seen it from miles away as they approached the downed jets. Firefighters managed to put it out before any of the rescue teams arrived, but smoke still rose from the charred, mangled pieces that lay scattered haphazardly on the ground, like a child’s toys after a long session of play. The toxic stench of burnt acid clung in the air, thick and potent; she thought she might vomit from the smell of it, her lungs protesting each gulp with a cough that couldn’t expel the corrupted air from her body soon enough. The grass glistened with splatters of blood, torn bits of clothing.  Severed limbs. She swallowed hard, forcing the down the lump that had lodged itself in her throat. The last thing she needed was to lose her composure. She was here to do her job and make sure people got the care they needed. She couldn’t do that if she let her emotions get the best of her.

But it was hard to keep the panic from mingling with adrenalin when she’d yet to see any sign of Owen amongst the people being pulled out of the smoldering pieces of twisted metal.

 

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