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Time Over Words Over Ideas

So many people mystify or mythologize the writing process.  There’s the “My characters tell me what to write” meme, and “The muse fills me with inspiration,” and “The story takes over and writes itself.”

What’s seductive about these visions of writing is there are moments when writing does feel like one of those descriptions.  There are sessions when I look up from the page and realize I’ve added a thousand words.  I couldn’t describe to anyone how those thousand words got there.  Ideas made whole.  The brain and fingers intermeshed somehow, and words showed up.  That’s “zone” writing.

Most days, though, writing feels like managing words and ideas over time, with time being the limiting, frustrating factor (it goes too fast and there isn’t enough of it).

This time/words/ideas dynamic is on my mind because I’m heading to the Rainforest Writers’ Village retreat this week.  Oh, my god!  I’m squeeing over the prospect of five days devoted to nothing but writing, but already I can see how the time will slide by as I try to think my way to the ideas that will turn into words.

What’s a reasonable expectation for word production over five uninterrupted days?  If I were Jay Lake or John Pitts (on their good days), I might see 5,000 words and up on each of those days.  I could expect to write maybe 30,000 words.  For those two, the ideas turn into words in a pleasingly brisk way.

rainforestjimWriting speed comparisons are a dangerous and unproductive trap to walk into.  People write at the speed that fits them, so obsessing about someone else’s pace doesn’t help.  Still, when two writers have the same amount of time, it can’t help but be a source of envy when the process seems to be working more efficiently for one than the other.

It’s probably inaccurate to talk about “ideas” as a single entity.  An idea is a concept about what I want to do or what I want to write about, but during the writing process it’s tied to decision making.  Just knowing what I want to write about isn’t enough.  I have to make decisions about what to do next.  Do I write dialogue?  How about some revealing action?  Do I move into an interior monologue?  How about a lyric description?  Should I transition into a new scene?  How about I bail out on a transition and just put in a line of asterisks?  How’s my pacing?  Has the scene built in a satisfying way?  Am I revealing information in a way that raises interest and ratchets up the stakes?  Am I entertaining myself?  What’s the next word?

At any rate, Wednesday evening I’ll be at the Rainforest Resort Village, sitting near a window in the Salmon House Restaurant and Lounge.  Other writers will be there, laptops open, clicking away.  I’ll look just like them, thoughtful, serious, literary.  Inside, though, I’ll probably be a mess of disconnected thoughts: What word next?  My back hurts a little.  Should I have a beer instead?  What word next?  I wonder what Brenda Cooper is writing?  Maybe I should go to bed early tonight.  Maybe I should read more of Charlie Stross’s Atrocity Files.  What word next?

And, if the stars line up, every once in a while I’ll shake my head and realize a thousand new words have appeared on the screen.  I will wonder what happened to the time.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2013 04:17 am (UTC)
Man, I wish I remembered this when it came around. I have come to the realization that I am a short-story writer and not a novelist (and that's okay), and having a week where I've got no distractions and I can just sit down and bang out a story would be heavenly--especially since I have actual outlines now.

Maybe next year.

Oh, and the answer to "should I have a beer instead" is always "yes."
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )