This post continues on from Part I.
After three months, I resumed writing. It felt good to have planned the more immediate chapters and it was reassuring to know where I was going. While I’d set myself up well, I was also setting myself up for a fall.
I’d become so focused on working on my novel that it was making me stressed. It wasn’t long before it began to affect my writing and my mood. I was trying to achieve too much too soon—or too much in unrealistic time frames.
Stress crept up on me without me evening realising. When my anxiety at night grew progressively worse, I knew that was a pretty good indicator that things weren’t right.
As much as I didn’t want to, I decided to cut back on the late nights and to instead relax during my evenings. No writing, no notes, no nothing. This also meant holding off on a new blog post, as even writing about writing didn’t seem like it would be a good idea. I needed to relax. That meant time with Emily, the book I was reading, a session of Overwatch with my friends, or catching up on the third season of Daredevil (which I’ve still yet to do…)
Within the first week I noticed a vast improvement and felt significantly less-stressed. As much as I wanted to achieve as many words in each day, I came to realise I had to accept what I could (and couldn’t) achieve in my allotted writing hours. In other words: I had to be realistic.
Since then, I do work the occasional evening, but I make sure they’re more spread out.
Although this helped to improve my mood (I think, in particular, it allowed me to shut off earlier, as opposed to taking over-active thoughts about my novel to bed), it didn’t help with my writing. Something was wrong.
When I first started Writing Block 1, the words flowed free in a sudden surge after being pent up for three long months. But this soon ran to a trickle. Writing became a struggle—more so than it can sometimes be, and certainly more than I could contend with.
Something needed to change.
Fortunately, I knew the main problem. It was my inner editor.
Thanks to my inner editor, I couldn’t write more than a paragraph without stopping and going back over it until every word fit perfectly. All it would take was one word that didn’t quite feel right. Before I’d know it, an hour would be lost.
While editing will be much needed on my manuscript, this stage of the current draft isn’t when I should be doing it. My focus should be on getting the story down from start to finish. The editing, especially of the prose, should come in later drafts. Right now, it’s nothing but counterproductive. There’s no point crafting the perfect sentence if it’s only going to be deleted in the following draft because its content, despite its prosey perfection, is no longer necessary.
As much as I tried to shut down my inner editor, I failed every time. And I really did try.
So I decided to do something I’ve only done properly a couple of times before, the last being four years ago on a train home from university. I decided to write by hand.
Of course I’ve written by hand before. When I was growing up, mobiles were the size of bricks, or came with straps like the radios used by operators during WW2, and computer monitors were the size of small houses, so a lot of my homework was scribbled onto lined paper. What I meant was I’ve typed all my creative writing, bar a poem and a short piece of prose during my second and fourth years at university. I’ve always worked by typing. Until now, it’s always worked.
So I wasn’t expecting much success with writing by hand.
I toyed with the idea of buying myself a posh fountain pen and a luxurious writing pad—after all, I consider what I’m writing to be important and deserving of such things. Like most toys, that idea quickly passed from mind, especially once I remembered the small stockpile of notepads under my bed at my parents’. I also already had a nice pen, a birthday present from colleagues a few years ago.
More than that, I thought the posh-pen-luxury-pad combo would be a waste of money when I failed in [not after; that’s how little hope I had] the first week.
You can imagine my surprise when my attempt at writing by hand turned out to be a success.
There was something attractive about coming to a desk uncluttered by laptop, monitor, keyboard and mouse, with nothing but a notepad and a pen in hand.
I found early on that I was able to concentrate much better on the story without getting bogged down by my seemingly poor word choice. I was much less inclined to edit, no matter how much I’d written, only crossing out a line when it felt absolutely necessary.
I worked out (the old fashioned way: counting by hand) that a handwritten page averaged 256 words and that it would take four pages for me to reach my daily target. Reaching it proved much easier than when I was typing.
I also found that my idea generation—when I’m actively working on the novel, when I’m thinking about it, and when I’m not and ideas come to me seemingly out of nowhere—had improved as well. I’ve discovered that I’m very much a retrospective writer: I work best (and enjoy writing the most) when I write a scene the way I think it should be written, even if that involves little pre-planning, and then move on to the next. This moving on allows me to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t, and to come up with changes to make and details to include in order to to improve it. This might happen as soon as I’ve finished writing, or an hour afterwards, or in the days to follow, or even the months. I’m still coming up with ideas for the first chapter! These ideas go into my digital notepad, before being included in my organic plan, which I will then reference when it comes to redrafting. I also work any new ideas into what I’m currently writing, too.
Writing by hand has still proven difficult on some days, while others have proved much easier. But that’s writing in general.
For the time being, I’m going to continue writing by hand. I may even write the rest of the current draft this way. When it comes to the next draft, I’m going to be making a lot of changes anyway, so it makes little difference if what I’m working with is hand written or typed.
But that’s getting ahead of myself. The main thing, for now, is that I’ve found a way forward.
[Cassie and I at Camber Sands on our holiday with Emily and Monty to Rye, i.e. the most perfect long weekend.]