Writing: If your brain keeps stewing, you probably aren’t finished.

As a rule, I typically do this: if my brain keeps stewing about a work you completed, it’s not complete and you need to revisit it.

I’m not talking about the revision process when a writer is still in the mode of improving a work. I’m talking about after the writer thinks the work is finished. If it keeps bothering you, if something isn’t sitting right, you need to take a second look.

This is an excellent reason to allow a finished work to sit untouched for a while before the writer publishes it or does anything else to it. Time allows the ideas to settle, and time will eventually tell you are not finished.

I came across this issue this past week. I wrote a piece (with a student of mine) this summer, a short play which will be part of my show in December. I thought it was finished, and we’ve actually started rehearsals with the piece. But this week, for whatever reason, I started thinking more about the structure and characters and the more I thought, the more I realized I wasn’t satisfied.

I didn’t really have time for another re-write, but I know me. Once I feel unsettled about a work, there’s no stopping me until I’m satisfied. It’s an annoying trait, but I think it’s a good one.

And so over the last couple of days, I went through two more re-writes, I cut out about 20% of the story, dropped one character completely, reedited many lines and ended up changing the title three more times. I actually sent the new updated script to my actors with one title, but I just changed it again about ten minutes ago.

Writing perfection doesn’t exist. A work is never completely done, it’s typically just abandoned by the writer. But sometimes, a finished work can haunt you until you give in and do the necessary work to improve it. Because that’s what is ultimately important. The process. The small increments of improvement played out over a long period of time.

Don’t settle. Listen to the unsettling voices inside. It will make the work better, and it will make you a better writer.

I Don’t Have the Luxury of Agonizing over Words

What brought this topic on was that I was revising my new novel’s manuscript last night and I read and re-read one sentence which I knew could be better, but it just wasn’t fixing itself and my brain wasn’t helping. I finally moved on, realizing that I would have to live with that phrase for better or worse. It got me thinking: how many phrases do I accept because I don’t have time to agonize over them anymore? Honestly, more than I’d like it to be.This is the sad reality that I have an indie author – and perhaps others feel the same: I don’t have the luxury of agonizing over every sentence and every word in my novels.

Oh, I could, if I wanted to release new works much less frequently, but the reality of my life comes down to the fact that my writing time per year is extremely regulated by other non-writing realities which actually put food on the table.

Does this mean that I sacrifice quality for quantity? I hope not, but it is a struggle to find the right balance. I’m currently in a writing and publishing cycle where I publish a novel on average of every 8 months. The one I’m releasing this summer will be a full year, but I think my next one won’t take that long to release into the wild.

However, if I were to put time into every sentence and agonize over every word, I would literally have to push back timelines a good six months, and I’m not comfortable with that.

It doesn’t mean I don’t go over and revise every sentence; I do. But each time I read a manuscript different phrasing and new words pop into my mind. Oftentimes I can find a better way to say things or I can at least tweak a sentence to make it better, but do I always find the best and most awesome and amazing prose? No.

If I didn’t have a job, a family, other responsibilities, what could the possibilities be? What type of elevated prose would I be able to produce? (I don’t mean elevated in a stuffy sense. I hate that kind of writing.)

But I keep coming back to the following thought: stay grounded in what I can do, and don’t worry about what I can’t.

Can I write a quality story every 8-12 months given my current situation? Yes. I am grateful that this is possible. Could my novels be better? Well, couldn’t almost every novel be better?

 

Ready to Move On, But Another Revision Awaits

I’m a firm believer in letting a finished work sit for a while before giving it its final revision prior to its final editing.

But there is a problem that arises as well – or at least it does for me – and that is my brain has already moved onto other interests.

What to do?

I’m referring to my fourth novel,¬†A Love Story for a Nation, which I actually really like. It’s quite different from any novel I’ve ever written, and those of you who know me, may be stunned to find out it doesn’t even contain the world Vietnam. It doesn’t contain any reference to any country in the world. It’s unique in that way.

I finished the first draft of it in August 2014. I took the next couple of months revising it until finally in October I sent it out to some beta readers. I have since received some feedback and now am ready to put it through the grinder one more time — except for the fact that I don’t feel like it!

In all that time that has passed, I’ve moved onto other ideas. I’ve written 2/3 of my fifth novel. Just the last couple of days I’ve been struck with the idea of a new play – I came up with the premise while watching “Into the Woods” in the cinema. I’ve also started production on a musical I’m directing for May. And now out of the past, comes my 4th novel, hobbling towards me like an orphan, reaching out in anguish asking to be brought to a finish once and for all so it can be released this summer.

Hmmmph!

If only I worked as a full-time writer!

Back to reality.

The grind of authorship can take no shortcuts. It must be done. I have always told myself that I will not release a book half-heartedly.

It needs one more revision. I need to suck it up and do it. My other creative ideas will have to wait.

So here I go.

Is Writing Your Priority?

I ran into this question recently: Is writing my priority?

I spend a lot of time on social media, trying to promote and connect the best way possible. I also spend time writing blog posts and mulling over new ideas. But what about writing? I don’t mean revising or editing or anything like that. I mean writing – creating – putting the metaphorical pen to paper and laying down some serious words which have never been strung together before in the English language? As a writer, shouldn’t writing be the top priority over all other tasks?

As I went into my holiday break and my three weeks of vacation, I answered ‘yes’ to that question. A resounding yes.

Writing new works is even more important that working on an unreleased work, or at least that’s how I prioritized my three weeks of writing time. My fourth novel lies dormant at the moment. It’s finished. Of course, it needs more revision and a final editing stage before it’s ready to be an ARC. I had planned on working on the third revision over break, but it hit me one day, why not push it back a month so I can write something new while I have a lot of free time.

With that new thought bursting forth from me, I have been furiously writing novel number 5, somewhat of a darker, different novel for me in some ways, but once again I have been drawn into my story, and the characters are yearning for me to continue; they are waiting to discover their fate.

By ¬†prioritizing writing over revising, I will then have 2015 to work revisions and releases for two books instead of one (though it’s entirely possible that novel 5 won’t be seen until early 2016.)

I’ve found it’s important to push the creativity out once it’s flowing, so I best get back to it.

Remember: writing is an author’s main priority. If you ever ask what you should be doing, writing is never the wrong answer.