The Time to Do It Right
The clock is ticking. I swear I can hear it in my sleep. I don’t even have time to be here writing this entry.
It would be easy to assume that I have the time to do exactly what I want, when I want to: I’m the boss around here, right? In a sense that is true. But I am also very aware of the promises I’ve made, on both sides of the desk, and so very behind on all of them. I continually try to do too much.
Most importantly, for our purposes here now, I’m way behind in the study. The one-year anniversary of the release of The Shadow of the Sun is next month, and I’m still writing the sequel. In fact I’m writing the next two books simultaneously, for a variety of reasons I don’t have time to get into here–some of which are discussed in the previous post. And this week I found a new way to put more pressure on myself. Yeah, I’m pretty good at that.
This week, in the midst of planning a scene in the third novel (which is what I’m supposed to be working on) I realized that I had overlooked some details of the wider story when I was developing one of the act breaks of novel #2: seemingly small details of what-else-is-going-on, natural outgrowths of a plot development that will take place entirely off-camera but which will matter late in novel #3. It would be out of character for either of the PoVs I am writing on this pass to have overlooked those details; it was obvious, as soon as I’d realized the omission, that I must go back and weave those details in.
So far, not so bad, right? I went back into Novel #2, right before the act break in question, and began looking at how the facts would play into those scenes. A whole group of new players had to be brought onto the stage; I had to stop and work out a couple aspects of worldbuilding I’d been mentioning but not fleshing out, even in my head, and then weave them in. Took me a precious day, but the results were well worth it.
And then my two PoV characters were in the same room, and interacting, and suddenly I found myself tripping over the edge of a veritable plot sinkhole.
Oh, yes, I know this territory. I was skirting the edges of one of the central problems of the series, a piece of backstory that I won’t otherwise be addressing for another two novels. This problem is the Third Rail of this part of the series: both an engine that drives major stretches of story and a thing that is so deep and complex that to touch it is to immediately lose all forward momentum. It’s a mind-trap.
And I don’t have time for that right now. I’ve got to get a novel out.
All the pro writers in the room are nodding vigorously: they’ve all been here. The wisdom of the deadline tells us to step away at this point, to slap a bit of paint on that scene and go make the deadline. By last night I had talked myself around to that position, promising myself a nice stretch of open weeks to do nothing but solve this problem right before beginning work on Novel #4, and resolved to come into the study this morning and start slapping on the paint.
I couldn’t quite do it. I convinced myself to look up one more thing while I ate my breakfast in front of the computer. That was the Muse whispering into my ear, of course; in short order I was entirely seduced by the tantalizing closeness of understanding. I learned things about the classical references I’m working from this week of which I had been completely unaware; it sucked me in, and I dug around in references, and gradually throughout the course of the day I built the framework I needed to do justice to this half a scene I need to finish before moving forward.
It ate the day. By this evening I was once again flagellating myself for allowing myself to get sucked into the seduction of research.
But then something magical happened. I sat down, “last thing before calling it another wasted day”, and made notes on the scene I was planning. And what I realized I had pieced together in the back of my brain was not merely something that would fill the rhythmic hole in character interactions that I couldn’t go forward without addressing–but something that offered an entirely new lens on not one but both of the primary plots’ conflicts in this novel.
I couldn’t have planned that, not with the left side of my brain. But the right side, the Muse, is smarter than me–as usual. I had almost forgotten the importance of allowing myself the time to do things right. I had nearly fallen into the trap that separates the guild craftsman from the artist. And now I am reminded of the critical importance of following the instincts I spent so many years developing.
We all have those instincts, that knowledge of what is necessary. Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure on us to push those instincts aside in the interests of doing what we think is expected of us. But those slow-moving instincts are the source of the art we create, and we try to push them aside or put them on schedules at our artistic peril.
But I’m still behind, and so I have to race on again. As quickly as my slow creative brain can.