Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Walking That Line

There are so many things about this writing gig that fascinate me, none more so than the psychological games we writers play in order to get the job done.

Games such as the little rituals we go through in order to psyche ourselves up when we sit down to write. We ALL do this. Some of us light candles and offer up a quiet prayer. Others slip into a comfortable pair of pyjamas, or kick off the shoes to write bare-footed, or hermetically seal the house so the only sound is that of perfect silence … the list of these rituals is as endless as the quirks of humanity.

Of course, if it ever came down to it, we really could write without doing those things. With a gun pointed to our heads, we really could. But without that adrenalin rush of fear to get us going every day (and let’s face it, how draining would that be) these rituals are necessary. They make the whole segue from real life into the writing so much easier.

But that’s how you get the writing done on a micro, day to day, level. When you look at how writers manage to slog through the long haul of writing and revising a whole book over endless weeks and months and years – well, that’s where the mind games get really interesting.

Basically, the only way any of us can do it - and I mean successfully do it - is by learning how to walk the line.

There’s a certain level of self-belief - shall we say, arrogance - that a writer must possess in order to finish a book. Belief in the brilliance of your story, and your ability to pull it off. Allowing yourself to revel in the exquisite excitement of creating your fabulous characters and their jaw-dropping tales. This is vital. This is what pulls you along and keeps you going for the length of a novel and you’d be a fool not to hook yourself up and mainline the stuff.

But the arrogance needs to be tempered with a dose of realism. The sparkly rhinestone stilettos of “OMG this is the best frigging book ever!” need to be swapped and balanced with the sensible lace up shoes of objectivity. Otherwise you may find you get to the end of that long, long journey of writing a novel only to find that while you had a blast,  all you’ve got to show for it is a bunion on your big toe and a manuscript of unsalvageable dreck.

Conversely, if all you ever wear is your orthopaedic flats, you'll be so busy scrutinising and agonising over every single word that you'll never get your book done. Ever.

You have to learn to walk that line.

Oh, it’s hard. With me, I tend to wear the sensible brown shoes a little too much.  I need to remember to toss them to the back of the cupboard and break out the sequined heels from time to time; for as the saying goes, if you don’t back yourself, then who else will?

These days I’m mostly getting that balance right. In fact, I’m finding I switch between the two mindsets as I write. It's sort of like driving at two different speeds at the same time – actually, it’s kind of schizophrenic - but hey, it works.

But that’s just me. Which shoes do you wear more than you should? How do you walk the line?


  1. I only break out the stilettos on the first draft :-) That's the roller coaster ride of drafting (and I caught a wave of it this morning, waking up from a half finished dream (curse you, alarm clock!!) and scribbling madly to get the story down). Afterwards comes the round of brown shoes, and shoes that pinch your feet ("I suck! This sucks! Why bother, when King and Gabaldon and Gaiman do it so much better?"). I'd say, keep the comfortable shoes, but toss those toe-pinchers!

  2. HA! You have stilettos? All I've got are the plain walking shoe--black or white--to wear. I haven't found any need for arrogance yet...

  3. LOL! Clever way of looking at the journey, Rachel.

    It's been a long time since I wore high heels and danced with my writing. Mostly, I wear gym shoes and work out, hefting sections and prying words and banging my head. Or I wear the fuzzy socks and do nothing but eat chocolate and despair because I've lost that "first love" I used to have for my wip.

    Then, unexpectedly, the words begin to flow one day and the love is back, as if the wip brought me flowers and asked me out for dancing. :)

  4. @ Deniz - oh yes, the stilettos are VERY appropriate footwear for the first draft. Glad to hear you own a pair! :-)

    @ Zan Marie - au contraire! I would argue the very fact you've been steadily working on Laura Grace's story, and have finished many other projects, is evidence you do indeed have the arrogance - the guts - to look a piece of work in the eye and believe you'll nail it. If you didn't, that writing would never get done ... and it's a very handy psychological tool to have in your writer's tool box.

    @ Susan - aw, a date with your book, I love that image! Hope it becomes a regular thing for the two of you. :-)