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Terrible Tips Tuesday: Rush, Rush

September 7, 2010

I’m going to have to hurry this entry up because it’s 4:26 and I leave work at 5:00.

That’s not just a fact, it’s also a bit of irony to set up today’s entry.  I’m pretty sure it was my Amazon Friend Ethan Cooper who wrote in his review of my novel, Where You Belong that I rushed some scenes and needed to let things breathe.  (Except now I can’t find that in the review, so maybe he edited it or maybe I’m just going crazier.)

(The Boss tells me about the same thing at work too.  Then she assigns me five things to do, all of them due ASAP.)

Anyway, in looking back at the Tales of the Scarlet Knight series I wrote in the last 18 months, I’ve noticed some other instances of that as well.  (That’s besides scenes that need the continuity updated, funny typos, and scenes that in general lack focus.)  There are times when a scene seems rushed, where I could have done more or should have done more but didn’t.

There are two very practical reasons for this:

  1. The library/Starbucks/Panera Bread/etc. is closing soon!: I took to writing mostly in public back in 2008.  A lot of this happens at Panera Breads and Starbucks/Biggby/Caribou coffee places.  And sometimes just as you’re hitting your stride in a scene, you look at your watch and realize that it’s 8:30 or 10:30 or so and they close in about 30 minutes.  And so you try to write as quickly as you can to finish the scene before the employees grab a broom and chase you out of there like a rodent.
  2. I’m tired and there’s a Tigers/Red Wings game on TV!: Some days I really want to write and plow through another chapter or so, but I didn’t sleep well the night before.  Or maybe I’m more mentally fatigued from to much writing and would rather just kick back watching the Tigers or Wings.  Or maybe I’m just being lazy–that happens a lot too.  In which case I might be tempted to try and finish something quickly without really thinking too deeply about things.

Those are the practical reasons–or whines, really.  Another reason is especially with the aforementioned Scarlet Knight stories I had an outline and sometimes that can lead me to slavishly follow it to the point where I don’t really consider doing anything else.  Sometimes you can combine it with the whines above, where it’s getting late or I’m tired and I just want to get through this last bullet point of Chapter X so I can finish that chapter and start fresh the next day.

This happened less in Where You Belong because I didn’t use an outline for that.  Still, there were probably times where I just wanted to get the thing done and leave the library/coffee place or go home to watch TV or sleep.  It happens.  I’m a human, not a machine.  (Which is too bad, because being a machine like a Terminator or Transformer would be pretty sweet.)

And really this is why I disagree with the idea that you have to write X words a day.  I tend to think of myself more as a pitcher in baseball.  Sometimes I have my A-game and I’m throwing 97mph fastballs with such accuracy that I could deliberately hit the mascot in the stands if I wanted.  Sadly there’s not enough of those days!  The other days it can be a real grind, where I’m lucky to get it up to 95mph and I have no idea where the hell the ball is going when it leaves my hand.  On those days, well, it’s probably a better idea to say the hell with arbitrary word count goals and just go back into the dugout.

Staying with my pitcher analogy as well, starting pitchers these days have 4-5 days between starts and usually don’t pitch more than 100 pitches.  Why?  So they don’t blow their arms out!  A reliever who pitches only an inning or so can go a few days in a row but even then the manager will eventually sit him down for the same reason.  You probably don’t have to worry about blowing out your arm while you’re writing, but you do have to worry more about the mental fatigue that can cause you to rush things.

That takes care of my second whine.  As for the first, there’s sometimes not much you can do about that.  Well, you can always write somewhere that’s open 24 hours, like a house.  That would solve things.  But as some of my writer buddies can attest to, even your home isn’t a sanctuary when you have a spouse and kids.  Then you might be rushed because you have to get the kid to soccer practice or they just start raising a ruckus.

About the only thing you can do then is to try and block out some time and then do what you can with it.  Also, don’t focus on writing right up to the last minute; if you have 45 minutes left and you just finished a chapter or major scene, it’s OK to shut it down for the night.  Even if you only have 944 words, that’s close enough.  Unless you have a deadline–what’s your hurry?

I have about 10 minutes left here, so one last point is that when you’re editing your manuscript, try to look for those spots where a scene seems too short or the character figures things out too quickly.  Like this chapter from a story I’m working on now.  In the comments section I note that I have her find her boyfriend too quickly; it shouldn’t be that easy even for a novice witch to find a wounded soldier in the 16th Century.  I mean, it’s not like she can just call him on her iPhone and use Google Maps, right?  But also, it would add to the drama if it’s more of an epic quest, though not too epic.

Of course this is why it would be great to have a professional editor, someone who could slap me upside the head and tell me where I’ve gotten lazy or sloppy.  But that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so I’ll keep policing myself.

There’s probably more I could say but I’ve only got a couple minutes left…

There will be another entry when I feel like writing one.  To find out when, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

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3 Comments
  1. Ethan Cooper permalink

    Hi BJ,

    Nope, you’re not crazy. I made just such a comment, which I deleted when I edited my Amazon.com review.

    Sorry, gotta run,

    EC

  2. I ran a couple more reasons to rush this weekend, such as:

    1. You’re in the park and in starts to rain!
    2. You’re in the park and it starts getting dark and cold.
    3. You’re in the park and you really have to use the bathroom but there’s none nearby!

    Moral of the story: don’t write in parks!

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