Friday, December 20, 2013

Is it research or procrastination? Bump up your word count by getting lazy

I've often had people ask me about my writing process, and I rarely give the same answer. It's not that I'm being evasive, but more that my process has changed over time and even changes day-to-day. Some days I sit down and struggle to write anything at all, and other times I sit down and bang out 10,000 words in less than 24 hours (in a hotel room over Thanksgiving shared with my husband and two young kiddos, no less).

My most successful writing days come when I can zone out and just write. I'm a world class procrastinator, and if given half the chance I will wander way from my manuscript and do just about everything under the sun other than write. So when I really need to get things done, I don't worry about researching specifics or finding the perfect word. I just channel my characters and write.

A peek at notes from my latest WIP, Finding Home.
Will I need to do more work later on those parts? Definitely. My draft for my current WIP, Finding Home, is littered with notes like __need to research terminology on how rowers talk about strokes__ and __insert fancy-sounding craft beer name here__. Sometimes I can't find the right word to flow with the sentence, and I leave myself notes like __a word that means flighty but isn't flighty__. Or I realize that I can't remember some minor character's name even though I know I introduced him at the beginning, so I might write __the dude from the coffee shop from chapter one___ instead of breaking my concentration and going back to find the name itself. It's amazing how much more productive I am when I let the smaller things go instead of following a tangent down a rabbit hole and ending up spending an hour researching the craft brewing process when all I really needed was a throwaway sentence on how microbrews are conceived.

That's not to say that I don't research. I do, like a fiend. When I wrote Island House I didn't know a catamaran from a kayak, let alone how to tie anchor bend. (Now that I've brought it up, you know you can't resist learning the knot. Go ahead, there's the wouldn't be reading about how to zone out and write productively if you could effectively avoid temptations like that one) I let myself get sidetracked by research, and as a result it took me almost three years to finish the manuscript.

I learned my lesson after that. I'm now 3/4 of the way through the follow-up to Island House, and the new outlook I've adopted on writing is definitely paying off. By giving myself permission to leave those places undeveloped so they don't interfere with the writing flow, I've taken away my excuses for procrastination and the roadblocks between me and a decent word count. Of course, there are still those inevitable days where I just can't seem to bring myself to string more than a sentence or two together. Now instead of being frustrated by them, I use them to go back and do the research I skipped and finish the scenes that I'd have gotten hung up otherwise.

This won't work for everyone, especially those of you who write linearly and need to perfect a scene before you move on. But it's a godsend for me, since if I'm not moving forward I lose interest. Or, you know, let a tiny bit of research hang me up so much that I put an almost completed manuscript on the back burner for three years before buckling down and finishing it.

A Dutch author actually hooked himself up to a gaggle of electrodes to monitor his brain function while writing. I have to say that while I'm curious about what goes on in my head while I'm writing, I don't think I'd take it that far. How about you?

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