All writers have to learn to deal with distractions and those uneasy times when what to do next is elusive. And then there are the difficulties are triggered by emotional or health issues, where even the most focused and driven among us are derailed by subconscious distress. I know a lot of my own problems stem from lack of good sleep. Joint pain and other physical problems make it difficult for me to remain comfortable for enough hours most nights, so I get up because I can’t sleep, and not because I’ve had enough sleep. I’m in the habit of getting dressed and starting work almost immediately, but it does mean starting out a lot of days with a tired brain. Tired brains don’t like to focus.
At best, a struggle with focus means not being able to develop a scene to its best advantage. At worst, it could mean no longer knowing why you’re writing something at all. Either way, it helps to remember what the written word is all about in the first place: communicating.
One of my greatest flaws as a writer is a tendency to describe things at too great length, to catalog, or to create scenes that having nothing directly to do with the plot, subplot or character development. They’re scenes I imagine happening in the setting of my novels, things which give it–in my self-indulgent moments–flavor. It’s world-creation that isn’t reined in. I’ve learned that when I write too many such scenes, I’m probably tired, and falling back on what comes most easily.
A strong outline really helps to keep me on point, to keep the story itself moving along. But I have found that working too closely to an outline makes for a boring writing process and probably boring reading, too. It certainly makes for a very short book–all main story and no extra fun bits. I know there’s an audience for that sort of thing–but I’m not a fan. I like reading books with subplots and side forays, stories with implied meanings that are not always crystal clear by the ending, themes underneath themes. They stay with me longer.
It takes a lot of focus and awareness of one’s genre and audience to know when or when not to develop a side scene or subplot (and a lot of experience, too). I’m writing a mystery series, but I’m also writing women’s fiction. The book-to-book development of Charlotte’s personal story is just as important as the mysteries she solves.
I really wanted to have the third book done by the end of June, but of course it isn’t happening. And yes, it is in great part due to lack of good sleep and other health problems. The outline is solid, and I know where I want to take both the mystery and Charlotte’s story. But it is going more slowly than I hoped. I’m putting things into place to help it along–an early afternoon nap, being mindful of what I do and eat the night before, controlling the number of non-work distractions in the course of a week. I want this book to be as good as it can be–which means writing it with as much focus and awareness as I can humanly muster.
There’s one thing that helps me to snap out of it, as Charlotte would say: remembering that I’m not just sitting in here alone in front of my computer and typing to myself, I’m actually communicating to an audience–most of them readers of my two previous books. It really does help!