Monday, January 14, 2013

Please Step Away from the Manuscript

I have to be pretty disciplined, as everything I do requires it. I have a poster in my classroom that reads “You can’t built a reputation on what you’re going to do.” That is sort of a philosophy I live by. I always tell my students I made good grades in college not because I was all that smart, but because I worked hard. The same goes for running. I finish marathons because I’m disciplined. Anyone who wants to complete 26.2 miles has to be, but especially me, since I’m not talented, only stubborn. I once ran twenty miles in the pouring rain. That isn’t a brag. Most people aren’t impressed. I always get very strange looks from people when I’m running in the rain. They think I’m crazy, and maybe I am. But if I had skipped that twenty miler, then I wouldn’t have been ready for the race. Of course, if you don’t take rest days, you become over-trained and never make it to the race in the first place. It's a delicate balance.

I’m fairly disciplined in my writing as well. When I’m working on a WIP, I write at least 1,000 words a day. When I start revisions, I work at least an hour after work. If it’s in the summer and I’m off work, I spend more time. Since I’ve been working on revisions under a deadline, it’s been more like four hours a day. So after teaching school all day, I’ve been coming home and editing until bedtime with only a break for dinner. That’s like a twelve-hour work day.

These are not brags, because these things are not always good.

This weekend I was nearing the end of my edits. There were a few things I still wanted to tweak, and even though I knew what and where I needed to do it, I couldn’t figure out how. The words weren’t coming. So I sat and tried to force them. I worked on four pages for over an hour, only adding a few sentences here and there. When I finally had it where I could live with it, I allowed myself to go to the movies. It was absolutely the right thing to do. I should have done it sooner.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore, as always, has a memorable quote. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Being a writer has been a dream of mine for a very long time. But somewhere in the middle of edits, I forgot to live. I became a robot: get up, run, teach school, edit, eat dinner, edit, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sometimes you have to step away and live life. How else can you write it? I knew this intellectually, but when it came down to putting it into practice, I failed. Getting out and going to the movies was the best thing I could have done, both for myself and for my writing. Stepping away gave me perspective, as well as the few sentences I still needed.

I have a tendency to get very focused, whether it’s when I’m writing, reading, or running. That’s why my word for the year is BALANCE. I have to learn how to balance life with work, so that I can live life and put truth in my words. Wearing sweats and slaving away in my writing cave is wonderful, and I love pretty much every single minute of it. But sometimes, you just have to put on pants and see the world.

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