September 15, 2017: Redefining overwhelm & spinning straw

It's true: sometimes the life of a novel writer resembles a fairytale.

Specifically: Rumpelstiltskin. When the girl is in the tower room full of straw, and everything depends on turning it all into gold by morning. ... Only, no promising away of a firstborn, and no death threats so far.

But the straw thing—that feels legit.

This week, I've been clarifying the outlines for my main protagonist and her allies, in response to the antagonist work I did last week. That sounds like fairly tidy work, but in reality, it means sifting through huge clots of ideas and possibilities and questions and rabbit trails, and finding the clear true kernel of where the next scene should go. 

As I've said before, I'm a complexifier. And pawing through the mounds of ideas and possibilities I've helpfully created earlier takes a bit of work: My brain feels smudgy and my eyes are doing that flattened look they do, but on the whole, the work is moving forward.

... Obviously, it feels more than a little daunting, but it hit me earlier this week that a lot of that dauntedness comes from my perspective, from how I'm framing it.

I was journaling about this next step of the process, about how many ideas I'd generated and how I'd need to reread them, reconsider things, discard what wasn't working, press in with better questions, polish the bits that are miraculously going in the right direction—ack, ack, ack!

I am overwhelmed, I wrote. I am so, so overwhelmed.

But as I looked at those words written out, the real solid truth of what I was saying struck me. And I got ... excited.

Because what overwhelmed REALLY means is: I am dealing with something bigger than myself.

SO much bigger than myself. 

And isn't that what we're after when it comes to novels, when it comes to books, when it comes to stories that don't let us go?

I mean,  s e r i o u s l y : my favorite novels are BIG. They are not tidy, tiny packages with all neat edges. They aren't small and meek in character or scope or conflict. 

Know what I mean? There's a reason that they refer to the universe of a book, to a storyworld.

I'm making something far bigger than myself. It's gonna feel big. 

Which means that I am doing my job. I'm making something larger than myself!! And yes, that's daunting. But it comes absolutely with the territory.

In other words: I tend to make the assumption that if I'm overwhelmed by the scope of the book, it must mean I'm doing something wrong. When I changed what I said, to: I am working on a project that is so much bigger than me, I felt weirdly buoyed up.

Yes, there is a lot to do. Yes, it's wild and unpredictable and NON-LINEAR (which always KILLS me). But that's what this story is, and that's what it means to write it.

So I'll keep on working, working big, working beyond myself... one scene-pile at a time.

Helping out in my imagination's pit crew this week: This great keynote speech from James Clear.

I know, I know, I have to watch out for being sucked into an all-habits-all-the-time obsession, but still, his talk was really good, with some great ideas to apply right away. (Like, I instantly changed the homescreen on my iPhone, so that it looks the way he describes. Relief!!) And what he says at the end, about identity, was truly brilliant, and definitely applies to all us writerly folks as well.

Also, I've been referring like mad to my notes on Libbie Hawker's awesome book on outlining, Take Off Your Pants! It is definitely helping keep me sane.