Stress, Migraines, and Stuff You Love

As noted elsewhere—I hauled ass like nobody’s business for eight months to create a way for me to write the novel I wanted to write without having to do it to anybody’s specifications but my own.

My mad plan worked, and for the first time since I was an RN, I had a regular, reasonable income that did not depend on me writing at a hard run in order to keep us all fed.

I got started on the Dreaming the Dead—the novel of my passion—and I was having a wonderful time with it, sitting down late at night every night and getting as many words as I got before I fell asleep. No pressure, no specific deadline (a vague one in the back of my mind only), and not even any dedication to the idea of writing to a market or marketing the book when it was done. I was writing for the sheer love of writing—to spend time with characters I could not find anywhere else, to explore a fascinating problem, to uncover mysteries and wonders.

Yes, I fully intended to send it to my agent. When it was done. When I was damn good and ready.

And then…

And then…

Brief aside here: You might have noticed, if you’ve been around here or in Think Sideways, that I … ah … am not a good relaxer. I am very good at deadlines, very good at pushing hard toward goals, very good at driving myself.

Taking my time? Taking it easy? Doing things just for fun? Not my best skill. I know this about me, but I sometimes forget it. End Brief Aside.

I forgot why I had worked so hard last year and part of this one. I forgot that THIS book was supposed to be special, different, NOT the same ferocious race to the finish line, doing the absolute best I could in the absolute least time humanly possible so that I could get paid and we could eat.

I forgot. And I set what seemed like a reasonable deadline for myself. 2000 words a day, more or less.

I also forgot that my life is different now. When writing fiction was all I had, writing fiction WAS all I had. I could put the rest of the world aside for long stretches and just push for the finish line.

I wrote, I got frustrated and guilty because I wasn’t getting other things done. When I got other things done, I got frustrated and guilty because I wasn’t writing. Over the last couple of days, I got hammered by headaches, stress, and guilt, my productivity on everything dropped to miserable levels, and I started hating life. In one week. From one change: the decision to write Dreaming the Dead to a “publish it” deadline.

I sat down this morning and took stock of what I have going on that is NOT the novel—stuff I love and am thrilled to be doing and want to complete.

You can look at the mindmap I did here, or the outline version here.

The fact is, my life is full of cool and wonderful work. And writing fiction is the cool and wonderful play I had planned for the end of each day.

I need to get back to my original plan.

image_pdfDownload as PDFimage_printPrint Page

About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

14 comments… add one
  • Tori Jun 22, 2009 @ 15:31

    Holly- For some reason, whenever I try to set a certain word count for each day…I can never reach it. Am I doing something wrong? I set time aside to write, and I usually can, but I can never write as much as I planned to.

  • Holly Lisle Jun 22, 2009 @ 14:20

    Craig, no apologies necessary. I took no offense, and the suggestion was quite good.

    I’m taking a different approach to this novel just because I can—I strongly recommend working to a deadline even for writers who don’t have contracts because it clarifies the work and forces decision over the habit of endless indecisiveness to which many writers fall prey. For me, an experiment in consistent but small word counts with no particular end date set is a simple luxury bought at the price of a whole lot of work elsewhere.

  • Tori Jun 21, 2009 @ 23:55

    Holly- Taking my time with writing is fun. I’m glad you finally get to do that as well.

  • Craig A. Eddy Jun 21, 2009 @ 22:57

    Holly,

    I apologize. I never meant that you should choose a deadline that was constrictive. If I implied that, forgive me. My intent was that boundaries can be helpful. From your comment to me, and the replies you made to others following it, I believe you’ve found it.

    As an aside, 250 words: I did that recently on an 8 1/2″ page, single spaced (double space between paragraphs) with 3/4″ margins, and 12pt Arial font in OpenOffice.org. It was done in OO.o simply because it’s easier for me to do spell checking, and has a larger field of vision. I later transfered it to a text editor (GEdit), then copied and placed it in a blog. For you to say that you did 250 words in a bit over a page (and the implication is that it’s in manuscript form of double space) impresses me. You must have MUCH better eyesight than I do.

    Craig
    Tyche

  • Holly Lisle Jun 21, 2009 @ 22:40

    Craig,

    I did the deadline. It was the deadline that gave me the migraines. 😀

    I am a workhorse, and my entire writing career has been comprised of ferocious deadlines under pressure, most of them completed early to meet contractual obligations and to get paid. I did the How To Think Sideways writing course under the most brutal deadline of all, because I had to have a new lesson done every week, and some of those lessons are huge, multimedia extravaganzas, and all of them required me to rip my thought processes apart in the same week that I also started and finished the lesson. And no matter how much the lesson needed, it still had to be done that week.

    I did all of that so that I could hit a point where I could write a book at the pace the book dictated, WITHOUT being under contractual obligation. I am a tired workhorse, and I wanted, in other words, to shake the yoke.

    My pace—the pace at which writing is fun—at the moment is about 250-500 words a night. At that pace, writing is a delight, I have time to consider options, time to explore alternatives, time to play. I’ve realized that it might take me a couple of years to get the book done at this pace. I’ve also realized that it is no sin to take a couple of years to write a book if you have the opportunity to do so. I have the chance to write the best book I’ve ever written, and I’d be a fool not to take it. My personal best novel ever is my objective.

    A deadline would be…comfortable, familiar, more of the same. I’m breaking comfortable and familiar to explore strange new worlds in my own existence. I want to see writing from a different perspective, and discover what that perspective offers to my fiction.

    Maryse— I have workaholic issues. I am fighting them. It is not easy.

    Tori, Bren— I am doing a lot of things. I like doing a lot of things—and I’m enjoying the writing. So, yes, I’m exploring a new way to write a book for me. Because it’s new, I expect from time to time to slip back into old habits that were critical to my previous survival (high wordcounts, high pressure). But I expect to catch myself, and remind myself that This Book Is Different. (My new mantra.)

    Texanne, I’m learning top-down knitting. I’m eyeing a guitar course I want to take. And I’m hanging out with my guys every second I get. My version of the lake. 😀

    Leah— EXACTLY! If it isn’t fun, you might as well be working at McDonald’s. (Not my favorite of the many jobs I had, though actually, not the worst of all possible jobs, either.)

    Ieva— 😀 Yeah. My worst day is 250 words. So that’s my baseline. It’s a bit over a page. And it’s good enough. Everything over that is gravy.

  • Ieva Jun 21, 2009 @ 20:37

    Ahem. It seems that somebody needs to read the How To Think Sideways course… 😉 specifically, Lesson 7, the “figure a word count you are doing on your worst day and work from there” sentence.

    It bloody well works and it does not stall the progress – knowing that I can do 500 words with my right hand tied behind my back while the kids are crawling all over me, helps me to do it every day (while taking two days a week off, on average) and most of the time, I write more. But that doesn’t make me to change my schedule. Nothing as good as patting myself on the back when I do more, even if it’s only 100 words more.

    And you can still have a deadline. Only a more distant one.

  • Leah Jun 19, 2009 @ 23:50

    Hey Holly, nice to hear that you’re struggling with the same thing I am. I gave myself a deadline for my 25th birthday, and now I feel as though I’m pushing through and not enjoying a minute of it. I don’t have a pub date, but I thought I’d try to meet it for fun. Fun. F-U-N. With exclamation points.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Texanne Jun 19, 2009 @ 22:20

    Maybe, rather than thinking of things to cut out, you might want to add in some things:
    A day at the lake every other week
    An afternoon at the skeet range
    Rollerblading
    Gardening!
    Be sure you’re sticking to your diet & exercise & meditation foundations.

    Anyway, even in your distress you have helped me: seeing your mind map, I remembered that I have Inspiration and Curio on this computer. They can make great decision trees, something I’m needing for my plot. See? You can’t help being helpful.

    Peace to your house.

  • Bren Jun 19, 2009 @ 18:39

    In all fairness to yourself…. are you *really* ‘taking it easy’? You have eight bazillion projects running, not the least of which are the maintenance and feedback for the HTTS stuff, the Writer Crash Tests videos you put out regularly, the Writing Craft videos, all of which take time to write, produce, film and edit. Besides that you are a wife and a mom… Seriously, Holly, you are way too hard on yourself. You are human after all (unless I missed a post about you really being an android).

  • Tori Jun 19, 2009 @ 18:37

    Holly-
    Take your time. There is no need to rush a great thing. Allow yourself to write this novel, your passion, the way you dreamed of writing it. And spend time doing other things you love.

  • Jamie D. Jun 19, 2009 @ 16:49

    Maybe it’s as simple as forcing yourself to stick to a lower word count each day – sure, you *can* write 2000 words a day, but would you enjoy it more if you knew you could only write, say…600-800 words per day? Would you savor those words more? Or put a time limit on your daily writing – you can only spend an hour (or whatever) on it, then you have to put it down and go do something else.

    My point being, perhaps limitations, rather than expectations, would foster a sense of desire to get back to the work, since your time with it is limited.

    But only you know what will work for you, and I hope you can find a way to slow down and just write for sheer enjoyment again, since you’ve worked so hard to get to this point. 🙂

    Quick aside: I’m using your “Create-a-Plot” mini email course to plot my next blog serial, and…well…it’s nothing short of completely amazing. The plot is so good (well, at this point) that I had to talk myself back into using it on the blog (rather than writing for submission). Thank you so much for that – I’ll be using it a lot.

  • MarFisk Jun 19, 2009 @ 16:16

    Hugs. It’s really hard to work against your nature, but sometimes it’s worth the effort.

  • Maryse Jun 19, 2009 @ 15:05

    Hi Holly! When I read the last couples of entries of your blog, I tought “Damn, she is an INTENSE person to impose herself such a rhythm for a project that is supposed to be for the fun of writing” 😀
    I know you’re hardworking, but still… I’m glad to see you are human after all 😉 I sincerely hope you achieve your goal of writing the novel you really want while still enjoying what life has to offer.
    Living a balanced life and not beating myself with self imposed unrealistic expectations is my resolution for this year… and probably will be for all my life 😉
    Why do we do this to ourselves?

  • Craig A. Eddy Jun 19, 2009 @ 14:04

    Holly,

    Would it help to have a deadline? No, I am not a publisher – I can’t offer you a contract or any of the things a publisher could do. But . . .

    To a degree, it sounds like you have the same problem that I have. You need borders – parameters within which to work – in order to give your best. As an AutoCAD draftsman, I was never happier than when I had to meet “impossible” parameters against a deadline. It’s what gave me the most satisfaction. I think you may be the same way. You’re not feeling the pressure that you need. So make up your own.

    What do you owe your readers, your fans? Would you feel obligated to meet a deadline for them? If so, may I suggest one for you?

    Writing – finish in 7 months (25,000 words divided by 2000 words a day, divided by 20 working days a month = 6.25 months, close as I can figure).
    Revision, Edits, Cleanup – 2 months
    Total time to submission – 9 months

    Feel free to revise my estimates of your abilities. This is simply what I’ve gathered from reading this blog site. By marking such a deadline (or succession of deadlines) on you calendar and counting down the days and insisting to yourself that you meet the deadlines, you can do it. I have confidence that you can, based on the number of books you’ve put out for uncompromising publishers that want to make money from your works.

    Respectfully,
    Craig

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.