Thinking IS Work

by: Debora Dale

You and your crit partner agree to a challenge – to write a specific number of words per day or week. Your RWA Chapter offers up a similar challenge and you accept. If you put it in writing that you’re “in”, you’re sure to log the minimum word count… and possibly more… each day. You have people to answer to. You have to accomplish the task.

But what if you don’t? Have you failed? Are you not working if there are no words to show for your day’s efforts?

Simply put, no.

Some of us map out a detailed plot before word one gets onto the page. The plotters among us do character profiles, questionnaires and/or collages. They outline scenes, chapters, even entire novels before they write Chapter One at the top of a page. They’re ready to go – but not until after days, weeks or even months of planning. Does that mean they’re not working because, in that time, story prose has not been created?

And what of the pantsers among us? Words spill onto their pages. But will they keep them all, or will they cut half on revision? What about the thinkers? Those of us who spend hours or days mulling over our stories, letting them simmer in the recesses of our minds. And the agonizers (read that ‘perfectionists’) who might write only one hundred words per day but will spend hours editing and revising those one hundred words until they sing.

Each of us has a different way of working. Some of us stare blindly into space. Thinking. It’s hard work – harder than most will admit. Especially those around us – like hungry family members or those without clean underwear because we haven’t the time to launder – who see that as wasting time. Little do they know we’re getting to know our characters. We’re envisioning them in specific situations. We’re hearing their voices, seeing their clothing choices, the way they move, their facial expressions. This is all very hard work.

It’s not word or page counts that matter. It’s the vitality in those words. The emotion on those pages. Sometimes all of that pours right out of us. Sometimes it has to be coaxed.

Writing is hard work. So is child rearing. Neither is quick, effortless or perfect. Each takes time, patience, trial and error. As experience fills us, the job gets easier, but it’s never simple, never without frustration.

So push yourself. Grow with your characters. Get to know them in the way that works for you. Understand that with each new story, and each set of new characters, your method might be different. That’s okay. As long as it’s all about the story. About making it come to life. If it’s not alive for you, how can it be for a cold reader? Nurture it, fluff it with love and attention. Cry when it falters, then work out a plan to get it back on track. Never give up or worry that your daily word count isn’t up to par.

Writing is hard work and sacrifice. It’s planning and working out the kinks. It doesn’t come easy. In fact, at times the work seems unworthy of our blood, sweat and tears.

So why do we do it? Well, simply put… because the hard work of writing a novel makes the results so rewarding – the same as our characters’ struggle though the black moment makes their lives happily ever after.

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