First, you should know that I’m extremely easy going in almost every way. I’m not a picky eater, I’m happy with whatever temperature you like on the thermostat, and I enjoy movies for what they are. (If it’s a smart movie, I enjoy its smartness. If it’s Sharknado, I switch off my cerebrum and just enjoy the airborne sharks).
But in my current stage of writing, I obsess over every little detail. I fuss over miniscule plot points and little character traits. I’ve even been known to spend 20 minutes deliberating about the perfect punctuation to deliver a joke or accelerate the action. Sometimes, I’ll sketch a diagram of a gizmo that my characters have invented, just so I can understand what it looks like or how someone would interface with the control panel. Go ahead: call me crazy. I’m used to it.
Thing is, this is only one phase of writing. I’m not always like this, only when I shift the mental gears into “nitty gritty.” Right now, I’m in the final stages of revising The Non-Zombie Apocalypse (the long-awaited sequel to Mad Science Institute), and hence my attention is directed to the microscopic. My editor, the very talented and patient Jane Kenealy, courageously returned after editing my first book to help me trim almost 5,000 unnecessary words from the new manuscript—words I can now save for later books and short stories (combating the “info dump” is a topic for another post). I obsess about her edits, too, as I wonder how little changes might shift the balance of character, suspense, humor, and pacing.
If I had the opportunity, I might be pleased to work strictly on big picture stuff—plot, character, and world. But that’s a different phase. Right now, if I have a big idea, I need to jot it down in a notebook and get back to the main project or else I’ll never finish anything. On the other hand, when I’m in the “big picture” phase, spending time spell-checking and grammar-policing scares off my ideas before they can get safely to the keyboard.
Stephen Wallenfel’s prescriptions for writer’s block got me thinking about why I don’t seem to suffer from blocks. I have certainly experienced writer’s block in the past, but it’s been a decade since it’s afflicted me. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe I don’t have enough time to write so the ideas build up inside of me until I get the chance to blast them out onto a page. Or maybe it’s because what some people consider writer’s block is what I consider to be a distinct and important phase of writing. To the outside world I might look like I’m staring off into space, but really my brain is on fire with plans and possibilities.
I have a question for all you other writers, amateur and pros alike: do you find your writing has distinct phases? Do you have the luxury of working on a project one phase at a time, or do you need/prefer to mix up detail work with big-picture work?