by Orly Konig
Are you guys done laughing at the title? Not yet? Now?
Since the early months of 2018, I’ve been dealing with overcrowding in the brain-squirrel department. Revisions on what became Carousel Beach, marketing and launch of Carousel Beach, writing proposal chapters, family issues, starting a new book, summer schedule and multiple trips, a shiny new book idea, a must-try crochet pattern, the writer’s retreat I organize for Womens Fiction Writers Assn., another awesome program for WFWA, more family issues, and ohohoh a shiny new book idea.
I’m embarrassed to say that during that time, very little writing was actually happening.
Every time I sat down to write, I’d become paralyzed by the doubt-nuts the squirrels were hoarding in my head. What if the story I was working on wasn’t the right one to do next? What if that other idea was more timely?
My agent is a saint. Every email I sent with “What about this idea? Is that a better idea? Is it? Is it?” met with a calm assessment and a gentle nudge back on track.
But the story I was working on was dragging me down emotionally. A couple of writing buddies had provided feedback on early chapters, but instead of helping me settle into the story, I found myself getting pulled further away from it.
So, I started working on another idea. Sent the early chapters to my critique partners. And then started on another idea. I sent those early chapters to critique partners. Then started exploring ANOTHER story idea.
What can I say, my brain squirrels were busy stocking up for winter (or a multi-book deal … hey, can’t blame a girl for dreaming!).
Then came the email from my agent that changed things around: “ORLY, JUST WRITE THE BOOK ALREADY.” Okay, she didn’t use all caps. And I still wasn’t sure which of the story ideas was the RIGHT one.
While the squirrels made me ridiculously crazy, they also gave me a couple of gifts, assuming I was brave enough to unwrap them.
Gift 1: Story ideas
If all the story squirrels went on strike today, I’d still have four solid ideas to develop. That’s four years of writing. And I run a pretty sweet little squirrel Inn – plenty of coffee and gummy bears – so more would show up before long.
The trick is to decide which of those ideas makes the most sense to move forward with. This time, it was easy enough … I went with the one that was the most developed. Despite all the starts and stops on this book, I still believe in the characters and the story idea. I just need to reconnect with it.
All the other ideas will wait their turn. Some will sprout roots and develop into full-fledged stories, ready to be written as soon as I clear time for them. Others may become secondary themes in one of the other books or take longer to gel.
Gift 2: The realization that something wasn’t working
The need to reconnect with my writing was the giant nut that dropped on my head. The fact that I wasn’t writing more than a chapter a month had nothing to do with the story and everything to do with my head space.
It was time to put a stop to squirrel rumpus time.
I made small but significant changes:
- A notebook for each of the story ideas so that I can jot notes down without allowing the ideas or characters to invade my brain space for too long.
- Dedicated writing time and that includes closing out of everything except Word for that period of time.
- Limits on social media
- Cutting down on the outside projects I agree to take on.
But the most important realization was that I needed to trust myself.
I had to stop second guessing my decisions and just write the book. For the first time since that very first attempt at a manuscript seven years ago, I’m letting the story write itself before I let anyone look at it. Every once in a while, I get the itch to have a critique partner tell me if I’m on the right track or not. But it’s a quick itch.
For the first time in almost a year, I’m enjoying writing again.
I’m not freaking out over the individual pieces, I’m savoring the whole. I still check in with my critique buddies and they know that next month, I’ll be ready to share a revised draft. For now, though, I’m happy in my nest. The squirrels still throw nuts at me sometimes, but I’ve gotten pretty darn good at dodging them.
How do you deal with squirrel brain? What did you do when you hit a giant nut-dam on a project?
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Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm blog.
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