Do One Thing Well

I have vanished from the blogosphere…and twitter is all but abandoned as well. Even emails are backed up so badly, it will take days to unknot and answer them all.

That’s alright, though. Why? Because I had an epiphany recently thanks to a little old TV show I adore: Parks and Recreation.

But allow me to back up a bit. Back in July, when the book released, I was spending the little free time I had to write a novella with an October deadline. Most of my daily schedule was focused on promotional stuff–giveaways, interviews, guest posts, setting up events, reaching out to indie book stores, etc. I was also trying to blog. And tweet. And do all these things expected of an author (things I clump under “administrative stuff”).

Needless to say, my blog suffered (sporadic posting, at best) and my novella-drafting really suffered.

Then August rolled around and my October deadline suddenly looked a lot sooner–especially since I knew I’d be travelling and touring for 3 weeks at the end of the month.

I threw myself into the novella…sort of. The thing was, I realized what I had written before my release date (the irregular, half-assed writing) was bad. So I threw it out, started over, and devoted half of each sunny August day to drafting the novella once more. The second half of my day was still focused on promotional stuff ranging from more bookstore/school/library outreach to interviews to emails.

Then the end of August arrived. I had 60 pages written in  the novella–not as much as I wanted because none of the words would flow. Every scene was a trial to get onto the page.

Worse, there was a churning in my gut as I jetsetted off to Chicago. My instincts were telling me that despite being within ~40 pages of the novella’s end, it wasn’t going to work. Writing the scenes should NOT have been as hard as it was. Something BIG and CRITICAL was wrong with the story. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t figure out why the story wasn’t working.

So I mentioned (with burning shame) to my beautiful agent that I might need more time on the novella, and she said she’d see what she could (because she’s the best agent in the entire universe). And then I went off for my 3 weeks of touring and event-ing. It was fabulous, but there was this constant sickening fear that lived in my stomach–this fear that I wouldn’t be able to figure out why the current novella draft wasn’t sitting right. This fear that what I’d written was unsalvageable. A fear that I would never get the novella right.

I came home after my trip, exhausted from events. Truly: there is NOTHING more draining for an introvert like me than an evening of signing books and chatting. I adore it–don’t get me wrong. Meeting readers is the most rewarding part of this entire writing life, but the truth is that it takes days of decompression after an event before I finally feel like my loner self again.

I needed a break, but I couldn’t have a break because emails and blog posts and a DEADLINE were calling my name…

And then I watched an episode of Parks and Recreation with my husband, and I literally had an epiphany. In season 4, episode 16, Leslie Knope is trying to maintain her full-time Parks Director job while also manage the full-time job of running for city council. Unfortunately, both jobs are suffering, so her boss, the notorious Ron Swanson tells her:

“Never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing.”

And it clicked: I was definitely half-assing my writing. I was only devoting part of my creative self to it–the other half of me (or maybe even a full 3/4 of me) was focused on all the administrative and promotional aspects of the my job. This was a problem I never had back when I wrote for the sheer joy of writing–back when I could hammer out 25+ pages in a day like it was no biggie.

But possibly worse, I was losing track of emails (wait–did I ever answer XYZ from 3 weeks ago?). I was forgetting to turn in guest posts/interviews. Forgetting to mail off thank you notes to the bookstores/libraries kind enough to host me. Forgetting what I had forgotten…

Half-ass was not working for me. I am not the kind of person who can multitask. Nor am I the kind of person who can get organized and stay organized (I keep trying; I keep failing). But, I thought, what if I stop trying to juggle multiple plates and I just throw myself wholeheartedly into ONE task at a time…?

So I tried it. I unplugged my router, moved all my giveaway envelopes and unsent thank you notes to a box, and I sat down with my novella. I read the 60 pages I’d written. They weren’t bad–in fact, they were decent-ish. But they weren’t decent-ish enough. Nowhere in these 60 pages was the story I was trying to tell. Mechanically, everything worked. But on a gut level, it was all crap.

I spent a day deconstructing what I’d written, trying out new scene combinations, removing plot threads, adding characters–EVERYTHING. I spent an entire day working through the novella and trying to find the instinctual CLICK I used to get when I wrote. I didn’t feel guilty about ignored emails or not taking another trip to the post office. I didn’t feel guilty about not writing a blog or answering tweets.

I just immersed myself into the story…

And then it hit. At about 6 o’clock that night, the story just EXPLODED before my eyes. I was using first person when it definitely needed to be third. I had too many characters. There was too much time passage for only 100 pages of story, and this villain subplot just couldn’t be there. The reality was that of the 60 pages I’d written, absolutely none of it was right. But now I knew what WAS right, so the next morning I opened up a fresh new document…

…and I wrote 7,700 words. The next day showed another 6,000. The third day ended with 7,800 words and the words: THE END. I had reached the end of a first draft in 3 days. I was  high off the adrenaline of finishing, but I was also filled with a happy buzz in my gut because I knew that I had finally found the story I wanted to tell all along.

I started revising on Friday. I am still revising, and as I pick apart what I wrote, I feel the story get stronger. The new first draft sure ain’t perfect, but it is RIGHT. And each little layer I paint in makes it more and more true to what Daniel and the Spirit-Hunters really are.

I am 100% whole-assing this novella right now. I might even be able to meet my original deadline–or at least not miss it by too much. My whole mind and soul are in this story right now, and it’s an intoxicating feeling, guys.

The purpose of this blog is just to explain where I’ve been…and where I’ll be for the next few weeks. I have yet to deal with non-priority emails (i.e. an email from which someone will die if I don’t answer). I have all but vanished from twitter and Facebook.

But I refuse to feel guilty for this. At the end of the day, wouldn’t the online community rather have me 100% instead of a few half-assed attempts at being present? I think so.

I’ll return once the novella is turned in. Once the first pass pages for A Darkness Strange and Lovely are finished (can you believe they’re already HERE?!). Once I’ve dealt with the most important part of my writing career–my writing–and I’ve dealt with it to the best of my whole-assed abilities.

Thanks for being patient and understanding–assuming you are, of course. 😉

You tell me: Do you ever find your work suffers from multitasking? Are you an organized person who CAN multitask and whole-ass it all? Or…are you like me?