Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The groove and the slump

I had a mad, mad week of writing last week.  I've been working on a second draft of a novel-in-progress for some time, and figured I would complete this draft around the end of my winter break, which ends in two weeks.  My pace was steady and sure, and the work pretty much what I'd hoped it would be.

Then, a week and a half ago, I fell into a groove of some kind and spent the better part of the week writing, in bed, more or less all day long.  Even when I wasn't writing, I felt as though my head was exploding.  I would bounce ideas off of Rhian, and she would volley with some more ideas, and I would go pouring them all into the manuscript (and coffee into my body) starting at five the next morning.  I wasn't getting enough sleep and drinking too much in the evening in order to achieve it.  It was a totally unsustainable state of being--I think the last time I experienced something like it was as long ago as 2002 or 2003, when I was writing my fourth novel.  The difference this time, of course, was that I knew about, and felt intensely the inevitability of, the crash to come.

I finished the draft Saturday morning and sent it out to my usual second-draft readers.  I have no idea if anything I just wrote is any good.  But man, am I in a slump now.  I did a month's worth of work in a week, and now I doubt I'll be able to do anything useful with the rest of the month I should have spent writing.

I wonder about these rhythms--if they're healthy to indulge, in the long run, or damaging to the kind of emotional equilibrium that a steady and productive writer needs for a fairly successful career.  I'm not a big believer in "inspiration"--or, rather, I doubt that it is nearly as valuable as it is generally given credit for.  Most of my best stuff, even if it was initially the product of inspiration, was only made readable through careful, calculated editing, done alone or with others' help.

At the moment, even in the depths of the slump, I can't say I really miss the intensity of last week.  Rather, I miss the sober, gradual progress of the week before that.  That's what I want back now.

11 comments:

JTL said...

I have this too. Right now, in fact. I think everyone who tries to do something like writing does. I'm in the midst of a real lull in my ability to wrap my head around the next section of my current project. I've reached that tipping point where it needs to start to slide toward the end and, well, it just ain't ready to go yet. So while I continue to parse that in the back of my mind, I've turned my attention toward the last book (as you well know) and what to do with it. I have a standing regimen of writing at least one minute a day, or 500 words, or 1000. It all depends on where my head is at that moment. If I can get myself thinking about it, even for that short period of time, I feel like I'm still moving. That's kind of what I'm doing at this moment...But as for the slump, I try to just keep going, even if it's just for a minute a day. It's maddening, depressing and I wish the stuff would just come, but even if it doesn't I feel like I have to keep going.

jrlennon said...

I think we could all cut and paste that paragraph onto our own blogs many, many times a year...

Hey, keep us posted on what happens with the previous book!

D said...

If you get into a groove like that, what's the alternative? Ration your writing time and then try to focus on something else when your head is clearly still on writing?

jrlennon said...

Maybe? I dunno. I guess there is no alternative, you just go for it. Because when will you ever feel like that again? (In my case, perhaps another 8 years.)

I can kinda see why people get addicted to drugs and alcohol.

bigscarygiraffe said...

Though I must say, that winter beard's coming in smashingly.

Sung said...

Love the Nirvana reference in that mug!

I think it's a blessing, personally. The toughest part for me is getting out that first draft, and once you have it, you can always fix it. Besides, I've always felt that I've done my best work when it just comes out in a flood.

5 Red Pandas said...

I've learned not to trust that valedictory feeling you get when you're on a writing high. I used to feel like I accomplished so much, but then when I had some distance from what I'd written in "the fever" I always realized I still had plenty of methodical work to do.

The latest example is when I couldn't sleep and decided to jot down notes for a story I've been trying to write for more than a year. I sat on my toilet lid and started writing. When I looked up I had a completed first draft and it was 2 hours later. It felt great, but then I had to go back and try to decipher my writing, along with making it actually decent. It sometimes felt like the more methodical approach would have been less work than the mad rush of words.

BTW- if only that person who wrote to "humble" you the other day knew you own that mug with that sentiment.

jrlennon said...

Feh, I'm unhumbleable, mug notwithstanding. I suppose that's my secret.

Sasha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sasha said...

The groove is sublime! Who cares if you're actually being productive? Does that even matter? That feeling is worth something in its own right.

jrlennon said...

I think you're right, Sasha...