The other night I spent about two and a half hours writing. I felt like I was on a roll. My fingers just kept moving, my mind was buzzing, I was on fire. As the clock kept ticking away, I kept thinking, “I really need to go to sleep. My boys will be up in seven – make that six and a half – hours. Now six hours. I really ought to be going to sleep.” But I was really moving, and I didn’t want to lose the spirit.
When I woke up in the morning, groggy from not quite enough sleep and getting woken up by my kids, I started a pot of coffee and mused on what I’d accomplished last night. As I thought about what I had written, a disquiet grew within my bowels (um, that’s figurative, not a result of the coffee…). Uncertainty filled my mind about whether or not I should be so proud. When I got a chance, I went to my computer and opened the file.
Ten minutes of reading later, I found myself sighing in frustration. Turns of phrases that seemed so brilliant the night before sounded trite and inane. Clever twists in the story I had thought up spur of the moment just seemed jarringly out of place. It was crap.
I sacrificed sleep for this?
I almost just deleted the lot of it, but there’s an old principle I’ve held onto that says I should never erase anything, because maybe some day I’ll be able to mine it for some hidden gems I didn’t realize were there at first. But I didn’t like it. “What a waste of time,” I muttered as I closed the file.
Later in the day, something came to mind. In terms of progress toward completing my story, sure, it may have been fairly unproductive. But maybe it wasn’t really such a waste of time as all that. I had learned some things:
- Just because I’m writing quickly and my manuscript is growing at three pages an hour does not mean “on a roll”, “on fire”, or “on anything”, other than a high from my own ego. Sometimes speedy writing does not equal efficient writing or efficient use of time. Maybe it’s okay to go a little slower if it means more of the original draft is going to survive the editing process.
- Stream of consciousness writing, the kind of writing that allowed me to go so fast for so long, may be useful at certain times if you have no idea where your story is going and you just want to get started. It doesn’t, however, serve as a useful substitute for crafting a plan for a story and following that plan. Every successful writer I’ve read who’s written about writing writes that writing needs to be written according to a written plan. A master plot, an outline, a synopsis even… these are important elements to the process.
- Late night writing used to seem best, back when I was a teenager and it was the time of day I felt most alive. But now that I’m a little older, and I have children that wake me early in the morning, late night is when my brain starts to shut down. While there may be theorists who will tell you that when your conscious mind is disengaged that’s when you’re most creative, I just don’t know that it holds water. If writing successfully is hard work, it’s probably best carried out when your mind is operating at its fullest potential.
- Since that evening, I have been trying to catch up on sleep, and the good times for writing in my day (when the kids are napping, right after they’ve gone to bed, etc.) have been mostly spent trying to recover some energy, and I’ve gotten little to no writing done. The sacrifice of sleep might not have been worth it even if I had decided that the stuff I put down was good, because it’s hampered my writing since then. You need to take care of yourself and make sure you have the rest you need, even if it means halting the process of writing when you feel like you’re in the spirit. If it’s good stuff, it’ll probably stick in your mind and you’ll be able to get it down another time.