Getting faster all the time… Not!

I’ve been writing fiction for almost 25 years. You would think in all that time it would get easier and the writing would go faster. But this is how it really is:

I begin my book. Three lines in, I start to agonize. Am I starting in the right place? Is this a dramatic enough opening? No, that sounds too passive. I need action verbs.

Eventually I move on. But, is there too much backstory? Is this description immediate enough? Am I using all five senses?

A few paragraphs more. Am I showing rather than telling? Oh, there’s an extra that. And you’ve already used really. Sheesh. Caught in your usual bad habits. But moving on, is there too much backstory here? It feels like an info-dump. Maybe you need to tell the character’s story through flashback. But that could interrupt the flow of the narrative.

I struggle through a few more pages. But are my characters likeable? Are they going to be able to change and grow enough to satisfy readers? And what’s the motivation in this scene? Their goal?

I finally reach the end of the first chapter. Am I in the right viewpoint? Can the reader really envision this scene? Is it dramatic enough? I can’t end the chapter here. I need a hook to keep them reading.

It goes on. I tell myself I can fix everything in the revision stage. But more and more I find myself going backwards, rewriting the previous scene and trying make it at least tolerable. Then I start worrying, are you trying too hard? Maybe you’re turd polishing, trying to shine up what is actually unredeemable crap.

I grit my teeth and move on. Just get the story down. Let it flow organically. Remember how you used to do it when you didn’t know all that stuff?

Admittedly, it was a lot more fun in those days. My first book I wrote without a critique group or any self-censoring/editing. I felt like if I could just capture what came to me, get down on paper what my characters were feeling and doing as I watched their phantom selves act out the story on my internal screen, it would be magical. I know now that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The magic is in my head. Getting it on paper requires hard, grinding work.

And every year I learn more, and it slows me down. At exactly the time when I need to be more productive. Because to be a successful writer these days, (everyone says) you need to publish a lot of books, as quickly as possible. And here I am, writing slower than ever.

But the other thing that’s happened in the last 25 years is I have a different perspective. Some of the people dearest to me are no longer in this life. Their absence is a reminder that simply being alive is something to celebrate. And if you get too focused and obsessive, you might miss out on some of the joy.

So back to the story. Which seems to get a bit better all the time. I’m starting to like my hero. And my heroine’s not too bad either. And about all those passive verbs, don’t worry so much. You can fix them later.

Mary Gillgannon

Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library.

She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! More about Mary on her website.

9 thoughts on “Getting faster all the time… Not!

  1. Mary, your beginnings are magical. Stop obsessing. 🙂 I *did* enjoy this post, though, because misery loves company. My first pages devastate me most of the time. With my work in progress, I *love* my first pages, though, so now I’m worrying about those pages. LOL

    • Aww, thank you, Janet. I don’t think I can entirely stop obsessing. I’ve also begun to wonder if writing more slowly isn’t a good thing in some ways because that way I don’t force the story and it comes together better. Maybe I just need to be less impatient.

  2. I try to anticipate the big changes my editor is going to want. My last book was accepted without major rewrites. This may be a once in a lifetime event. I’m celebrating!
    Great post. Good luck.

    • That’s wonderful, Sandra. Something to celebrate. And who knows, maybe you’re just getting better and that’s why there were no rewrites. We can always hope!

  3. Mary, I didn’t know you’re a mind reader!. And here I sit agonizing, all alone I thought. But please know that it’s an amazing comfort to realize that I’m in comapny with a writer I respect so much.

  4. When I write these posts, I usually find out that there are lots of writers who feel the way I do. It helps is complain to each other and share the struggle, don’t you think?

  5. Mary, that’s what I love about RMFW and its members — I never feel alone. I agree with what you said about the more we learn, the more it slows us down. I think too much while I’m writing.

  6. I wish I could write faster (and better) but I find I’m easily distracted, especially lately. I’ll use any excuse not to write, which makes no sense because it really is what I want to do. Glad I’m not the only one who has issues.

  7. My editor has told me that the first three chapters are the most difficult for her. They’re also the chapters that are the hardest to write. Once I get them down, and she shreds them, it’s smooth sailing from then on.

    I have just accepted that I will pull my own teeth at the beginning, and then it will all be better, LOL! It’s good to know that I’m not alone in this.

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