Somehow, the closer we get to finishing the first draft of The Stolen Songbird, the harder it becomes to keep going. My co-author and I both have full-time jobs, and the end of the fiscal year is always a stress-factory. Add to that home chores, and social groups we each take part in, and sometimes it’s hard not to pay attention to all the distractions and duct tape myself in the chair to get the word count in. I’ve had to kick myself more often to keep from justifying to myself doing things other than writing, and just sitting down and telling the story.
Is it fear of finishing? Fear of success…or failure? I’m not entirely sure. Three in the morning has become a terrifying and exhilarating time. I dream of downloading our book to my kindle or holding a copy in my hands…a dream so real I can smell the paper and ink. I toss and turn wondering if we’ll cross the finish line on time. I worry about whether we’ll have enough saved by the end of the month to get the book edited professionally, in light of unexpected plumbing expenses. I walk myself through my elevator speech so marketing to complete strangers won’t be quite so scary. I plot all the things we’ll have to do to get a table at the next big Steampunk Convention in California. The worst is when I’m really tired and can’t keep the monster under the bed from whispering in my ear ‘what if people hate it?’ or ‘what if your writing really sucks and you’re deluding yourself?’
Times like that make you want to retreat. So we do. Last post, I mentioned how wonderful Galt, California is. This weekend, my coauthor and I proved yet again what a wonderful town it is for writing. When it gets too stressful and we need to focus, we retreat to Galt to get our bearings, look at what we’ve done, what we have left to do, and hole up in the Best Western Galt Inn to write with no distractions. We usually go Friday to Sunday, and treat ourselves to a nice dinner both nights as a reward for getting the work done.
Galt is a small farming community, filled with very nice people. It’s only about twenty minutes south, but far enough away from the city that it would be inconvenient to drive back to do anything. The train tracks are close and it’s on a major freight run, which helps Vic de-stress. Did I mention she has a thing about trains? All it takes is the horn and the thumpa-thumpa in your chest when you stand close to the tracks and the cars go whooshing by, and she’s a happy camper. The world goes away and she can get back into it. She’s even picked out her house for when Songbird is a bazillion best seller and Kenneth Branagh (or Ron Howard, or Steven Spielberg… we’re not picky) films the blockbuster movie. All of the lots are right on the tracks so she’ll be able to build her house and sit on the porch and write and watch the trains go by.
For me, there’s the ninja bunnies. We drive the back roads to dinner at dusk and count them all. This weekend we had an official count of five ninja bunnies, four very long freight trains, two llamas, two naked alpacas (they’ve just been shaved and had the poodle cut going…rather amusing) and one fully furred one, and a whole lot of cows and goats. We make animal noises and laugh and be silly and take new roads just to see what’s at the end of them. Granted it sounds kind of odd, but that retreat to just go out and grab some lunch or dinner and see what we can see offers a breather to spur the creativity.
This trip we took our artist, Ian, with us, which turned out to be a wonderful decision. I’ve got two left thumbs when it comes to drawing anything other than cartoon hedgehogs or teddy bears, so seeing the work that actually goes into creating our cover and illustrations was an absolutely amazing, jaw-dropping lesson in skill and vision.
As a writer, I see what’s happening in my head, but that vision is blurry around the edges. Ian asks the questions that brings the blur into focus. What kind of shoes are they wearing? When you say the villain has a goatee, what kind is it? With or without a moustache? How tall are the characters in relation to each other? How many layers in Chloe’s opera dress? What kind of ruffles? Is Harry’s vest single or double breasted? Exactly what shade of clover green did you want for Rachel’s eyes? How many pleats would Shay’s kilt have? Those questions really made us think.
We also spent hours not talking, each in our own little space writing or drawing, munching on chocolate chip or molasses cookies and chips and drinking iced tea or milk (snacks of champions!). But we took advantage of all being in the same place at the same time to ask questions and collaborate on scenes. Ian, being a martial artist in his own right, was a great help in choreographing a plausible way that three young teens could brawl with several burly thugs without being superheroes or getting trounced. Vic came up with a wonderful scene with Shay and Rachel discussing the definition of classic literature (hint…for Rachel, it’s not the Iliad). And I discovered the perfect song to use at a critical moment. Thank you, Lewis Carroll!
All in all it was a refreshing and rejuvenating experience, and we got that much closer to the finish line. The voices of doubt and worry are muted for the time being and we can push on. So the next time the monster under the bed whispers ‘what if your writing really sucks?’ don’t be afraid to retreat. After all, it’s not really retreating, it’s advancing in a different direction.