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Monday, August 12, 2013

Hung Up on the Small Stuff

by  Monette Michaels 

Have you ever started writing a book and then couldn't move forward because you got stuck on details in your world?  This isn't a sagging middles problem or hitting a wall issue since both of those tend to be something wrong with your plot. This is more of a world-building-creating-stasis type of problem. 
I know several aspiring authors who do this. They are good writers with creative minds and decent plots, but can't finish a novel or even a novella. I can't tell you how many partials B good partials B I've critiqued from authors like this. I tell them "finish the damn book and then worry about the little things later," but many of them can't seem to get past the details. 
My diagnosis: They have a form of world-builder's disease B micro-managementitis. It's symptoms are amnesia B the author has forgotten she is primarily a story teller B and paralysis B the author has become stuck on the small stuff. Micro-managementitis is a common side effect of the major world-building disease, The Dreaded Info Dumpitis, in which an author wants to put all her research into her story.

And it's not just paranormal/fantasy/science fiction authors who contract this debilitating and story-sabotaging disease.  Face it, all authors build worlds. Whether you write paranormal, science fiction, urban fantasy, historical, contemporary, or romance in all its subgenres, you are creating a world B and you want your novel's world to ring true, be consistent, and set a mood or backdrop for the plot. 

Ahh, plot B you know what that is B it's the whole reason you are writing the book to begin with B you are telling a story. In order to do so, you need a beginning, a middle, and an end and interesting characters with goals, motivations, and conflicts. And until you have those crucial elements, you do not have a story.  Everything else, including world building, is merely backdrop.

To cut to the chase, you can spend three years, five years, heck, twenty years, sweating the details and finally get one book done, OR, you can force yourself to see the big picture, write a complete first draft in less than six months, and then go back and sweat the details. Which author do you want to be? 

I will now admit that I am a card‑carrying member of the 12‑Step Program for Micro-managementitis. I, too, used to get hung up on the small stuff, BUT I have found a way that helped me get a book done. And it can easily be done with one simple step.

To avoid getting hung up on the small stuff, as I write, I put NOTES in brackets and highlight them in yellow within the manuscript where I know I need details that either I haven't thought out yet or have no research on and know I need to research it (such as gun types or time/distance between Chicago and DC, or whatever). Then I can continue to write "knowing" I will fix those things on the next draft. 

Anyone reading my first draft would get a good laugh at all my notes B no one sees that draft but me, EVER.
On the second, third draft, up to how ever many I need, I will go back and add layers of detail B I call it "texturizing" my story B or you can call it world building. 

Adding the micro details to the macro world on subsequent drafts allows me to lovingly craft my world at my leisure once the story is completed. At that point, I can go back and do the fun stuff by adding layers and nuances that will make my story richer.

Acknowledging through my use of notes that I need to add a detail, such as figuring out a propulsion system for my space ship, is a big relief.  I am telling my brain:  "It's okay B you'll fix it on the next draft B keep writing." 

In other words, I have given myself permission to finish the damn book. My A‑type brain accepts that permission and I keep writing. This method is similar to a "to‑do" list. I am a big fan of lists and love to check things off. My Anote@ method fills that organizational need in me and gives me the peace of mind that I won't overlook essential details.

Eventually you might not even need to make notes in the manuscript. I've found over the years, I don't need the crutch of a NOTE in the stream of text any longer. I've trained myself to see the big picture. I unconsciously recognize I can fix the details in the next draft. With several established series to my credit, I now have my series notebooks with world details created in previous books which I can use as I write a new story. This also helps a bunch to alleviate getting hung up on small details.   

By the way, when I say make reminder notes in the stream of text as I write, I don't mean use Track Changes. In my head, Track Changes is strictly for final editing with my publisher. In fact, I write in Word Perfect so I won't even think of using Track Changes during a draft (plus Word Perfect has Reveal Codes which I love and adore and am addicted to).

Sounds too easy, doesn't it? But this simple method is how I conquered getting hung up on the small stuff while writing. Obviously, it has worked for me since I have a bunch of books B long books B out there. Maybe it will work for you.

Monette Draper Bio:
I write as Monette Michaels and Rae Morgan. Published since the late 1990s, I currently am published with Liquid Silver Books where my Security Specialists International series (Eye of the Storm and Cold Day in Hell) and Prime Chronicles books (Prime Obsession and Prime Selection) are top sellers.

As Rae Morgan, I write the Coven of the Wolf Series ( Destiny’s Magick,  Moon Magick, Treading the Labyrinth, and a novella “No Secrets,” in Zodiac Elements: Water) and various other single titles.

For the first years of Liquid Silver Books, I was the Acquisitions Editor and also edited books. I am currently a Senior Editor emeritus, and do still read and edit for the main lines of LSB, as needed.


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Nancy Lee Badger said...

I did get out from a hang-up during the writing of my last book. I wrote the beginning few chapters, then jumped and wrote the ending. Filling in the minute was easy!

E.S. said...

Good topic - and I know I'm one of the people M is referring to here. ;) I've left comments for myself sometimes in Word to force myself to avoid sweating the small stuff. I usually use track changes. Unfortunately, my biggest cause of sweating the small stuff is newly learned self-doubt, which I did not have for most of the time I've been writing. This slows down my writing when it happens because I start fretting over things and then fretting over what is best to do. My writing is usually more or less clean the first time I put it down, but the self-editing the self-doubt leads to can be stifling. So I've recently had to unlearn the self-doubt by forcing myself to get past the small stuff and leave it alone. But it IS always possible. So please, go forth and write, everyone - and work past the tendency to sweat over the small stuff. :) It will be worth it in the end.