I was getting the itch to write the other day. I always get it at inconvenient times, like during exams or when my hands are not physically working or, like now, when I have three essays due in the space of a week and my shoulder is in spasm so I can’t lift my left arm or turn my head properly without severe pain. It creeps up on me and it can’t be ignored, because it takes over my thoughts to the point where unless I’m actively focusing on something else, my mind returns again and again to writing.
It struck me that I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t queried Butterfly of Night last year like I said I would.
Had I just got distracted and not got around to it, or was there some big flaw in the book I realised I need to figure out before I could query it? Was I waiting for feedback from someone? In short, did I have a valid reason? I got the most recent draft out and started reading it through, trying to figure it out — after all, if it needed major edits, surely that would be obvious.
Eventually I remembered, when I was most of the way through reading it, that I’d been intending to do a critique swap with a new critique partner in November, and then the political situation went to pot and I think we were both distracted by our despair and fear and it didn’t happen, and I didn’t get around to following up on it. I’d been holding off until that critique exchange, as I thought it might help me improve the book before querying, and since it didn’t happen, neither did the querying.
But while reading through the book I also noticed that the pacing was off and whether it’s the eight months since I wrote the draft or whether I just needed to think about it, I think I can figure out how to fix that, so I decided to work on a new draft. When I’m halfway through, I figured, I’ll email the person who offered to be my critique partner and see if they’re still interested, since they’re unlikely to be ready to read it immediately and that’ll give me time to finish it.
I started the rewrite on Thursday evening and I’m 30,000 words into it. Despite not being able to use my left arm.
I’ve found when I’m doing line edits, which is all the early chapters really need at this stage, I can rewrite at a speed of around 5,000 words an hour. That means a two-hour session in the evening (usually with a break in between the two hours) can produce 10k. Sometimes I have to use speech recognition, if it’s a bad hands day, but I can still work at a similar speed. Of course, Dragon has its irritations — do you know how hard it is to dictate a book when one of the guilds of assassins is called ‘Comma’? Really hard. But when the writing bug hits, it’s definitely better than not writing at all.
Obviously, I’ll be slower when I get to the plot issues I need to figure out, and when I have to start writing new material or drastically reworking what’s there. At the moment I’m just rewriting on a sentence level to make it flow better and sound more polished, while smoothing out a few continuity errors along the way. It’s something that can be done at high speed, so while I have that option, I’m taking it.
Writing makes me happy. I always forget that when I’m not writing, because all I remember is the days when I couldn’t for the life of me figure out a plot problem, or the constant anxiety about whether I’ll ever have a thick enough skin to be in the public eye with my writing. I always forget that I have more energy, that I’m hyper and loud, when I’ve been writing for a couple of hours. I finished that first writing session and my flatmate remarked on how different I seemed, because it’s literally transformative. My brain works a thousand times faster when I’m in the midst of a writing project than at any other time.
I’m more productive, too, or I have been over the last couple of days. While I’m often distracted and thinking about writing, it gives me a reason to get things done. Yesterday, I told myself that if I wrote my essay in the afternoon, I could write in the evening — and that turned out to be the motivation I needed. I ended up leaving the conclusion for this morning, but that was due to the shoulder spasms and tiredness rather than anything else. I was watching TV the other night, but I actually stopped so that I could go and write instead, because I wanted to do it.
Sometimes I forget the extent to which I can’t live without writing, especially when I’ve gone a couple of months without working on anything.
That’s what I find hardest about uni — that I so often have to prioritise other things over writing, because I need to save my hands and my brainpower for essays. I need writing, and when I have to push it aside for weeks on end, I find myself lacking energy and a reason to get out of bed in the mornings. I sleep more and am more anxious when I’m not working on a writing project. Writing doesn’t make my depression and anxiety go away, but it gives me something that’s more important than them, something that dominates my mind more than overwhelming feelings of crushing existential despair.
I do still write during term time — posts for this blog, book reviews, essays (of course), and articles for student newspapers like Varsity and The Cambridge Student. (At some point, I’ll write a post here with links to those, at least the ones that are online, because I haven’t done that yet.) But it’s not the same as fiction. I need the creativity and the escape that comes from getting inside a character’s head for a hundred thousand words.
My character Isabel’s head isn’t a cheerful place and the book’s not a happy one and maybe it isn’t escapism, but it’s still a chance to be someone other than myself and inhabit a different world, one where I make the rules.
So yeah, I need to prioritise uni. And I need to look after my hands and my back and all the parts of me that hurt when I’ve been writing for a while. And I’ve got a lot of deadlines right now and other things to worry about. But I’m going to keep doing 10k days for as long as I can, because it makes me feel alive. I wish I didn’t keep forgetting that.