Doing It Backwards

A few weeks ago, fellow blogger Terry Persun talked about writing every day in “Creating a Discipline.” Nothing feels better than when you are “in the zone,” writing every day in such a way that your characters are talking to you. They are doing things that you didn’t anticipate, saying things that are unexpected, and you are just writing it all down.

I realized recently that I am not terribly efficient when I approach writing the next novel. At first, finding the story I want to tell is like fishing. I sink my line into the pond, feeling the story nibbling at my bait. I watch shadows moving silently through the murky waters. I know the story is down there, I just have to set the hook.


I start by “writing” every day, but it’s not really writing. I might be doing research on my setting one day, world-building the next, sketching character profiles or outlining the day after that. The process can take weeks, months even, and never in that time do I feel “in the zone.” That’s when writing every day is the hardest for me, because it doesn’t feel like I’m going anywhere.

Then at some point, I feel a tug at the end of my fishing pole and the line starts to play out. Suddenly, the story is there. I’m in the middle of it, eager to reel it in and get it safe in the boat.

When that happens, I don’t just write every day, I write every moment. I’m waking up early and writing before work. On the bus I’m pecking out sentences on my phone. On my lunch hours I’m dictating dialogue into a recorder. On weekends I wake, sit up in bed, slide my notebook computer across my lap, and start tapping keys. The need to produce is relentless.

Editing takes a little more time, but by then there have been starts and stops. Binge writing means I’ve neglected other things: house and yard work, books I wanted to read, movies I’d wanted to see, people I wanted to visit. It’s time to catch up on Life. Meanwhile the writing lurches and bumps along.  By the time I’m finished, I’m exhausted. Need a break, time to regroup, to rest the soul. To go fishing again.

Now I understand that I’ve been doing it all backwards. The hardest part, the part where I’m finding the story, that’s the time when I need to binge. Have you ever tried to push a car? That first part, the part where you are just getting it going. That’s the hardest part. But once you get it moving, the car moves easier on momentum.

Writing every day is about consistency. It’s about balance. But it’s a whole lot easier when you know the story you want to tell and your characters are simply taking you along for the ride.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.


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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.




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