Why Wasted Time Is Time Well Spent
Lauren Mechling shares Tips from the Industry with Book Divas!
Lauren is the coauthor of all three 10th-Grade Social Climber books as well as the author of the first book about Claire Voyante, Dream Girl, which was just released in paperback. Dream Life will be available in January 2010. She has written for the New York Times, Jane, and Seventeen. She is an editor at the Wall Street Journal and lives and writes in New York City. For more information on Lauren and Claire, go to www.laurenmechling.com.
Lauren gave us advice on overcoming blocks and getting those creative juices flowing.
Why Wasted Time is Time Well Spent
99% of being a writer is making up excuses. Writing, at least in my case, is coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t roll up my sleeves and pick up exactly where I left off in my story. How can I get anything done before I’ve updated my blog or bought my sister her birthday present online or read every book that covers the time period I’m setting my story in? All I do when I’m meant to be writing is waste time.
My first words of advice took me over ten years to come to terms with: there’s no such thing as “lost time.” It’s all a part of the package. Just as a runner needs to sleep eight hours a night, a writer has every right to insist she needs to futz around on the Internet. Because sitting in a chair in front of my computer is what eventually leads to my clicking the Word icon and writing a sentence. Which turns into a paragraph. Which might get me to the end of the page. If I’m lucky.
This brings me to another tip: you’re not always going to be lucky. Slow and steady wins the race. Of course, it’s tempting to figure out how many words you can write an hour, multiply that by ten, and determine that you are a loser if you don’t finish your 600 page novel by next month. But guess what? That kind of thinking is what makes people give up.
Low expectations can loosen you up and bring out the best results. About six months ago, my day job as a newspaper editor was becoming enormously stressful, and I was having a difficult time getting enough sleep, let alone meeting my daily commitment of writing 500 words. A fairy godmother I met—and spilled my guts to—at a party told me to try to take a deep breath and try to write 250 words a day. Which is hardly anything–an average high school English paper has twenty times as many words. And guess what? Most days I followed her advice to a T, stopping after I’d written 250 words. And there were a few days where I was having such a fun time, I didn’t feel like stopping after a couple of paragraphs. The result: I had 40 pages after a month.
If you’re one of those rare people who can’t replace her journals fast enough and find the act of sitting down and writing doable, bully for you! Still, you’re not totally out of the woods. I highly advise that you pull yourself away from your work and ask yourself questions. I never figure things out “on the page”—I’ll come to an important answer on the subway or in a crazy yoga pose (headstands are the best for these things, IMHO).
If you’re feeling stuck, here are a few questions worth figuring out:
- Where is your story headed? I find I need to know what’s going to happen, at least generally speaking, before I can have fun with the writing and wordplay.
- What kinds of obstacles is your main character up against? If the answer is “none,” I’d advise you reconsider. What do any Meg Cabot heroine, Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes all have in common (besides great hair)? They all have a mountain of crazy obstacles to contend with. Sometimes we think characters are interesting because of their attributes or back stories, but being a scion of a filthy rich vampire family or owning a stockpile of magical powers only gets you so far. If you want to win readers over, you need to show them how your characters can wiggle their way out of tricky situations.
And if you’re having no trouble writing and you think everything you’ve done is polished and adequately obstacle-laden, here’s a bonus question:
- What does your character want and what does she need? Oh, and don’t forget: These two things cannot be the same thing.
“Huh?” you say. (And that’s reasonable. I said a whole lot worse when I first learned this golden rule–it put my head in knots for days!)
The extra-special sauce to a great story is coming up with a scenario where these two things at odds with each other. Everybody has internal conflicts, and when somebody wants something different than what she needs, you’re setting up for a great journey.
If you’re still confused, here’s a couple of examples:
One: A character wants to become Princess. But she needs to come to terms with the fact that her husband doesn’t love her.
Another: He wants to make buckets of money, no matter what it takes. But he needs to stop lying to all of his investors and family members if he’s ever going to find happiness.
Or here’s one: I want to keep sharing tricks of the trade with you guys. But I need to turn off my internet connection and finish writing chapter 3 of my new secret project.
Good luck and may the force be with you! If you have any more questions, feel free to visit my blog www.laurenmechling.com/theblog and drop a line.