Writing Under Pressure

Cooking Under Pressure (20th Anniversary Edition)So the new novel continues to go well (another 1,000 words under my belt this AM), but I wanted to post about a feeling I’d had when I started writing again over the winter break. Since I’d found out about my book deal, I’d been busy with many different things, but none of them was new material. I’d done revisions, plotting, looking at old stuff I’d written, more plotting–all writing-related, but nothing new. There’s a big difference in new stuff and everything else, at least to me. It’s sort of like the difference between blazing a new trail through the wilderness and driving down the road to visit another town. The first is full of adventure and who knows what. It’s kind of dangerous and thrilling. You don’t know what you might find next. That’s the good part. The bad part is that you don’t know what you might find next. Maybe you’re making great progress, only to suddenly find an enormous ravine between you and where you want to go. You try going down it, but it proves too steep, and you end up having to do some serious backtracking before the journey resumes. Sometimes it’s traumatic, often you want to pull out your hair in frustration, but it’s always an adventure.

Revision–driving down the road to another town–is a different beast. The path is much smoother. Sometimes you take a wrong turn and have to reroute yourself, but there are rarely huge obstacles that pop up in your path. You’re basically trying to find the best way to get to that town. The drive that’s the fastest, the prettiest, the most pleasant and enjoyable. You’re smoothing the road. It’s work, but of a different sort.

So anyway, with Vodnik on its way toward publication, I now had the chance to stop doing the driving and start doing the rugged exploration again. The thing was, I discovered that doing that exploration had become a lot more difficult.

I was afraid.

(I’m now letting the exploration metaphor die a quiet death.) I’d first been afraid back in my beginning writing class in college (a class that was taught by Dave Wolverton and had Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells in it, by the way.) I was so worried that what I was writing wasn’t going to be any good, that I had to force myself to write at all. Over the years, I got over that fear. Now, it was different. Vodnik had done well enough to get the interest of an editor and agent. But by that point in my writing, I had started to say to myself that what I was doing was for me and me alone. If I didn’t sell a book, it didn’t matter–it was the act of writing that I enjoyed. That’s the excuse I could give myself, at least. But writing, knowing that what I was writing would go to my agent when I was finished, and then potentially go to an editor and on to publication . . . there was suddenly more stress involved.

The closest thing I can compare it to was when I was in district orchestra in high school. I’d had to try out to get in (note to kids–if you play the bassoon, it doesn’t really matter how bad you play in your audition. They need the instrument in the orchestra, and if there are only two who audition and they need two bassoons . . . you do the math). Anyway, my audition had been terrible. I was so worried about doing poorly, that I messed up. A lot. But once I was in the orchestra, practicing was fine. No nerves at all. It was fun.

Then I had to perform for the concert.

The nerves came back with a vengeance. The first chair bassoon (Brittnay Lineberry, my music teacher’s daughter) told me something that’s stuck with me since: it’s okay to be nervous during the audition. What you do can affect you then. The nerves are bad, but they’re understandable. Once you’re performing, though, it’s your time to set nerves behind you and show what you can do. You proved you could get where you were–now do what you can do best. (Note to Brittnay: when the only reason someone got into the orchestra in the first place was because there was no other competition, this advice doesn’t quite work as well, which might be why I played a wrong random note–loudly–in the middle of that flute solo.)

Anyway–I’m not letting the pressure get to me. My experience in writing is that when you think things are going bad, just keep writing. You get through it, no matter what. It’s been the case before, it was the case this time, and it’ll be the case again. I just thought it was interesting that once things were going really well for my writing, I found out I still could get pretty darn nervous about writing new material.

Anyone else have that happen to them?

*Note–the book is a cookbook I got Denisa for Christmas to go along with her new pressure cooker. I’ll have to do a post on the wonders of pressure cookers sometime soon. Happy happy happy with it. Think slow cooker on steroids. Illegal steroids. Anyway–very good cookbook, should you be looking for pressure cooker recipes.

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