Figuring it Out as You Go

Figuring it out. I envy those people that plot and plan and use a date book religiously. Alas, I am not one of them. Every year in January I buy a day planner and vow to write things down and have a handle on dates and deadlines. I plow through, marking haircut appointments, doctor visits, and social media posts to put up. Sometimes in pen, even.

About March I forget to flip through the planner. I found I’m much more comfortable with technology. I set up Google Calendar to nag me about things. More than once. I think that if it comes in on email, it’s real and important. Ditto text messages. For some reason that felt … wrong. I’m a writer, I should be firmly wedded to paper and pen. Once I cast that mindset aside it became easier to get through the day/week/month. 

Computers are orderly. But even with nag reminders, I tend to worry. The same applies to writing. I do a loose plot outline, maybe 30,000 words of backstory, and barrel ahead, knowing my brain will drop chunks in as needed. I also don’t mind going back and rewriting, filling things in, smoothing things out. The process is soothing. Meditative almost. I figure it out as I go. 

You’re Doing it Wrong

According to lots of writing books that’s wrong. I should plot a book out meticulously and then adhere to the outline. I’ve tried that. According to my brain, it’s also wrong. My brain is wired somewhat differently, as blank pages in the day planners attest. I function from a different place, a place of neurodivergence. Wanting perfection and having to learn it’s mostly unobtainable.

My brain fights itself. (I obviously can non-perfect on the first draft, though. Curious.) But it’s really not the rules, it’s the anxiety over figuring out if I’m following the rules exactly. I like rules when it applies to certain things. Like submitting. I want consistency. I also want a purple unicorn. (Who doesn’t?)

Take querying, for example. I’ve started querying with my newest fantasy novel. The diversity of methods to query is overwhelming. What’s worse is everyone wants something different, from the number of pages to submit to whether to also submit a one-sentence blurb, a one-paragraph blurb, or just a summary. Or all of it. Comp books, bio (How long? About me or my writing? Both? Neurodivergence fueling my writing? etc.

I figure it out as I go but not without a lot of stress. “Submit a synopsis.” Easy, right? Not for my perfectionist brain. How long? 500 words, is 537 words okay? 1000 words, one page, two pages? If a sentence runs onto page three, am I doomed? In what format do I put everything? Single spaced, spaces between paragraphs or indents? I go research—and get conflicting answers. Depends. There is no right way to do this, I found out. Only wrong ways. So. Many. Wrong. Ways. If I don’t do something exactly right will it wreck my chances? My brain says yes, and is firm about it. Stupid brain.

Figuring it Out Piece by Piece

It may seem like small stuff but it looms larger and larger. I close out and run away until I feel ready to start over. I want to know the exact parameters of the box, and that isn’t an option. Figuring it out as I go from site to site is exhausting. This is where the stubborn side comes in. I will not be defeated by my overthinking brain. It’s also where the calendars come in.

In order to beat my own thought process, I assign myself a day to submit. I target the agent, study the parameters, and figure it out as I go. Copy it down. Refer back to it a million times. One section at a time. I can do that, oddly functioning brain or not. One down, I schedule a time to do it again, recovery time in between, and make a folder full of the snippets of things I need so I don’t reinvent the wheel. (I love reinventing the wheel. This new wheel might be better than all other wheels ever made.)

Slow, but it’s what works. I grew confident enough to do multiple submissions on the same day.  There’s drinking copious amounts of coffee to calm my anxious brain and jump-start productivity. I corral the OCD tendencies and promise them chocolate when it’s all through. The Brain draws pictures of unicorns on the blank pages of my day planner. I quit asking myself, What’s the worst that can happen? Kick All or Nothing to the curb. I gently urge perfectionism to the side and give it a Corgi puppy. I’ve made peace with Figuring It All Out As I Go. At least for now.

Some of My Similar Essays:

My WIPs Get an Intervention

Sometimes You Just Need to Get Out of Your Own Way

Finished and Starting Again

Staying Afloat in a Writing Ocean

Some Links for the Essay:

Not Perfect, But Good Enough

Five Sneaky Ways Perfectionism Sabotages Your Writing

Writing When on the Spectrum

How We [Actually] Write

Book Review – Project Hail Mary

A kinda-sorta Book Review of Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

I’m not as big a fan of Sci-Fi as I am of Fantasy novels but sometimes one drags me in and won’t let go. I loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. I was ecstatic when they made it into a movie with Matt Damon. He was the perfect Mark Watney. I’ve read the book 3 times, unusual for me. I seldom reread a book or series. My exceptions are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dune, and the Recluse Saga by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. The Recluse series are the books that put me firmly into the Fantasy camp. A lot of character development, which is what I really love. And now The Martian, which made me fall in love with Sci-Fi again. 

With The Martian, I was rooting for Mark Watney all the way, something that seldom happens for me with a book. Maybe I’m overly critical with other books, but the character development in The Martian was wonderful. The humor in it was an added attraction that I think they got right in the movie, a self-deprecating character who is not going to let his situation get him down. I picked up Andy Weir’s next book, Artemis. I enjoyed it and its female protagonist. It was a different story, set on a colonized moon. I was fascinated by the science in it, as I was with The Martian. The science explanations in both books were just right for a non-scientist science buff and pushed me to look up things and find out more. A bonus! 

Shiny Object

When I heard Andy had a new book coming out, Project Hail Mary, I was all over it. This is the Amazon Blurb for it. 

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone. Or does he?

Project Hail Mary is one of those rare books that sucked me in and I had to read ‘just one more chapter’. Outer Space and science and survival and astronomy. The perfect mix. There is a twist a third of the way through I didn’t see coming, and a twist at the end I didn’t know I wanted until I read it. No spoilers here. I’m not giving anything away because it’s one of those books you have to jump in blind to fully appreciate. The book has humor and pathos, and a hopeful outlook. I can say without reservations I liked this better than The Martian. Something I didn’t think was possible. 

On My Wishlist

This has to be a movie. With today’s special effects it could be outstanding. Bring back Matt Damon to play Ryland Grace. He’d be perfect. They could do what they did in The Martian and cut out some of the admittedly excessive engineering problems – although they appealed to my inner science nerd. Anytime you can enjoy a novel and learn something at the same time is a positive for me. I know I haven’t ‘reviewed’ the novel but there is no way to talk about the fantastic bits without spoiling them. If you’re the least bit interested in Sci-Fi and the future of mankind, this is the book for you. If you’re uncertain, wait for the movie. Because I can’t see this not being a kick-ass movie. Now I’m off to read Project Hail Mary for the third time. It’s that good. 

Mentioned Books

Project Hail Mary

The Saga of Recluse (21 books)

The Lord of the Rings


Other Essays on Reading

The Kindle Dilemma

Genre Reading and Writing: Arithmetic Free

Reading: An Opinionated Overview

More Lessons from Printmaking

Just when I think I’ve got printmaking (and writing) figured out, I get a curveball. I usually do Relief printmaking but decided to try something new, drypoint etching. Instead of using linoleum block or wood to carve out a design and print it, drypoint is an intaglio method. This means you etch your drawing into the plate, the lines create a burr that holds ink, you wipe the ink off the plate, (it stays in the grooves) then print with damp paper over the plate, in an etching press which squeezes the paper into the lines and picks up the ink to reveal your etched drawing.

Printmaking makes me think. Usually about writing.

If you look at the Jackrabbit at the top of the page, he’s a test print. (Color on the photo doesn’t do him justice.) I got the drypoint image I want. I like him. But as I look closer, I see I wiped the ink away a little too hard in the grass. It’s barely there. I also would like more tone on the rabbit himself. Again, I wiped away too much ink. A shadow of ink here and there, soft wiped, would give the image more depth. It’s fuzzier than I want. So I have more work to do on Mr. Jackrabbit.

The Lemon print below was also a test run. I usually don’t do still life. But I wanted a test print to learn how to get better areas of tone, and use different plastic material. The spot under the lemon was made by using sandpaper to scratch the plate. I like the tone. Crosshatching made the leaf darker. I don’t like the glaring white spot on the cut lemon, so I’ll likely scratch some lines in there to break it up. The backside of the whole lemon is a tad fuzzy. A little less damp paper.

Printmaking Dry Point

A world of difference from how I learned. Etching in college consisted of copper or zinc plates, which you covered with an acid-resistant ground on front and back, (usually varnish) and then you drew into the ground down to the metal with an etching needle. After that was the dangerous part. The not-so-healthy part. Suffering for art is a thing.

You drop your metal plate in an acid bath—could be ferric chloride solution and some citric acid powder and water—then you let it sit in the solution until the acid ate away at the scratches you made in the plate. Depth of scratches equals time in acid bath.

Acid bath. I shudder now to think of being around toxic substances in a hopefully ventilated area with gloves and goggles and apron and trying not to splash and end up in the ER… The nice thing about the drypoint prints I’m doing now is it’s done on a thin Plexiglas plate. Just like the ones that come in picture frames now instead of glass. It’s light, it scratches easily, and you can go back and make darker areas if need be after a test print. Etch your design, dust off, ink, and print. How easy is that? No standing over a bubbling cauldron of acid bath like some demented sorcerer.

Of course, a new method has its own drawbacks. I have to learn how damp is damp enough for the paper. Too dry and the ink won’t transfer. Too wet and the image is fuzzy. Ink consistency. Relief printing is done on dry paper. I like that. For every drypoint image I pull I like there may be a couple of duds. Things are coming along. Overall, I’m pleased with my test prints. I tried something new, succeeded and failed, and encouraged myself enough to continue.

Just like writing.

It gets better with practice, but it also gets better when you get rid of the acid baths in your writing life. Toxic people, negativity from others or self, reading too many how-to books, and becoming immobilized by too many options. It took me a long time to figure out I like my printmaking method. Take the parts that work, explore options, then discard what doesn’t work for you. Do what interests you. Please yourself first.

Use drafts as fine-tuning to see if it needs more something. Or that something needs to be wiped away. The best process is your process. Confidence comes just like in printmaking, trial, and error. No one has to know your edition of 10 prints was supposed to be an edition of 20. Forward motion, no matter how small, is always assurance you can do it. Who doesn’t need more of that?

Drypoint Tools:

.04 mm Plexiglas plate for Jackrabbit

Cut down plastic top of salad container for Lemon.

Twisted etching needle

Caligo Safewash Etching Ink, Burnt Umber

Stonehenge printmaking paper

Etching press

Stray cat hair courtesy of Lorenzo

Links to Printmaking Explanations

Drypoint Printmaking

Tate Museum Drypoint and Intaglio

Intaglio Explained

What is Relief Printmaking

Links to My Other Posts on Different Creative Processes

Using Weaving for Bursts of Writing Creativity

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

The Renaissance Woman Today

What I Learned From Editing

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear. — Patricia Fuller 

What have I learned from editing both a novel and poetry? They aren’t as far apart as I thought. I learn from editing poetry how to make novel sentences more succinct and to punch up the imagery. From editing novels I learn to look at the big picture of a poem and how to decide whether to cut or expand to enhance meaning. 

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. 
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Poetry editing may take two, twelve, or twenty passes. (At least for me) The novel can take 100. They need what they need, but poetry tends toward more instant gratification. Editing a novel can make despair set in. Will this furshlugginer thing ever be done? As with poetry, eventually, you have to abandon your work and declare it done. Continual editing is counterproductive. That way lies madness. 

The writing itself is no big deal. The editing, and even more than that, the self-doubt, is excruciatingly impossible. 
— Jonathan Safran Foer

I like editing, smoothing out the big, glorious mess that’s a novel, or paring down a poem to the essentials. Hopefully, I don’t wind up with haiku, because haiku have their own baggage to contend with. On rare occasions, the prose needs to be added to instead of cut. When I go into editing swinging an ax, I can overlook spots where more is better. Problem nail, meet hammer.

“Editing. It’s like dieting; except a lot more violent.” 
― Leya Delray 

Poetry and novel writing both share the same problem. In editing too much, the freshness evaporates into a saggy old balloon. I think it’s true you need to put new writing away for a while to look at it with new eyes, untainted by the story you had in your head. Poems, from anywhere from a week to a month. Novels for a month or more. But writers are impatient. We want to see our poetry in print as fast as possible. Ditto novels. 

While writing is like a joyful release, editing is a prison where the bars are my former intentions and the abusive warden my own neuroticism. 
— Tiffany Madison

I don’t write or edit to music. I’ve done it before, but even 10 years on I can still hear the piece of music I wrote a certain scene to playing in my head. After 10 years, I still hear every word and guitar riff, and I can’t write a similar scene without the piano refrain rearing its head. (Correction, my music is the chirp of birds outside my window. I even recorded 10 minutes of it and looped the redwing song into an hour-long feather-filled backdrop for writing.)

I am one of those strange writers who can actually derive pleasure from the editing process. 
— Cindy Matthews

However you edit, dive into it with open eyes — and a glass full of your motivator of choice. Novels, poetry, the rambling essay, they all benefit from a good nap before you edit your way to success. How do you like to edit? 

Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain. There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don't see them.
— Elie Wiesel

Other Essays on Editing

Pulling Words Apart to Smash Writing Together

Revising 101 (Housekeeping)

Advice Paralysis

Author Places to Learn About Editing

Nathan Bransford Blog

Holly Lisle Articles

Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Back to Top