Is Writing Time Absolute?

Let's Rock Mittens Front
“Let’s Rock” Mittens Front

Just before the first snow arrived I got the urge to pick up my knitting again. I tend to slack off during the warm summer months as I like knitting with wool and it can get warm. I don’t do much weaving in the summer either. I think fiber arts go by the wayside in general during the hot weather. Too much to do outside. Jumping back into doing a colorwork hat, I forgot how much I enjoyed the meditative quality of knitting. Around and around, flicks of contrasting colors here and there, plenty of time to contemplate other things besides the Yankees totally blowing the playoffs. (I’m not bitter. Much) What do I contemplate? My latest writing problems mainly. 

I’m down to plugging the holes in my Next Fantasy Novel. I’ve outlined cards in Scrivener, most marked “Final Draft” but there are still half a dozen chapters marked “To do”. I jotted down the idea for each To Do chapter on the cards. Somewhere in novel one, I discovered I could break away from my rigid linear thinking, scribble down a one-paragraph outline for a chapter, and roll merrily onward. Some writers may scoff, having done this all along. I had to shake loose from my rigid expectation that the only way I could make progress on the novel was to slog through it in order. What comes next? Write that. Next? Next? It was keeping me from seeing the possibilities jumping around provided. (Not gonna lie, the thought of working out of order still makes me cringe.)

Fiber Arts as Teacher

Maybe it came from knitting patterns, where you have to do things in order or you end up with a Frankensweater, or off-kilter colorwork. Every pattern has its progression. A-Z with no stops in between. Then I got wild and crazy with the knitting and weaving. I warped my loom the normal way, started weaving, and wondered, what if I changed the weft yarn to this multicolored thick yarn? So I did. It was shocking. Intriguing. And pretty cool looking. I played around with different yarns in the same project. It circled me back to my roots as an artist in grad school, where experimenting was the norm. Where did I lose that? 

Writing Time

I think when I ran out of big blocks of time to work. If you’re going to squish a project into the little bits of time after work, you don’t want to make any mistakes. You want perfectionism. But mistakes are where the fun’s hiding. Instead of forcing my writing to march forward in line, I scribbled ideas down in Scrivener, grabbed a Chapter card, and started writing. When I finished, I tackled another one. My pantsy outlining was the key, enough info in a paragraph to point me in the right direction, but not enough to lose the fun of exploring where the idea was going. Too much outlining always made me feel as if I already knew the story. So why write it?

Writing Roots

Knitting was the same, sorta. I grabbed a pattern and used it to learn the technique, going in with the mindset I may have to rip it all out and start again. Instead of bemoaning all the time wasted, I became more careful with how I progressed, setting stitch markers to keep track of repeats, and marking charts to note progress. Technical ability increased my confidence. So it went with the writing. I found my outlining sweet spot, not afraid to go back and rewrite shaky parts, and revise the outline. None of it was a waste of time when I had a goal to shoot for, and didn’t let my anal retentive need for complete control take over. My first Norwegian Star hat has a wonky tip on one star. Nobody noticed it but me. The Rock and Roll mittens have a few miscues. The recipient didn’t care.

Let's Rock Mittens Back
“Let’s Rock” Mittens Back
& Skulls Hat

My new mantra? Let it go. What’s the worst that could happen? (Besides getting the Frozen theme song stuck in your head.) I’m my own worst critic. But I don’t have to be. I’ve even learned to knit a sock toe-up instead of top-down. Flipping my expectations. If it doesn’t work out, rip it apart and start again. Einstein showed in his thought experiments that people traveling at different speeds, while agreeing on cause and effect, measure different time separations between events. (Wikipedia). I’m going to quit measuring the time I don’t have and work with what I do have. My time is not your time. I’ll travel at my own speed, and if it’s not perfectly linear, well, that’s okay. 

Let’s Rock Mitten Pattern

Skull Hat Pattern

Essays on Writing:

How Cats Help You Write

Figuring it Out as You Go

More Lessons From Printmaking

Using Weaving for Bursts of Writing Creativity

What I Learned from Editing

For other essays, search the Writing or Writing Process tags.

How Cats Help You Write

How do cats help you write? By focusing the eyes of judgment upon you. Continuously. Under the heavy scrutiny of a feline, one tends to look at their work with a more critical eye. No? Just me? My Tuxedo cat, Lorenzo, likes to sprawl on the bookcase across the room and watch me as I write. I’m hyper-aware of those yellow eyes observing and judging. Especially when I read a passage aloud. 

It’s bad enough to have to listen to my voice attempting to add inflection and create different voices for the characters. I can’t help it, I glance over at the cat as I’m doing it. He stares with eyes narrowed to slits. The tail gives a lazy flick. My words suddenly become weak under the weight of feline perception. I click and highlight puny words, and rearrange sentences. Remake, redo, rewrite. 

How Cats Really Help You Write

Lorenzo never jumps in my lap and attempts to comfort me. Or change my prose. He doesn’t walk across my keyboard. Well, he did once when he was new, but never since. Rewriting is not his job. Instead, he skulks above on the bookcase, peering down, forming opinions and conclusions, black and white face a mask of indifference. If that’s not a hypercritical reader, I don’t know what is. Not much awes a cat. 

(The Corgis would gasp and gush “I love it!” even if I read them a grocery list.)

How Cats Help You Write

Sometimes my spoken words get scant approval. He lazes with a paw hanging over the edge of the bookcase, head turned away, the cat version of impressed. I feel good. “This is a new chapter,” I tell him. “The one where the hero realizes the antagonist is not who he thought it was. Life is about to get worse.”

Lorenzo rolls over, crouches, and leaps the six feet to the floor. A big stretch, then a whack to a toy mouse in his way. He pounces, rolls over, savages it, back feet flailing, claws digging. This goes on for a good five minutes. Finished, he spares a glance for me and utters a cross between a soft yowl and a gurgle. He stalks over to his cat tree, climbs to the tallest bed in the tower, and curls up for a nap, back to me. 

Rewrite, Human Slave. It’s Your Only Hope

Message received. My hero needs to suffer more. The great revelation needs punching up. I pound away at the keyboard in a frenzy, rewriting, tossing my hero off a cliff into a pit full of stinging jellyfish riding the backs of pissed-off alligators. Hours later I read it aloud, gratified when Lorenzo uncurls from his sunny perch to come over, staring up with unblinking yellow eyes. He admits several vocalizations that sound more like guttural wahs than meows. Does it mean I’ve done it? Impressed the judgmental cat?


It’s dinner time. 

How Cats help You Write

More Essays

More Lessons from Printmaking

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

What I Learned From Editing

Finished and Starting Again

Pulling Words Apart to Smash Writing Together

Outside Links

The Relationship Between Famous Writers & Their Cats

Writing with Cats

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

My WIPs Get an Intervention

Confronting Your Works In Progress

As it often happens with me, once I start writing, the writing takes over. Because I began a new Urban Fantasy and got engrossed in the Work In Progress (WIP), Poetry came pounding on the door snarling “What about me? I got ideas too, you know.” So I’d scramble to write some poetry, locking my WIP characters in their room until done. Of course, they’d shout and try to distract me until I had a sit-down with both my writing types. 

“Look you guys, I need to get work done. I understand you both want to be finished first but we need some ground rules. Novel. You are long and complicated. I can’t spit out 10,000 words a day. So be happy when I eke out 2500. I have an arc to follow, so quit trying to distract me and sneak in a love story.”

“Poetry. I know you are so close to being a chapbook you can taste it. But you have to be the best you can be. That’s why I’m writing new poems to flesh you out and solidify your theme.” Poetry puffs its chest and sticks its tongue out at Novel. “Enough of that. You’re entirely different than Novel, so it really isn’t a competition. Novel is 7 times you, so Novel needs more words. Poetry, you take as much care, however, so don’t get your panties in a twist.”

The Juggling Act

“Here’s the deal. Poetry, you get the mornings. I’ll work on you until noon. Then you retire to your computer file and unwind. Poems are better after they rest awhile, and congeal.” Poetry grimaces. “Okay, congeal is a bad word choice. That’s why I have to go slowly with you. To choose the best words in the best order.” Poetry gives a smug smile.

“Novel, you get the afternoons and evenings.” Poetry opens its mouth to snark and I hold up a hand. “Longer. Deal with it. Novel, we don’t have time to rest. I have to get your first draft down before you sidetrack me from my mission.” Novel gives a guilty look. “Hey, I know you like some side characters better, but they need to stick to their lane. I promise when you are done, the second draft will have as much hands-on attention as Poetry.” Novel sits back and nods its head.

I raise my voice. “Essay! Stop lurking outside the door.” Essay slinks into the room with a sheepish grin. “I know you don’t get as much attention as your brethren, but you have an important function also. You help me deal with reality.” Poetry and Novel snort. “Essay, you get to discuss Poetry and Novel, so don’t take their shit. All of you are important in your own way. You will all get attention, I promise.”

A knock sounds on the door. “This is Non-Fiction, are you having a meeting? Let me in.” 

“Quick, hide,” I hiss as I slam my laptop lid then raise my voice. “Sorry, no super-secret WIP intervention here. You have the wrong author. Come back next year.”

Non-Fiction gives an evil chuckle. “Next year? See you next week.”

Other Posts on Writing

Killing Pesky Cliches

Taking Inspiration by Force

The Trouble With Being a Poet

Listening to Poetry vs. Reading Poetry – Part I

Listening to Poetry vs. Reading Poetry – Part II

Looking Down to Find Yourself

The Journal Jungle

It’s Drafty in Here

Advice Paralysis

Outside Links

How to Juggle Multiple Writing Projects

Juggling Multiple Writing Projects at Once

The Benefits of Multiple Writing Projects

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