Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pushing the Limits

Last month I was on page 150 of a 320-page novel when I got the deadline—giving me 3 weeks to write the remaining 170 pages. For some of you, this may not seem like much of a challenge. But I know myself. Working at top capacity, squeezing in early morning hours before I go to the university to teach, revising in the evening, pulling with everything I’ve got—I can manage 40 clean, polished pages in 2 weeks.

I didn't know where the book was going, had many difficult scenes ahead & research to do. But there was no way out. Luckily, it’s summer—no teaching—but the usual life dramas & family situations. Knowing I couldn’t do it, I dove in—and did it. I sent off the completed manuscript yesterday. I’m still dazed, wondering how I did the impossible.

It sounds absurdly simple, but looking back, I realize what I did was make the impossible possible. Every morning I sat down to write and went to the maximum of what I usually do. Then I got up, stretched, and returned to do more.

Like an athlete training for a marathon, I pushed my mind, heart and body to its utmost—and beyond. I used every trick I know to keep myself focused and engaged in the work. Music, coffee, snacks, walking and stretching. I managed two 16-hour days, but the average was 12–14 hours. I took off one day a week. By that I mean I wrote only four hours that day. By Week Two, I was in the groove. I couldn’t stop if you made me. And I discovered three great gifts that came with writing in total immersion:

  1. You LIVE the book. There’s no struggle to get into the zone. The instant you start, you’re in. Every morning you return home, to the world you’ve created, & everything you do throughout the day, relates back to the story and characters. The whole world conspires in helping you develop this story that needs to be told.
  2. No time to indulge in that sabotaging killer, self-doubt—this book sucks, no one will read it, why bother? No time to waste on that—you have a job to do.
  3. You write in layers. Each day builds on the previous one—enriching & deepening your world with details that can only emerge from your subconscious when you are there.
 

How do I feel the morning after? Grateful, amazed. Blinking at the world: it’s still here & it’s still summer! Ready to relax my muscles, and then return to revise. But I learned a valuable lesson—I don’t know what my limits are anymore. And I don’t know the meaning of the word impossible.

10 comments:

beths said...

Love this. 3 favorite bits: what you say about self-doubt; about the enriching layers; and about abandoning the notion of limits!

E♦B said...

Glad to hear, Ruth, about this major accomplishment! You compose in longhand? What is the book about? What is the title?

Ruth Knafo Setton said...

Thanks, Beth! Those are my 3 favorite bits, too. Self-doubt usually kicks in 3/4 of the way through the book, & it wasn't till I finished that I realized how much time I'd saved by skipping it!
The layers made the story dense with detail ... so that even though I wrote fast, it felt rich.
And as for limits ... I'm ready to take on the next challenge. LOL.

Ruth Knafo Setton said...

Thank you!! I do write in longhand. I keep trying to skip that step, & sometimes I can for brief periods of time, but when I want to get to the white-hot heart, this is the only thing that works for me.
The novel is called DARKTOWN BLUES, & I'm very excited about it & will tell more about it very soon.

Robin Heydenberk said...

If the book is as interesting as the process-I can't wait to read it. By the way, I still write on paper. Remember what Picasso said...

Ruth Knafo Setton said...

Please remind me what Picasso said!

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks for this inspiring post, Ruth. So after you finished the book longhand, you still had to type it up, all within 3 weeks?

It usually take me half a day to write a blog post! Bet at your current rate you whipped this one off in 5 minutes...

Ruth Knafo Setton said...

I did, Kathryn!
This post took took a little longer than 5 minutes, LOL.

Melissa Clare Wright said...

Way to go, Ruth! This definitely says something about the power of the deadline...

Ruth Knafo Setton said...

Thanks, Melissa! The deadline definitely pushed me to write faster & longer. Might be a good thing to use again!