I've begun work on a new book while my lovely and charming agent shops my novels around. I'm told that this will keep the insanity away. Also, I'm a writer, or so I tell people, and that means I should be writing. So I am. Writing, that is. Or at least that's what I pretend to be doing.
In truth, I started the new book about two weeks ago and have made very little progress with the narrative. I've made any number of outlines and drafted notes to myself about scenes in the middle of the book and have read some of my research materials but as to actual writing as in putting words on the page? Not so much. Oh, a few thousand words, maybe even the first half of Chapter One. But mostly I've been stalling and decidedly not writing.
Why? It occured to me today that the first chapter of this book is a bit of a mess. It's going to need some work when I get around to revisions and it's just rougher than I like my writing to be, so I've sort of been avoiding it because I have my standards, you know, and I'm not living up to them with this draft, or what I've got of a draft just now.
My choices are to either write miraculously shining prose on the first go-round or to just put my head down and write badly, just to get the shape of the story on the page and have something written that I can revise. My belief is that most of the art actually happens in the revisions and not in the drafting anyway, not that I really see a lot of difference between writing and rewriting but that's a different topic.
No, I need to just accept that this first chapter--maybe even the first couple of chapters of the new book--are going to be a lot of bad writing, and just get on with my bad writing so that possibly I can eventually get to the good writing.
Which gets to the real issue: I took some time off after my last book and got out of the habit of writing prose almost every day. Now my normal routine doesn't make any room for regular prose writing and I have to change things around to accommodate it again. The first thing that has to happen is to get excited (or at least grudgingly willing) to commit to the sustained effort it will take to write a book-length story. For me, this has always meant just being hard enough on myself that I start in on it and accept that, for the next six months, I'll give over my lunches and evening commutes to the new book, and I won't be reading much or thinking about much except the novel. Basically I engage in psychic arm-twisting.
I know that a lot of people start new projects while the idea is fresh and magical and use the energy gained from learning about the ideas while writing them out as a way to get hooked into the effort. But for those of us who do a lot of pre-production work, outlining and research, that is, it might sometimes be harder to get the ball rolling and gather the necessary momentum to jump in and get a good start on a new project. I'd be interested to hear from that group, the planners and outliners, about how it goes with you when you start in on the actual writing of a new project. Does it seem like a big effort is required? Do you drag your feet before starting in earnest? Or do you just happily jump in and start racking up words?