Monday, June 25, 2018

The Unique Agony of Imagination Whiplash

A post by Mary Fan

I have a bad habit of overcommitting myself. The cycle usually goes like this: I work hard on a writing project, I get tired, I tell myself I deserve a break, I bum around and produce nothing for a few weeks (or months), then I feel guilty about wasting so much time and decide to work even harder on writing projects. Then I get tired, tell myself I deserve a break, bum around, feel guilty… etc. etc. etc. In the beginning, I only had one or two writing projects to deal with, so I didn’t realize this was what I was doing. But things compound over time—mostly because I have the bad habit of starting series that need sequels while also wanting to write all-new things.

I’ve been in an especially sticky situation for the past year and a half or so—overcommitting myself so much, I had to use a spreadsheet to keep track of this all. I think I was overcompensating for an especially terrible 2016—a year in which three book projects fizzled (jerk co-author, deadbeat publisher, agent break-up). 2017 would be different—I’d publish ALL THE THINGS. That attitude spilled into 2018… and now, I’m totally screwed (I can totally write a book in three weeks in time for my critique group’s deadline…)

One thing I didn’t account for while scribbling down my schedule—Write this short story next week! Spend the following three weeks working on the full-length novel! Abandon that novel at whatever stage it’s in because the anthology needs editing by a certain date to make its release date!—was the imagination whiplash. See, I was treating book projects as a to-do list. First, sort the laundry and dump it in the machine. While that’s running, vacuum the carpet. Stuff like that. Thing is, when you’re vacuuming, you probably aren’t still immersed in the brain-space of sorting laundry.

Not so much with book projects. As any writer will tell you, authoring something means diving deep into another world. You start living and breathing the fictional realm. Sometimes, it takes a spell to get your head into the project. And once you’re in, it starts feeling like a part of you. You start thinking like your characters, seeing the story through their eyes. You start mentally living in your setting. The book world starts to feel more real than the real world. (Or is that just me??)

Thing is, it can take a spell to immerse yourself in the first place. And then, even after you’ve hit “submit” or “publish” and can’t touch the manuscript anymore, your mind lingers in that world. Back when I was only working on one thing at a time, I’d take a writing break to let it fade before starting the next thing. But since the Era of the Spreadsheet began, I haven’t had that luxury. One day, I’m working on a contemporary fantasy. The next, I’m drafting a sci-fi mystery, whipping myself into a totally different world. It’s… disorienting. Makes me want to yell at my computer, “WHERE AM I NOW???”

So far, I’ve managed to keep myself from getting these story worlds mixed up (at least in the writing and editing stage… I’ve definitely gotten some characters mixed up while plotting, but so far I’ve managed to catch myself before the real work begins!). But I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before my space-faring viola player accidentally shows up in the haunted forest instead of my champion monster-slayer. Actually, that might be a fun crossover…

Anyway, I know there are plenty of writers out there who hop from project to project. Maybe they get imagination whiplash too. Maybe it’s just me because I get too pulled into my fictional realms.

How about you? Does you ever get confused when switching too quickly between projects?


Brenda St John Brown said...

I always have a couple of projects on the go for when I get stuck with one, but once I pass the 20K mark I try to stick to one bc the other byproduct - at least for me - is that I jump in between projects and never actually FINISH anything!

Cheryl Oreglia said...

OMG Mary this is hysterical! You are writing me except I get a lot of overlap with not only writing but my work. I teach high school and between lesson plans and essays for my blog I fail to sort classes, writing and laundry all the time. I like to imagine the characters I teach about having conversations with the people I write about. It's insane. Love the post.

Carrie Beckort said...

I find I get sucked into the emotions of the stories I'm writing, and the more emotional the story, the longer it takes for me to get out of it. I haven't been able to work on more than one project at a time. My emotions cause enough whiplash already!

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