Second-Week Syndrome and Too many ‘I’s

I have noticed a pattern in my writing process. I mostly write novels, and I’m working on what is likely the last work I’ll complete this year. It will also be only the second novel I completely draft this year, mostly because I haven’t figured out how to break through this pattern.

Step 1 is brainstorming and outlining. This part is fun and exciting for me.

Step 2 is the first week of rough drafting. I write roughly 4k-5k words a day on average for each book in this phase of the project. At this point, I feel immensely powerful and simultaneously at ease. Everything feels possible.

Step 3 is from the second week of writing forward. Writing slows down immensely, seemingly without matter of how much I have preplanned. hough I mostly haven’t mapped things out as thoroughly, it’s difficult to guess where I would go after the flurry of little changes that take place during week one. I get frustrated and then I start getting distracted by other stories. Writing falls to around 1k-2k per day for the duration of this part. I have decided to call this ‘Second-Week Syndrome’, and it is a very disheartening proposition. It’s what I have arrived at this week. Excitement has begun to wane.

At first I feel like it’s not so bad to slow down a little. But as time goes on I get more and more frustrated that I can’t seem to reclaim the glory of week one. I start thinking of tricks and tactics to improve my words per day. Please be patient with me. I have a lot to learn, and I’m trying to figure out how to tackle this problem. So far, here are my ideas.

1. Refocus by making a few new notes and modifying the existing outline to reflect the changes in direction set up in week one.
2. Reread the notes I already had, and try to remember what excited me the most about the story when I began. This could be assisted by devising a core pitch or mission statement for each book during the initial planning process.
3. Throw in some new ideas (large or small), and new twists that excite me to keep moving.
4. Focus on characters, especially POV characters, and their motivations and try to bring out their personalities more (This could be more difficult in the current book because of the many POVs I am attempting).
5. Read more to inject some inspiration in form and story.

That’s plenty of ideas. I can try all of them, but the technique 3 and 4 are the ones I haven’t really tried before. They seem like they could be very helpful, so we’ll see how this works out.

As to the second part of this week’s title. It goes to an issue I think comes up during Second-Week Syndrome. You see, I begin to think, as my enthusiasm fades from a project, that the problem is with me. Granted, I have a hyperactive imagination, but blaming myself is not helpful for feeling better. The focus on myself, on ‘I’, is almost entirely useless.

When focused too far inward, on opinions, on the past, on the future, feelings begin to spiral downward.

This is a habit I need to break, and not by focusing outward too much once again.

If I focus too much on the world beyond my personal sphere things feel far too bleak and impossible for me to act.

Yes, this is a delicate balance. No, I don’t think it’s impossible to be informed without being disheartened by the bad news of the world at large and quarrels of media personalities.

My focus during writing must be on the story, not on me, not on the world I live in. I need to be selective about when I think about things other than the book. This seems to be the way to break out of Second-Week Syndrome. I’ve frequently complained about my sense of productivity of my time prior to college. Allow me to harp on that one more time.

Back in high school I really did not care about the greater world very much. I only cared about my goals, and my stories, and what people thought of me. Except for worrying about what other teenagers thought of me, I think that is the beginning of a healthy way to move in the world. The mind of the individual is on the business of the individual. The mind of the leader is on the business of the nation. In the same way, the mind of the writer is on the story.

This is not to say ignorance is good. Ignorance is the risk one runs when focused intensely on any one thing. At the moment, I have decided that some small ignorances of the real world are preferable to ignorance of my stories and the direction they are going. In the same way, progress in the games I play is not worth losing progress in my novel.

Everything needs to be measured in a way that makes sense. As pointed out by James Altucher in his wonderful book, ‘Choose Yourself’, opinions do not make much (if any). I would say this goes double for a happy and productive mind. I’ve often buried myself in opinions. When I watch news and Internet programs I am constantly formulating opinions. I do not need these opinions because I do not have the power to change things. Yet, my focus has been on what I think. What I believe. What I want to happen in a world outside of my control.

In last Saturday’s post, Friday the Thirteenth, I referenced the prayer of Saint Francis as it applies to the world following the terror attacks in Paris.

Today, I can’t help but remember another classic Christian prayer. Serenity.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Please be patient with me. I am still learning what thing I can change and cannot change.

Thanks for reading.

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