Topic of the Night: Help Getting Through the Time of Great Forgetting
Help Getting Through the Time of Great Forgetting
Every year now for the last three or four years I have talked about something I notice with beginning and early-career writers. It happens like this:
Writers are all excited at the first of the year, make resolutions, plans, challenges. All great with great intentions for their coming year of writing and production. And for months, things are working great.
Somewhere around the last of April to the first of June, life from the outside starts to intrude and the writing takes a back seat, slowly, over weeks or a month.
And then the writing is forgotten for the most part, or at least lowered so far down the priority scale as to be a distant cousin to what it was at the start of the year.
Somewhere around the middle of July to the middle of August, the great awakening happens as writers realize they have stopped or things have gone slow for three months and all the beginning year excitement has been lost.
Most writers at this point have no idea what went wrong and search for anything to blame, including family, travel, job, too hot, and so on and so on…
Some early-stage writers never regain any kind of speed until the big writing challenge in November.
The time of May, June, and July is what I call The Time of Great Forgetting.
I have watched it over and over and over for years, and then when we started the online workshops, it became really clear. I studied it more, talking with other writers and watching all kinds of places for how this played out.
It does not really bother full-time fiction writers who have been at the writing for a time. Writing is what we do all the time. It pays our bills and is something we enjoy. We often have our own personal down cycles, but they do not match this spring forgetting.
Two Major Problems That Result
— The biggest problem is restarting. Once writing is stopped, or drained down, the restart process is painful for some reason. And on the indie side, missing publishing new work along the way can also drain down the income as money (for most) is new-work dependent.
— Brings in massive self-doubt because dropping off challenges and other things started at the beginning of the year feels like failure. And makes starting again even more painful. Also, because of the self-doubt, the critical voice has a ripe feeding ground and anything you were working on now looks like crap. More books get tossed out unfinished around August than I want to think about.
Some Help Getting Your Writing Through the Next Three Months
1… Plan a writing schedule now for the next three months.
This sounds simple but is not. Look at all the events, the vacations, the graduations, the yard work, the sports events, and so on, and then talk to your family about how you are going to keep writing through this time.
Be reasonable on the amount. Don’t try to match what you were doing in January and February, but do enough to keep your writing active. Imagine how good you will feel in August if you hit this?
Make sure the time is away from events. Get up early, stay up an hour later, whatever to keep the time with your family there, but also keep your writing.
And focus on making writing a play time, a fun time for you to go invent new worlds and stories. Attitude is critical on this. Writing can’t be work or you will forget it. Make writing play.
Then write the proposed schedule down, share it with your family, get their help.
2… Set a project deadline.
This won’t work at all, since you will forget, unless you are sharing it with other writers, and have some real weight to the deadline.
Somehow make the deadline as if you are turning in a book to a New York editor. Can’t miss deadline.
Again, be reasonable. Look at your schedule, look at all the stuff that will get in the way. Last thing you want to do is set up a deadline that will fail because of your family and events. Don’t do that to your writing.
The key is the weight to the deadline and sharing it with writers who are also trying not to forget. Set up an e-mail list between three or four of you and just share page count twice a week. Be accountable.
That helps the focus remain on the writing enough to keep most of the forgetting away. Not all, but most.
If you have a group of four writers doing this, expect two of them to vanish along the way and emerge in August feeling sheepish and discouraged. Just saying. You don’t want to be one of the two that vanishes.
3… Set Outside Schedules
The summer is heavy with numbers of things concerning writing.
First off, there are genre conventions everywhere. And some writer’s conferences. If you plan on attending a couple of those during the months of forgetting, you won’t forget the writing. The outside schedule will keep you focused enough to keep writing. Strange how it works, but it does work.
Set things like online workshops. You know we do them here at WMG right through the summer on both craft and business. Those have set deadlines every week for six weeks. Also David Farland ( https://mystorydoctor.com ) does workshops. And professional writer Leah Cutter is doing both interior design and covers workshops this summer as well. ( http://krpworkshops.com/)
And there are others out there, but just make sure they are taught by long-term professional writers. But workshops normally have deadlines and those deadlines, imposed from the outside, will keep you focused.
4… Read writing books
You are going to be doing a lot of sitting around, resting, and other summer-like things. Instead of taking that latest novel by your favorite author, take along some writing books. Lawrence Block has some great ones, one just updated and reissued. Or read the Stephen King book on writing.
If you focus on reading writing books over the next three months, it will keep your mind focused on producing words as well and keep you from forgetting the writing.
I Am Sure There Are Other Ways
Each writer will find his or her way to deal with this problem. Feel free to suggest ways here in the comments if you have found a way that worked for you in the past.
One thing that might help some of you is the attitude of being a professional writer. No professional besides teaching (that I know of) takes off three or four months in the middle of the year.
But I honestly don’t want to take time away from the writing. For me, the writing is the fun, the joy, the scary part, the exciting part.
So attitude is everything in this time. But attitude alone won’t get you through the power of the time of great forgetting.
And until the day comes that your writing is just who you are, figure out a way to help yourself through the next three months and stay productive and having fun.
You will be very happy in August that you do so.
Last year came a time when a lot of stuff happend at once. Sickness in the family, more work, etc. Every evening I was so tired even thinking about turning the computer on after 10 hours of work at the PC with bad screens made me miserable.
But not writing made me miserable as well. Starting new ist tough for me too. So I needed a system that wouldn’t let me stop. I needet it to be virtually impossible not to write.
So I made a rule that I have to write at least 50 words a day. That is not much, but I can do that in 2 concentrated minutes.
I have yet to find an excuse not to do the 50 words a day. On days, when I had to sit 10 hours at the computer at work, and couldn’t bring myself to turn on the Computer at home, I wrote them in the bus or in my bed in longhand (I write flash fiction in longhand. I have an easier time staying in my creative brain, but without the dread of typing in 10-100 thousand words)
(Of course, usually I write a whole lot more than 50 words, because stopping actually takes energy too, but it effectivly drains the excuses of being tired or computer-exhausted. And I still get to make my cross in my calender and don’t break the streak the few days when I manage only 50-100 words, so next day I don’t think the fatalistic “It’s all the same now!”)
I broke the chain twice in the beginning. Once, when I didn’t think about it at all, and once when my cat needed surgery, that was supposed to be easy but turned out to be complicated, and I fell asleep at the floor with him sleeping on my belly to stay warm despite the bloodloss.
But since I enter my written words in the pocket calender, and give myself a sticker, according to how many words I have actually written, (oh, ten words more and I get a prettier sticker! often becomes 70 or 100 words more) I don’t forget anymore. It may seem childish, but it has become a ritual. It works, no matter how tough times feel.
The “Just do 50 words, only fifty…” works for me, too, on difficults days. I end up writing more, sometimes a lots more.
I’m still going on with one story, 19 000 words now, don’t know where it’s going. I never wrote so long in the dark before!
Fear of failure:
I recommand this 7 min. video by Milton Glaser (creator of the the ‘I Love NY’ identity logo), about “fear of failure”. I liked his interpretation of what we really do fear, as artists. Visual arts and writing: same challenges!
http://dd.salgoodsam.com/fear-of-failure/ (I hope it’s okay to post a link; it’s on the site of visual artist Salgood Sam)
I’ve come to the conclusion that the cure for not writing at all is really small daily goals. A streak is a streak, and the people who scoff at setting such small word goals are probably writing less than you 🙂
And now I have a real use for my mini-sticker collection!
I don’t know about the people who scoff, but I am definitly writing more than before 😀
And yeah I had a sticker collection as well, and decided either use it to make me happy or give it away 😉
It’s playful. It’s fun. It is never “I have to” write. I love writing more than having written.
And thanks, Dean, for voicing that writing is fun. After all those blood-sweat-and-tears Blogs and my-book-is-my-baby-and-I-birth-it talk I thought I was doing something weird 😉
Because my best stories are those I love to write.
Lisa Nixon Richard
Good Morning Dean,
I loved when you wrote about this last year and I am thankful you are discussing the time of great forgetting again this year. Summer kills me schedule every summer due to travel, hiking, gardening, barbecues, yes, the list can go on for miles. To try to combat this issue, I have added gardening into my writing schedule. I am hoping if I go back to the schedule to look at the gardening list it will keep me focused on the writing a little more. Well, a girl can hope:-)
I have been struggling all winter and I’m still struggling. It’s been a combination of attitude, depression and projects that need to get done and are not. I thought I could turn myself around this spring and get back at it. I had set a goal that by mid June I would have what I had written published. That’s 8 novels and two short story collections that need to cleared out. It took me two months to get the last one out. I somehow have to get out of this darkness that has consumed me and move on. The only thing I have been constant with is my writing I do on my blog. I do a short story and a flash fiction piece every week. Right now my short story has turned into a serialized cat fantasy story. I never miss and I wish I could take that attitude and put into my writing.
Kristine Kathryn rusch
But, Vera, you have taken that attitude and put it into your writing. You just need to figure out how to get the same outside deadline that your website provides. I say great job!
Excellent, Dean. I’m sharing this far and wide. I don’t have this particular problem, but I do occasionally have 3, 4, 5-day down times that make me feel like maybe the world is ending or something. Lot of sniveling going on when that happens. Then a story nags me to get back in the chair.
Yep; I remember your posts from the last couple years about the great forgetting and the spring roadbump in writing. That’s what I took inspiration from your posts and started a three novels in three months challenge starting in March. Finished book 1 in March, will finish book 2 in April, and book 3 in May. And then publish starting in June when I move on to the next project. Setting goals and real deadlines have kept me focused and working right through what used to be dead non-writing time for me.
Elise M. Stone
Actually, teachers don’t take the summer months off. When my mom started teaching, she worked at day camps during the summer for the extra income. Teachers take classes and workshops, work on lesson plans, read books to help them become better teachers, and do educational travel during the summer. They may not be in the classroom, but they’re not spending three months lounging around the pool either.
Sorry, didn’t mean to hit a button there.
David Anthony Brown
Something that helped me restart was to start slow and build up my word count over time. I started last summer by writing 200 words every day, the point being to just sit down and put something down. Then just add an extra hundred words per day every week.
Now, on day 300-something (I have to look at my calendar and add the days to figure out where I’m at), I can really see how that constant trickle adds up over time. I’m pretty consistent at around half-pulp speed for the last month or so, and finished two short books this year. Next challenge is to get to pulp speed one next year.
But wow, building a streak like this really puts some perspective on averages and how trickles add up. I started this during the Great Forgetting, and short of disaster I hope to continue for awhile yet.
Thanks for the shout out Dean. Much appreciated.
I’ll give people more information on my blog next week or so. You are doing to some great stuff there.
Charmaine Tubbs Davis
Love the sticker idea and crossing off days on the calendar! I also like the consistency of small!!
I’ve been struggling to finish a story since my last publication in November. My husband has encouraged me to write novella and stick to the main story. In that way I can at least finish the story. If the story needs extra layers I can cycle back through and add them after finishing. Right now, I need the satisfaction of finishing.
Thanks for the blog, Dean. I find you to be a great encourager and I don’t leave your blog feeling stressed or beat up or like a dummy!
I set a personal goal of adding 25% to my production last year, and I’m keeping track of it via spreadsheet, and posting the numbers on my blog. I heard about some famous writer doing that on his blog, and it sounded like a good idea.
At this point, I’m on track to improve by 40%, for about 300k total (fiction, blogging and “other” – schoolwork, emails, forum posts).
All right, Bob. Now get through the coming forgetting time and you will be powering. And keep having fun with it. That helps as well.