Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writers, are you running in circles?



Do you ever feel like you're running in circles? Like you're stopping at the same Gatorade stations and passing the same landmarks without gaining any traction? Well, me too.

Maybe it's because we're so focused on what's in front of us--the current rewrite, the plotting snag, or runaway characters. Or maybe it's because something happens that makes us feel as if we're back at the starting line. Whatever the reason, here's what I try to do when I feel like I'm running in circles:

Stop
When we slow down or stop, we're able to see that these landmarks aren't the same after all. Our battle with exposition or telling aren't what they used to be. Our character development is no longer flat and uninspiring. Our skills are improved. Not perfect, but better. With each rotation we're widening our circle and gaining knowledge.

Reflect
We need to remember where we were last week, or last month, or last year. What's happened since then? How have we improved in that short time frame? We may not think it's a lot, but it is. Even if we're still frustrated by lack of polish, representation, or a contract, it's important that we pat ourselves on the back for all that we've accomplished.

Start running again
Once we appreciate our growth, hopefully it'll give us the extra boost we need to keep racing toward that finish line. We can't win if we don't play, so we must guzzle the Gatorade, shake the sweat off our limbs, and run another lap.

Encourage fellow runners
How many times did you feel like quitting until someone shouted at you from the sidelines? That's what we can do for each other. Each runner shares the same worthy goal, and it's fun to cheer each other on as we race forward.

It's easy (and I think normal) for us to get caught up with frustration and worry. But in my opinion, we need to remember that life is short, and to be thankful we're in the race.

Do you ever feel like you're running in circles? And if so, how do you handle it? We could all use some tips!

48 comments:

  1. All I can think of is put it aside for a while. I've got serious issues with my WIp but an agent and a CP have got it, so no point beating it to death until I get feedback. Meanwhile I have picture books to bring out of marination.

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  2. This is a great post. Two things I try to remind myself are, firstly, this might be a problem but it's a DIFFERENT problem from the last one - I fixed that one, and I can fix this too. Secondly, how would I encourage someone else? Fine, then tell myself the same thing :-)

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  3. I just stop for a second. Relax and then move on again.

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  4. Gosh, I feel like this right now! Which has also resulted in a much needed "walk away from it. immediately." So hard, though, because your characters are persistent and they keep nagging....

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  5. This is a good point. And something I needed to read! :)

    I'm still revising -- it seems like it's been going on forever. LOL. But when I look back at my other revisions --- it IS different and better.

    Sometimes I think we just so caught up on not being "done."

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  6. This is very timely for me, Julie. I am wrangling with plot construction of my 2nd novel (still waiting to hear the fate of the 1st novel, after tons of rewrites). I thought I'd had it all nailed down, and started writing the first few chapters, but the subplot is trying to take over the main plot and now I have to reassess what I'm doing with it. Then there's that little "you stink" voice that slips in when the struggle gets really bad. Ugh. But I'll take your advice. Time to appreciate the progress I've made! Thanks.

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  7. All wonderful tips! I stop and look around. You're right, it's so important to see where you've been and how far you've come. That always gives me a second wind. Great post.

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  8. Great tips! Sometimes I'll work on something else and let the problem story work itself out in my mind before I get back to it.

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  9. Love this post. It is really easy to forget that all the small places of growth can start adding up when we look at where we were a year or two ago. And sometimes knowing you've improved as a writer is hard when you keep getting rejections (on queries or submissions or anything!) But even looking at the KIND of rejections you get (like from a "dear author" query rejection to a personalized rejection from an editor at a house--haha not that I've ever had one of those!) can show progress. :)

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  10. I always try to have some new, exciting overarching goal to keep me moving forward, even if I'm having to do the same old type of work to get there. And I try to make sure that this goal is focused on the type of thing that I really want to make out of my life.

    Love your "start running again" point. My grandmother used to say to well-meaning family when they tried to get her to stop doing things they thought were unsafe at her age -- "Don't tell me to stop, because if I did, I might not be able to go again!"

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  11. Does feeling like I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off count? I'm more in the, "I've got so much to do, I've got to run and run and run," stage at the moment. I actually had to schedule my week hour by hour just to reassure myself there's time to get everything done. (Added bonus? I forgot the 9-10 hour today, so it's like the day has an extra hour.)

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  12. When I feel like I'm running in circles, I put my writing aside and do something else: reading, watching a movie, coloring or drawing, going for a walk. Something to help me relax and freshen my mind.

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  13. Great advice, Julie! I think the most important is to start running again! If we never get going, we have nothing finished to show for all the torture we've put ourselves through! Time and distance are always good for clearing the fog, as long as we don't keep extending that time and parking in procrastination station.

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  14. Why do I feel like you're talking to me? :D Thanks for the reminder to enjoy the journey. I do love the experience and all the wonderful friends (like you) I've made along the way. If I come across someone stopped on the track, I'll be sure to give her a push!

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  15. I'm with Lisa, it feels like you're talking to me! This is great advice, which I'm going to start following today. You are a lifesaver. :)

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  16. This is such a great analogy! Okay, so I've never run a marathon, but my husband has and I have runner friends, so...anyway, yes, I've felt that way too. I'm feeling that way now, actually. I'm stuck between two writing ideas and can't seem to make any headway on either. I just don't know which one to commit to, and it's killing my productivity...grrr. But hooray for supportive friends :)

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  17. yes, over and over again. We have to stop sometimes and look and see how far we've come to realize we're not running in circles! Awesome.

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  18. Encouraging others definitely recharges me!

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  19. Love this!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  20. Thanks for shouting out to me from the sideline, Julie! It's always appreciated, as are your wonderfully insightful posts.

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  21. Sometimes it does feel like we are running on a hamster wheel! At the SCBWI one of the presenters gave the advice to "put the brakes on," and reflect on where you are and what you are doing. Great minds think alike - this post sends a much needed message for me. Thanks.

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  22. Blogging sometimes makes me feel like this. I had to take a step back recently and decide, Am I a professional blogger or a professional writer? Didn't like my answers either. I'll be doing more writing, less blogging in the future.

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  23. I have "running" buddies to remind me that I'm doing better than I thought. If I didn't, they can tell me if indeed am running in circles. Either way, the panic part of the experience is gone.

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  24. I don't usually feel as if I'm running in circles with my WIP, but I often feel that way as I attempt to corral my social media connections. Organization has never been my strong suit and I know I don't get the value from SM that I should. Any suggestions would be awesome!

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  25. Yes! I'm definitely a circle runner. Great advice here - the easiest one is to encourage others! :)

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  26. I love your tips… but I have not felt that way yet, but there is always tomorrow.

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  27. I felt this way just recently. What helps me a lot is to step away from it for a bit. Once I focus on real life for a week or so, then go back, it's easier to see where I'm at-- both in life and in writing.

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  28. Running in circles - I do that whenever I finish a big project and can't decide what to do next.

    http://1000wrongs.blogspot.com

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  29. Stop. Reflect. Run again. I think we can all use that advice... in our writing, and our personal lives. Sometimes they get running us, and we end up on the hamster wheel. Thank you for a great post.

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  30. "Be thankful that we're in the race." Yes! This is what we chose to do because we love it. Nobody's making us. Maybe we're gluttons for punishment, but we have the goal in mind driving us forward. I love this analogy, Julie. And I totally agree that we're never at the exact same place we were before. We really do improve!

    Thanks for the encouragement today!

    Amy

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  31. Stop turning left(or right) continuously. Change your direction, get random, throw caution to the wind, release self-imposed deadlines, enjoy the current moment. It's the only one we've got.

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  32. You guys are awesome, you know that? Thanks so much for adding your thoughts and tips to this post. It helps so much!

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  33. I agree that it's easy to get caught up in the frustration and worry associated with writing and publishing. Stopping to reflect and refocus is a huge help. As is the support of others.

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  34. I just had a nice writer friend shouting at me from the sidelines (so to speak), and it was SO nice. I can't tell ya. Very encouraging. Thanks for the encouragement and reminder about our writerly growth and progress!

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  35. I'm currently reading the Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. One thing Jobs did was expose his mind to a lot of different things with which he was unfamiliar.
    Zen Buddhism, calligraphy, and many other things. The idea was that the more you exposed your mind to, the more associations you can make when faced with a set of circumstances.
    I know there's something to it because I tend to get a batch of fresh ideas each time I travel or do something new.
    Anyhow, good post.
    Rick

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  36. I feel like I'm stuck in a rut these days... but the best thing you said is to see how far we've come and to encourage others. Good stuff, Julie! :o) <3

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  37. I often feel like I'm running in circles. Fortunately, there are days like today, when I feel like I'm making progress.

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  38. This year I've discovered the importance of, sometimes, taking a break and actually breathing. Reflecting on what I've already achieved, and giving myself downtime in preparation for what I want to achieve next. I've learned that sometimes it's okay to stop and take a break.

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  39. Excellent and timely post! I feel like I'm running in circles each and every day. I'm with most people here... encouraging others is one of the best ways to recharge :)

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  40. I needed to read this today! Thanks for posting...*closes eyes and ohhhmms*

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  41. I need to take a break to gain perspective. I get "all up in my head" about things. I do find that encouraging others makes me feel better too!

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  42. eat chocolate. Solution to all my problems:) Found you through Rachna.

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  43. Julie ...at this point I am literally running around in circles and going nuts, cause everyone is giving me different advice regarding the book I am querying. My head will burst if I don't empty it of all the thoughts.

    I am distancing myself from my MS and listening to lots of music.

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  44. A timely post! I just received another rejection. I'm used to them but somehow I had high hopes for this ms. Oh well, back to the keyboard and keep going. It's the only way because I know that if I don't resubmit it, it'll never get published, but it so feels like I'm running in circles.

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  45. reflection is really key, it's so important to absorbing material and making sense of it.

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