Stopping and thinking also have value

I've mentioned how taking a break helped me when I was stalling on Trust (not that you'll be able to tell this week that I'm not stalled--it turns out that there's some more end-of-school-year stuff to do). But I'm going to argue here in favor of taking another kind of break: Taking a break earlier in the writing process to figure out just what the hell it is you're going to write about.

What happens sometimes (and this is encouraged by things like NaNoWriMo, which is part of the reason I've never participated in it) is that people get extremely focused on quantity (50,000 words in a month! 2,000 words each day, minus five days off!) over quality. These people are very, very diligent and disciplined and work very, very hard churning out all these words.

And they produce a wad of directionless crap.

Now, I am all for cranking out a barely legible first draft and then fixing it. That's how I work. I probably threw out 30,000 words on my first revision of Trust. But I have NEVER produced anything of any substantial length without an outline. NEVER. I certainly came up with new ideas while writing Trust, but I did not start writing it not knowing what it was about, not knowing what the major themes were (spoiler: It's called Trust), not knowing who the main characters were, or not knowing how it was going to end.

I would never just sit down and write a long piece, because I think setting off half-cocked is a tremendous waste of time (and as a freelancer I got paid per article, so the quicker I could crank them out the more money I made). And the fact of the matter is, you have to have even more discipline to chuck stuff out after you've produced it. Once you've written something, it's easy to get attached to it, especially if you made this huge push and didn't sleep or socialize for the entire month of November in order to meet your 50,000-word quota. No one wants to hear, "Sorry, dude, back to the drawing board!" after that--it's like going on a huge diet and being very good and losing 80 pounds, and then having the doctor tell you that, no, you did it the wrong way, you need to gain back 70 pounds and then lose it again. But good job on those 10 pounds! The doctor really liked those, and he thinks you show great promise.

In other words: Writing is hard. It's hard! It is hard to write something well, especially something long. And that, fundamentally, is my problem with the whole "Be free! Get inspired! Just sit down and WRITE something!" line. I mean, yes, you do need to actually sit down and write if you're ever going to write anything, but it's not like jaunting off to Aruba for the weekend--it's work. It's hard work, and you need to be ready for that.