Thinking Days

One of the hardest things for me as a writer was learning to accept thinking days. I was raised in North Dakota and Minnesota both of which have a strong ethic of “never complain” and “if it’s fun it’s not work” and “if you’re not accomplishing something at this very moment” you’re lazy. Garrison Keilor’s takes on the subject are deadly funny if you were raised as I was.

A writer has a lot of jobs that look and feel like work, and a couple that don’t. The writing itself is easy to see as work. If I’m writing I’m working. Likewise sending stuff out to my agent or publishers, dealing with same either via phone or email, revising, editing, reading galleys, etc. There is obvious work happening in all of those situations. Research is a little bit less clear. If I’m looking up a detail of Greek mythology that’s relevant to the story right now, that’s certainly work. If I’m reading mythology looking for stuff for the next book, that’s still pretty obvious, but it’s treading dangerously close to fun.

Reading widely because that’s how I find new ideas—can I really call that work? I can and I do, but my inner Minnesotan does more than a little hmphing at the idea. Self-promotion? Ooh, that’s a hard one, mostly because I don’t actually believe that most of it works (see not accomplishing things above). However, since it’s an expected part of the industry, I can squeak some out without guilt.

All of that is nothing, nothing at all compared to thinking days. Tuesday was a thinking day. I did a lot of stuff around the house. I wandered around the internet and wrote on blogs. Every twenty minutes or so I’d stop back at my working plot document and put another bullet point into the “stuff what has to happen” section. I got maybe 300 words down. If this was a writing day a 300 word count would be a catastrophe. I can do 300 words standing on my head in a bucket. A normal day when I’m fully into a project is 2,000+ and I’ve gone as high as 6,000. However 300 is pretty good for a thinking day. Sometimes no words actually make it into a document on thinking days.

I just wander around and think and don’t actually write at all. And despite the very grim look my inner Minnesotan is giving me about this, it’s still working. In fact, it’s critical. The reason I had thinking day Tuesday was that I hadn’t done a scene-by-scene outline for this book yet—in part because there were several significant decisions that needed to be made and I still wasn’t sure which way I’d go on them. Making the wrong decision and writing it into the book can be quite costly to fix (in terms of time). A day spent thinking about story and structure now can save me ten days later on. It’s still frustrating.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog September 17 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)