Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

So I'm thinking about the whole "big picture" vs. "details" thing, and how it applies to writing.  As authors, we tend to live in the details--because, really, we have to.  1000 words for the day.  Working through a broken plot point.  Meeting a deadline.  Completing an outline.  Whatever it is that we're working on, it's a detail that's only part of the big picture.

Question is, what is the big picture?

The obvious part of the answer is: a published work.  An equally obvious, but perhaps more nebulous, part of the answer, is A Long-term Writing Career.  Of course, neither of these is a given, and it's hard to look at a big picture that isn't quite in focus.

I think we get in trouble when we try to focus on the big picture that we can't really see.  In the midst of querying or revising or waiting on submissions or working on a synopsis, we suddenly hone in on the I JUST WANT TO HAVE TWENTY-FIVE BOOKS OUT THERE AND LIVE ON A YACHT.  Or even I JUST WANT THIS DEBUT TO SELL SO I CAN BE A REAL AUTHOR.  Then the angst comes, because our minds are torn from the work at hand, and we feel the gulf between what we are doing and what we can't possibly define yet.

Dreams are good, and goals are essential.  But we've got to train ourselves to stay in the now so that we can be most effective.  The now is what leads us, step by step, to the big picture.  And if we stay focused, we'll get there with less angst.

Mind you, I'm not promising less time.  Some people have ridiculously heartstopping, almost-overnight successes.  We read stories like, "Banana McFeegle signs with Agent du Jour, sells seven-figure, three-book deal two weeks later!"  And we wring our hands and start lamenting about our own timetable.  What we need to remember is that many, equally successful people took much longer to realize their dreams.

I think the "focus on the details" advice runs contrary to conventional wisdom about success.  It's not generally a good idea to get lost in details and lose sight of the big picture.  (Which is why teamwork is such a good idea--teaming detail people with big picture people.)  But when it comes to our own, personal writing journeys, I believe detail-focusing is mandatory.  Set your goals, define your parameters, but STAY ON TASK.

One day at a time.  One sentence at time.

And that's my brain on this drizzly Friday.  Thoughts?


  1. Awesome post! I've been stuck on the thought that I've still not been "successful" yet, so this blog entry really hit home for me. Thanks for making me get back to what's important!

  2. Very true. As much as any of us struggling writers want, need, to be published and find our fame, we must remember that if we work diligently and honestly we're already a success. We can't control our world, but we can control our words within it.

  3. I've queried Agent du Jour with three separate books and she goes and signs that hack, McFeegle. There's no justice in this world!

    And I agree with you, by the way. When you think about writing, it really is a detail thing. You've got to focus on the details of crafting excellent stories, and then on the details of pitching it just right, to just the right people, and then getting it right again, and again. Have a great weekend.

  4. Yes, and the angst comes when I try to be detail orientated to fix a plot issue, while big picture minded because...why am I not agented yet. :)

  5. Yes yes yes! This post really speaks to me. I'm on submission right now and it's an AGONIZING wait. I'm feeling very distracted and honestly, not in the mood to write, but I know it's the right thing to do. And it will make me feel better. Sort of like exercising. ;-)

  6. Coolness. After a novel-writing-fallow time in my life (including time spent wondering if "my thing" was a food blog that involved fiction vignettes loosely tied to the recipes) I re-realized not too long ago that yes, I *do* want to write novels, that that it's worth pursuing.

    Enter much self-deprecation for elongating the process with the fallow period. But I decided that I can't focus on past mistakes (well, I guess technically it's past preferences) and that I just need to move forward now, and work on getting a work to a state where it's submittable.

    So from there, step 1 was to realize that maybe pantsing isn't the way for me, since it resulted either in a) numerous incomplete novels or b) a complete novel that required such major overhauls I got intimidated and decided I wanted to write a blog about brownies and zombies that would be My Dream. Only I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

    All that longwindedness to say I totally agree, and the only way I'll get through this is by focusing on the steps right in front of me, that I can tackle today, rather than the ones way over the horizon.

  7. This is a timely post because I feel like I'm going through this angst right now. It's so easy to hand wring about what's not happening instead of managing the smaller things that are in my control.

    It's drizzly here, too. Hmmm...

  8. Angst here as well. I'm a person who likes to plan, to know every detail, and the "not knowing" of submission is very trying.

    Sometimes it seems like I (as a writer) have the same mentality as a lottery player:

    "Yeah, I know tons of talented writers with wonderful stories don't get published for one reason or another, but somebody's gotta win..."

  9. Focusing on the details helps with keeping sane, at least for me. I figure that while I focus on the details, I get the writing done. I get the writing done, I can get revisions and edits done. Step by step, I can make things happen so the puzzle pieces of the big picture fit into place.

  10. Great post! Yes, you definitely have to keep your eye on the ball rather than worry about winning the game. So hard, though. Focus takes so much energy.

  11. Holly Lisle once said, very wisely, that you shouldn't conflate goals with dreams, because that's setting yourself up for disappointment. Make goals things that you yourself can control -- finishing a book, sending a query letter, going to a conference -- instead of things that are outside of your control (like getting responses or making money). That made a lot of sense to me.

  12. Great post, Authoress. I agree. I do this all the time, think of signings and book tours, and have to pull myself back to get my books where they need to be to sell. It's a day by day journey, and our goals have to reflect that. Today's goals. Tomorrow's goals. Next week's goals. Maybe even a couple month's goals, with today's goals set to achieve the longer ones. But no more than that. Focus on the stage we're in and celebrate every success no matter how small.

    Thanks for the reminder, Authoress.

  13. First comment on your blog! Eeep!

    So, this is an awesome post and rings true for me in so many ways. For me, the big picture is making a career out of writing as I'm sure it is for many others. I'm a long way off from that, so I try to set bigger "bumps" along the way to that endgame. The first bump is writing a novel, which is already done, and the next is getting an agent, etc. And then to get to that next bump I try to focus on all the little details of it, i.e. outlining, revising, writing a good query, finding the right agents, etc. But the problem for me is seeing all these people I know getting agents, getting book deals, and while I'm ecstatic for them, it also makes think big picture again and freak out that I don't even have an agent yet. So I try and shut it out and focus on the next baby step, then the next, then the next. I'm starting to get it worked out in my head, but the problem is that we will always think big picture as much as we try not to, we'll always freak out that we haven't done "X" thing while "Y" person we know has. It will always happen, but it's something you have to train to minimize and push aside to allow you to focus on the details of reaching that next "bump" on your journey.

    Just my take, at least.

    --John H, who is thrilled to have FINALLY finished revising. :D

  14. There's a lot here to think about. D.

  15. Thanks for this post. I think it applies to a lot of what I'm going through right now, besides my writing. I often try working on the big picture and get lost/ intimidated/ frustrated.

    I think you're right, focusing on the details, taking one step at a time, is the key to success. Deal with the things you can, right now, and leave the rest.