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You feel like you're not working...
...but you are. Trust me.
I have always said there are three basic phases to writing; discovery, drafting, and revision. They dance around each other and overlap a bit, but mostly… that’s how it shakes out.
But I have recently discovered, there are in fact four phases; discovery, drafting, drawer, and revision.
I say this because there is this “put it in a drawer for six weeks” phase that happens after drafting and before revision. It’s when you’re supposed to stop thinking about your story and occupy yourself with other things (for me, “other things” have been mostly Baldur’s Gate 3, more on that later) and then, once you’ve gotten enough distance that you can see your story through the eyes of a reader, you go back to it and start ripping it to shreds for revision.
I’ve always thought of the “drawer” phase as a phase of not-writing, not-working, but it’s really not. You are working. Your brain is still grinding your characters and your story; it will continue to do that until the book is done. It’s just that your conscious brain work, your bodily activity, and your writing brain work are three things that run alongside each other, all at the same time.
I stopped drafting before the move; the book wasn’t quite finished, but I’d gotten better than 60k words into it and I found that I couldn’t move and write at the same time, so I tucked the book into the drawer phase a bit early and knew I’d figure it out on the other end. I had a big road trip, which my writing brain loves more than anything, and I could feel the book churning a little in the background, but mostly things were quiet, and I was enjoying getting out of book brain and into the real world again.
It was nice to not be working.
Except, if you’re a writer, you are never not working.
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It’s kind of magical, this process. Stories are magic. It’s like they’re little magical creatures that choose a writer to express them. Some of them are polyamorous, and if the writer doesn’t give them the attention they seek, they’ll find another writer to do it. Others are monogamous, and will sit on your shoulder and bug you and bug you until you write the damn thing, because they chose you and where is your gratitude, anyway?
But whether you were asked politely to dance or hounded until you gave in, once you start dancing… you never really stop. That story is always with you, always working, from the moment you say yes until it’s finally, finally done.
Which means that if you have an active story working in your subconscious, you never actually stop working on it. For a writer, working is thinking; if you’re thinking about it, you’re working.
And sometimes even when you’re actively trying not to work, like during the drawer phase, you are still working. Your subconscious is fiddling with the book, the characters, and every now and again, it shoots you a bit of information about how to fix a particular plot point or narrative conflict or character problem, and you jot it down and say, “Okay. I’m not thinking about it anymore.”
By the end of the drawer phase, I’m ready to go. I know what I need to do to fix everything, I know what’s working and how to make it even better.
And I’ve been working this whole time… even while I was playing my way through Baldur’s Gate 3.