Plot Bunnies and the Carousel of Manuscripts
I suppose if one's creative life didn't have it's peaks and valleys it would get rather dull. But it does get tedious knowing that with each great bit of progress or for each moment of feeling like I actually know what I'm doing, I'll have to pay the karmic piper somehow. This time around, I've traded some great progress in shaping an existing work for a complete halt in any forward momentum in the multitude of projects I have in the hopper. I'm a victim to the plot bunnies and the Carousel of Manuscripts has come to a screeching halt.
So here's the good news. Along with a couple other members of my local RWA chapter, I'm in my first ever critique group. While it isn't the first writer's room I've ever been in, it's the first that isn't sketch writing. It's also different from my previous experience in that the works aren't collaborative. It's "you show me yours and I'll show you mine". While we may make suggestions, the borders between manuscript nations are clear and I like that. These meetings have been a terrific experience for me. It's really great to hand over your work and get some feedback. Unlike the theatre where I can put up a play and watch the audience watch it, fiction is a very solitary experience and it's extremely hard to gauge if what you're writing is brilliant, passable, or utter excrement. I'm thrilled to report that my peers have been very positive about my work. They've also supplied some terrific perspective and adjustments that have helped me shape the book into something I'll feel more confident to pitch. I'm also really enjoying all the collective knowledge sharing, friend-making, and analysis of our works.
And now for the trade off. After a critique meeting, I'm excited to make the changes. I'm having fun digging into the manuscript I'm sharing with the group. And that's where it dries up. I've always had a minimum of five works in progress going at any given time. I know that's not how it's supposed to work. And the thought of that might make a lot of author's itchy just thinking about it. But my process is a hybrid of playwriting, fiction writing, and improv. The improv part is really important because I follow the moment until it dries up, slowing to a stop like a broken carousel horse. I put the piece aside, hoping (and usually proven right) that another horsey on the carousel of my works will have come back to life and I can climb aboard and ride that idea for a while. I keep switching between works until one hits a critical point where the momentum is strong enough to take me to the finish. This method has worked for quite some time. I just keep hopping horses and inevitably finish a piece here and there, never getting bored with the carousel.
This week the usual approach didn't work anymore. I've sat down every night, opening documents, hoping to read a bit of one of these books that would spark me to get into the moment enough to go forward. I've slogged through a page here and there, but there's no flow. And in the midst of all this uninspired work, I learned a term that got me even further in my head. Plot Bunny. According to Urban Dictionary, a Plot Bunny is an idea for a story (usually used to refer to fanfic) that gnaws at the brain until written. Now, I'm sure lots of people who have been in the fiction world know this term. It was new to me. And once I read the definition, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm cycling through plot bunnies. Everything I start is a plot bunny. I'm CONSUMED with a meet cute or other moment from a piece and I start a new manuscript. I hammer the keys giddily through the first 15,000 - 25,000 words and then when some real plot decisions need to happen, it all comes to a screeching halt. Eventually, I'll mull enough of on some of what needs to happen with the plot and I'll figure it out. But the truly joyous time is that honeymoon period where all the first choices are made and the characters start to take shape. The rest can feel like work.
I'm not surprised that this a-ha moment has come so long into this process. I'm not very good at recognizing patterns. And I'm not daunted by those nagging little bunnies or the lack of zeal I have for any of my bunnies-in-progress. I'll get back to flow at some point. More than likely I need to take a little break and not try to force it. What I definitely DON'T need to do is listen to the fuzzy little shit that keeps wiggling its bewhiskered nose next to my ear and whispering, "start something neeeeeeewwww".
NO YOU DUMB BUNNY! I've got enough irons in the fire. I don't need one more AMAZING start that won't be done for two years. Time to shut down my computer and binge watch something until I'm inspired again. Although, considering how indecisive I've been about which manuscript to finish, I'm sure I'll spend a good hour going through the Netflix menu and then just giving up without picking something. Wish me luck, friends.