Beyond the Grey Zone

by Chris McMahon

I was running with a friend of mine a while back when he said to me, “You run too much in your Grey Zone.”  My puzzlement followed.

This guy did a lot of marathons and was very experience in various training regimes to prepare for these events. He went on to explain that he thought I stuck too much in the “middle ground” of my running spectrum. To really push the boundaries of my times I needed to mix things up – do sprints, intervals, times over a range of distances etc.

Since then I have done just that, and my times across my favourite distances – around 8-10 kilometres – have improved a lot.

I can’t help but extend the analogy to writing. Initially I thought about going beyond the “comfort zone” of genre, point-of-view, tense etc. But I think it’s worth pushing the actual rate of writing itself by putting yourself under external pressure.

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is a great one. I’ve never joined this (the timing has not been right for me), but I think it’s a great idea.

Lately I took a month off my meal-ticket job to write the third novel in the Jakirian series, Sorcerer. That was a great experience, and personally satisfying to have the first draft under my belt. Certainly a lot more fun than scratching away at the dismal pace my usual weekly schedule allows.

Another fun one I did last year, which enabled me to finish off my SF novel Foreign Elements, was the Rabbit Hole. A three day intensive writing exercise facilitated by QWC, in which I managed to pump out 27,000 words and write “THE END”. Nice.

Things like this really help to get the cobwebs out. The Rabbit Hole was particularly nice as you got to work alongside fellow writers. That experience is not to be underrated. It was quite encouraging to feel like you were ‘legitimate’. The peer reinforcement gave a deep level of personal validation.  I can only speak for myself, but I have had to battle hard against my family and upbringing to be a writer at all – and some of these attitudes and beliefs persist in the shadowland of the soul, despite my best efforts.

Anyone else been part of any writing enterprises that pushed them out of the “Grey Zone”. Yes – deadlines do count!

8 thoughts on “Beyond the Grey Zone

  1. Last year was the second time I did Nanowrimo. The first time I just pulled a story oiut of thin air, a zombie story in an already existing universe. As I was doing it for fun, I could let go of inhibitions and be totally wild. Yes! Flame throwers to deal with the hordes of zombie rats! Oh, no! Hordes of flaming zombie rats scattering and running for cover in a town composed of mostly wood!

    Over 50K words in a month. I impressed myself.

    Last fall I wrote a whole first draft in a weird cyber punk universe. Again, 50K words in a month.

    Mind you, they were both really really rough first drafts. But it’s nice to know that if pressed, I can write that fast. I don’t know how long I could keep it up. Research and editing needs have a tendency to catch up with one, eventually. Not to mention, real life and family. And both times I was slowing down and feeling burned out toward the end.

    But that was a deadline voluntarily imposed as a _game_. I’m not sure the pressure of an external deadline would have the same effect. It would probably lack the early euphoric “Oh this is fun!” spurt at the start. But maybe that would prevent the burn out toward the end of the month.

    1. Good work getting two separate concepts out like that. Did you eventually polish them up and get them onto the market?

      I know what you mean about burnout & research catching up with you. I managed to write a little over 94k last March when I took the month off – but I really could only achieve this because I had spent the last 6 months getting the storyline and background all prepared – nothing left to do but hit the accelerator!

      I think I would probably be able to keep that pace for around six weeks – after that it would be a case of burnout. But I guess that’s the pont of putting yourself under pressure, to test your upper limits – not to run at a sprint forever!

      1. The zombie story was too silly for consideration, but I’m about to make a last pass at the cyberpunk and . . . figure out which way to go with it.

  2. I went to a writers’ workshop at the end of June that kicked some things into gear for me. The program’s foci were outside my genre and market but I learned a lot. I reworked the outline for my novel and that flows much better, plus I finished a novella and a completely new story, wrapped up two older stories that had been lingering far too long, and started two more, plus got ideas for a fourth new short. I’m not quite ready to try the “fourteen days to a novel” method just yet, though.

    1. Fourteen days to write a novel? Ouch!

      Sounds like you hit a really good flow in the writing workshop, very productive over a range of different projects. Hold onto that feeling!

  3. I sort of thought that pros essentially did nano word counts year round along with the rest of the hard work that comes after a first draft. I am coming to suspect that some do and some don’t. It seems to all depends on how the particular pro chooses to run their business.

    1. I think there is a pretty wide range in how fast people turn out novels, whether they are pro or not – mind you, I think the mid-list ‘stayers’ tend to be able to produce at least one or two a year regardless.

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