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IWSG: Embracing the Turtle

March 6, 2013

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s the first Wednesday of the month and that means that it’s time for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group to circle the wagons and huddle around the campfire. Got self-doubt? Got struggles? Click this here linky and join the indefatigable Alex J. Cavanaugh and some of the nicest writers on the web for some insight and commiseration.

For a while now I’ve been having some anxiety about how long my revision is taking, but this month I got a new perspective on this.

As a biologist I’ve always enjoyed classifying the world around me into types and species, so it seemed only natural that I began to notice how writers seemed to fall into different categories. Since trying to emulate another writer is futile, and will in fact lead to frustration, part of my journey seems to be figuring out what kind of writer I am.

When I started my first novel and was exploring the craziness called NaNoWriMo, I used the handle Larkk. (The extra Harris's Hawk image courtesy of Eric Isselée @ Big Stock‘k’ was needed because apparently ‘Lark’ was already taken— imagine that!) Writing in freewheeling first draft mode felt like I had been given wings. I was a hawk, soaring high above the imaginary world, swooping in to grab inspiration in my talons and rising back into the sky to devour it high upon a cliff away from worldly troubles like inciting incidents and dénouement.

But, like every imaginary high, I eventually landed and discovered what a mess I had made in my exuberance.

Now it is time for revision, and revision is slow. It involves scene cards, character biographies, consistency sheets, and chopping fifty word sentences into bite-sized morsels. Sometimes all I get through is a few pages before my eyes fall shut from exhaustion.

Every day, I go back to it and do a little more. The pile of pages I have ahead of me becomes smaller and the pile of pages done becomes higher. I am making progress, but in the process I fear I’ve become a turtle.

Image courtesy of Denis Barbulat @ Big StockI admit it’s hard to watch other writers sprinting past me, finishing revisions, sending out queries, self-publishing their stories. But, rather than turn bitter and resentful, something I promised myself I’d never do, I’ve discovered another handy feature of the turtle anatomy: The ability to pull my head inside my shell.

Sometimes I need to be alone with my words. In silence, I can hear my subconscious more clearly and rediscover the spark that led me to my keyboard. While it’s fun to talk about my writing, and fun to see what others are working on, there are times when the only thing that matters to the story is what I think. To discover what that is, I curl up into my tiny turtle world and listen to my heart.

As I begin to accept my status as turtle amongst the kingdom of writers, I’ve discovered other benefits of turtle-dom. Image courtesy of 'rfirman' @ stock.xchng@ stoConsider, if you will, the hard turtle shell. It can protect me from jabs of critics, and keep me safe from comments that might stop me from writing. They always say you need a thick skin to be a writer. If I accept my turtle status, I will do that one better. I will have armor made of bone.

So, for now, I will embrace my turtle nature and accept that I too will reach my goals at my own pace, and in my own way.

How about you insecure writers? What species of writer are you? Are you a wolf, who hunts in a pack and howls at the moon? Or a lion, who roams with a pride? Or a bat, who writes at night, and uses echolocation to find its way?

And, are there any useful features of the turtle anatomy that I’ve left out?

Harris’s Hawk image courtesy of Eric Isseleé, turtle skeleton image courtesy of Denis Barbulat, both @ Big Stock. Turtle shell courtesy of ‘rfirman’ @ stock.xchng

  1. March 6, 2013 8:07 am

    Well, since my critique group is called Pride of Liars, I guess I’m a liar that roams with a pride. But really, I relate more to the turtle. Slow and steady wins the race, so they say…

    • March 7, 2013 6:01 pm

      Your writing group has the coolest name ever! I wonder if there’s a turtle writing group out there?
      Maybe I could start one … hmm… 😉

  2. scribblesfromjenn permalink
    March 6, 2013 8:44 am

    Hahahaha! I’m that turtle too! I was just complaining to my crit group how slooooooow this revision is going. It’s good to know I’m not alone. I can’t see anyone else since they’ve all sprinted past me. ;p Great post!

    • March 7, 2013 6:02 pm

      Oh, you are definitely not alone. It is the hardest thing for me to admit how slow I am, but I always feel better once I come clean. 🙂

  3. March 6, 2013 10:19 am

    Dragon, I’m definitely a dragon.

    In my dreams.

    Mostly I seem like I’m all covered in thick scales, but once I actually peel back that one scale over my heart, I’m easily destroyed (funny, my IWSG is about thick skin). I guess what’s really great about the turtle-ling is that you get to really know your heart on the subject of your book. That’s really important, and will absolutely serve you well.

    • March 7, 2013 6:06 pm

      Oooo, I would love to be a writing dragon! I guess, being a turtle, I can say I’m part of the same family, since dragons and turtles are both reptiles …
      Yes, I know my book quite well. It will be strange once I finish and no longer need to think about it.
      In fact, I’ll probably miss it.

  4. March 6, 2013 1:04 pm

    I love the turtle analogy. When I was first exposing my writing to the world I blogged about developing an elephant skin – now it’s armoured elephant hide with a force-field around it! Don’t worry about doing things at your own pace, there’s nothing to be gained by rushing, IMHO, and you’ll only find mistakes and stuff you need to do over. Great to find you on IWSG day – I followed your link from Vikki’s blog.

    • March 7, 2013 6:09 pm

      Hi Joanne
      I’m glad you found A Scenic Route! Isn’t Vikki great?
      You’re right, I would hate to have to fix stuff that I missed because I’m in a hurry. I miss enough stuff already because I have so much to learn!

  5. March 6, 2013 4:28 pm

    Don’t get discouraged. All authors have to do planning and revision. It doesn’t matter whether you do the plotting and character exploration before or after writing the first draft; it has to be done.

    I’m getting better at planning up front, so my 3rd WIP is looking much more polished out of the gate than my first two. But–except for some general improvement with practice and studying the craft–that only means I did more of the work on the front end.

    Everyone goes at it differently. You have to find what works for you. 🙂

    • March 7, 2013 6:14 pm

      Thanks Melissa, that makes a lot of sense and it’s a good way to look at it.
      Already I’m planning a new book and asking some of the questions that I should have asked before I started this one. Maybe my process will become more refined with each story.
      Will I ever stop being a turtle? I don’t know, but it might not matter, as long as I finish eventually! 🙂

  6. March 6, 2013 5:17 pm

    I think I’m a turtle who transforms into a hare once in a while for crazed sprints before morphing back into a turtle…a comatose one that is. This was such a wonderful post, you have a beautiful style and way with words I think anything you produce will be worth the wait! Another cool thing to remember about turtles are that they are SO AMAZING!!! (I don’t know why I’m shouting either). I saw a wild turtle laying eggs on a turtle conservation island recently and it was so surreal once you realize just how resilient female turtles are – they have everything going against them but they triumph 🙂 Turtles may be slow, but they cover an amazing distance of ocean. ps- It’s really cool you’re a biologist, I didn’t know what kind of scientist you were before now 🙂

    • March 7, 2013 6:19 pm

      Thank you! I love turtles too. They seem so self-sufficient and sturdy. Definitely an under-appreciated animal! I love watching them swim in the ocean, so I agree, they are amazing.

      My degree and my favorite branch of science is biology (followed closely by astronomy and oceanography), but I’m actually doing geology for my day job. I use a microscope and it’s pretty cool. (I could blog about it someday!)

  7. March 6, 2013 6:04 pm

    I think turtledom is a great place to revise. I visit often. Turtle shells are not only beautiful, but they’re warm and safe, and when you read aloud, no one can hear but you. Work at your own pace, and you’ll be happier with the results. 🙂 Have to comment using FB. But my blog link is

    • March 7, 2013 6:24 pm

      It’s so good to know that I’m not the only turtle in town. 🙂
      I am actually glad that I don’t have any pressure at this point in my fiction writing adventure. I have a lot to learn, and I don’t mind doing it at my own pace.

      (And thanks for the link. Blogger and WordPress don’t play as nice as they should together. I’ll put you on the blogroll to make this easier next time. :))

  8. March 6, 2013 7:56 pm

    Clever post! I hadn’t thought about comparing myself to the turtle. “Slow and steady wins the race” I’m often thinking of how fast I should completing things. I constantly wondering why things aren’t happening faster.

    Not to say I edit any faster because of those thoughts. I’m very slow to focus on revisions.

    • March 7, 2013 6:27 pm

      Hi Ashley,
      Welcome to A Scenic Route!
      It took me a while to get used to the slow pace of my revision, especially after all the rush of writing first draft Nanowrimo style–no looking back, just jump in!
      Now that I’m embracing the turtle scene though, I can see it definitely has its advantages. 🙂

  9. March 6, 2013 8:55 pm

    Turtle is a great analogy . . . coincidentally, my daughters and I just rescued a turtle on Friday–put it in a nice safe pond behind our house yesterday:-) I think I’m more of a bat though!

    • March 7, 2013 6:29 pm

      I knew there would some bats out there somewhere! There is something appealing about writing at night, isn’t there? Maybe it’s the moon, and the way the wind rattles the house while everyone else is asleep.
      As you can probably tell, I’ve got a bit of bat in me … or I’m just batty. 😉

  10. March 7, 2013 3:12 am

    There’s that saying, “slow and steady wins the race.” I can be a turtle sometimes…I don’t mind taking my time because I want to do it right the first time around! Good luck with your revisions.

    Yay for NaNo writers! I did NaNo last November. I still have a few more chapters to go.

    • March 7, 2013 6:32 pm

      Hi Cynthia,
      Welcome to the scenic route!
      I just LOVE Nano! Every year I tell myself I’m going to skip it and finish my revision, but I can’t resist all that literary abandon. I guess that’s the hawk in me, wanting to get out.
      Good luck finishing your story!

  11. March 7, 2013 4:20 am

    You have my sympathy honey 😦

    Just about to revise mine for the 4th time and it was my Nano novel from 2011!

    I love your analogy about the turtle, and I agree, embrace it! It seems I’m a turtle too so we’ll just plod on and watch those hares shoot past 🙂


    • March 7, 2013 6:37 pm

      Your tenacity inspires me, Vikki!
      (Well, the cake porn too!) but mostly your willingness to go and change what needs changing and learn what needs learning!
      Everything I read says the first novel is the hardest one to write and to revise, so I’m hanging my hopes on that and plodding onward.
      When we’re both published we will look back on this time fondly, right? 🙂

  12. March 7, 2013 7:07 am

    Turtles unite! I’ll never be an author who whips out many books a year. I don’t write that fast. And I take too long planning each story. Creating the outline takes twice as long as writing that first draft.

    • March 7, 2013 6:39 pm

      Aha! So that’s your secret!
      I’m actually making the outline at the revision stage (strange, I know, but it works for me) and that might explain a lot of why this is taking me so long. 🙂
      If I could write a book a year that would feel like lightning to me!

  13. March 7, 2013 8:27 am

    I’m a turtle just because I want to crawl into my shell and hide, but I’m not slow. Maybe I’m a racing snail.


    • March 7, 2013 7:21 pm

      Hi Lauren,
      Welcome to the scenic route, racing snail. 😉
      But don’t feel that you have to hide! The insecure writers are the best, and in fact, most writers I’ve met so far are all kinds of awesome.
      Fast or slow, keep writing and write happy!

  14. March 7, 2013 5:21 pm

    Great imagery — though you are famous world-wide for that. But it seems to fit you from what I know of you, but there are times you are more like the Lark.

    I had not thought of what type of animal I might be as a writer, but now that you ask. the first creature that came to mind was the Meerkat. I find myself buried into my own story burrowing down into the words that I need and not aware of anything around me and then all of a sudden my head pops up and I am looking all around to see what other authors are doing and if there is anything that I need to know to help me with my story. Then I am back down burrowing into the story once again. And many times I feel just as fidgety flipping my head from left to right going “What was that?”, “Where did that come from?”, “Am I doing this correctly or am I missing something?” Flit from one direction to another not sure what I am looking for, but thinking I am definitely missing something, somewhere.

    • March 7, 2013 5:22 pm

      I meant GREAT not Create — GRRRRRR

    • March 7, 2013 6:45 pm

      That’s so cool! I can totally picture you digging around in your story. Isn’t imagery fun?

      I did feel very much like the Lark– before I got into revision. Let’s hope I can find Lark-dom again. 🙂

  15. March 7, 2013 8:09 pm

    I am an eagle, ready to soar into word land. LOL. More like a timid sparrow hiding under the ficus bush, dodging attacks of self doubt. Can you tell I’m working on my synopsis? Yuck!

    As always, your wisdom and humor inspires me, Kirsten. Thanks

    • March 7, 2013 9:19 pm

      Now you’re scaring me, because I have a feeling that a synopsis lies in my future as well. Poor little sparrow, you have wings too. Don’t let them tell you that you can’t fly!
      If we keep at this, someday we will all be eagles together.
      Published ones! 😉

  16. March 8, 2013 1:37 pm

    Turtles is good! The hard shell will definitely come in handy, and you are very wise to pull your head in away from the noise while you’re busy working.

    I’m going to go with bunny for me — I like to huddle in my hutch all alone for a good long while, but when I emerge from the hole, I sprint. .

    • March 10, 2013 3:39 pm

      Hi Nicki,
      Bunnies are so cute too! It’s interesting that a lot of us writers seem to value time alone, whether we’re sprinters or marathoners.

  17. March 9, 2013 11:30 pm

    My revision of my novel is on the backburner while I work on a different project, but I think I can understand where you’re coming from. I only got to HTRYN Lesson 7 and felt like I had to be the slowest person ever and couldn’t conceive how that particular process could ever collapse down to a more manageable time frame. I still don’t see it, but I’ve heard people say that it does after getting through a revision or two, so I’m still willing to see where HTRYN can take me. I’m hoping that using short stories to learn the process will help me make much faster progress when I return to my novel.

    Anyway, it seems like that it generally takes a long time for a writer to get to the point where they can produce fiction that will sell. Some of them write a few books before they get there. Others do it on their first one, and I would think they spend just as much time on their apprenticeship as the multi-book writers spend on theirs. For example, Patrick Rothfuss reportedly spent over 7 years working on ‘The Name of the Wind.’

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either approach–there’s only what works best for each writer. While I’d love the feeling of progress I’d probably get if I’d written and revised a couple books by now, I’d rather take my time and develop the skills and experience I need to make my first novel one I can be proud of.

    The ability to write a novel requires a complicated skill set. It probably takes a lot of work for everyone to develop, even when it looks like some of them are going much faster than the rest of us. Hang in there 🙂

    • March 10, 2013 3:48 pm

      Now that I’m (finally!) closing in on the last few lessons of HTRYN, I have to concede that I have trouble imagining myself doing a revision in the one month time frame Holly envisions. (I’m not a full time writer by a long shot though either.) Personally, if I could get one done in six months that would thrill me beyond measure!
      I’m beginning to see that the time compression works from both ends–meaning that the first drafts come out tighter the first time through, and the revision process is cleaner with each pass.
      I agree with you on having a novel I can be proud of. This story is one that I care about deeply, and it would make me very unhappy if I ended up trunking it. Unfortunately, because of this, I don’t want put it away and work on something else for practice. Progress might just be harder to measure when one is revising and revising the same story.
      I do see myself finishing eventually though. 🙂

      • March 10, 2013 10:31 pm

        I’m with you. I don’t want to trunk my novel either. I’d still be working on it, but I’m hoping that if I get through the project I’m running through HTRYN now, it’ll make the novel go faster when I get back to it.

        Anyway, like I’ve said before, whenever your book is ready, I’m ready to buy it 🙂

  18. T.F.Walsh permalink
    March 12, 2013 7:19 pm

    I’m also very slow in revising, but you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, so nothing wrong with taking your time I say:)

    • March 13, 2013 6:53 am

      I hope that someday I learn to revise a little faster, but if I’m slow, so be it!

  19. cluculzwriter permalink
    March 17, 2013 1:20 pm

    I’m a turtle with cravings that leave me poking along until I get a whiff of fresh baked cookies. Great analogy, Kirsten. Loved it. Happy IWSG. Yes, I’m really late.

    • March 17, 2013 2:18 pm

      Hi Cluculzwriter!
      Turtles, birds, fish … everyone is welcome here. 🙂
      No worries about being late, a scenic route is always open. And, as you can see it’s high time I post something new up here!

  20. March 24, 2013 2:03 pm

    I just left you an award on my blog. Happy Sunday 🙂

    • March 25, 2013 12:12 am

      Wow, thank you!
      I’m away from my blog at the moment, but I’ll check it out as soon as I get back. 🙂
      Thanks for thinking of me!


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