Writing Isn’t Always Champagne and Violets

WHAT’S PLAYING: Alicia Keys “Tell You Something (Nana’s Reprise)”

So, I’ve put my first novel aside for a bit and started work on a new book. It’s not going well.

The words are coming, but the little tingle I get when a story finally clicks into place is missing. With my first book, most mornings I’d sit down in front of the computer and the words would just tumble out of my head, one after the other, like some sort of shimmering fountain of awesomeness.  

Awash with inspiration, I’d write for hours, stopping only to answer the demands of my coffee-filled bladder. I’d get up, only to discover that my legs had fallen asleep, and lie there, trying not to piss myself or scream as the pins and needles worked their torturous way through my lower extremities.

*Sigh*

Those were the days.

bad_day

When it comes to this new book, instead of a shimmering fountain of awesomeness, I get a viscous deluge of shit. It’s depressing. Like I need a nap after every 2-3 thousand words type of depressing.

Dead moms, madness, ghosts, monsters, trauma, prejudice, all my personal demons are in there. Add to that the knowledge that I’ll have to go back and tease some kind of hope out of all this despair, and you have yourself one tired, morose writer.   

Don’t get me wrong. The book is good, probably the best thing I’ve ever written. (Which, at this point, is not saying much. But I’m saying it anyway. So, shut up.) More importantly, it’s the story I need to tell now.

Still, in the words of the immortal B.B. King, the thrill is gone.

Frustrated_Writer

I love writing, but days like this remind me that it’s a job, which requires work. That’s why I spend six hours a day slogging through this first draft, pushing through resistance, and forcing the words out when they refuse to emerge on their own.                                            

Because I’m a writer. And that’s what writers do.

In the meantime, if I want thrills and tingles, I’ll call my boyfriend.

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Finding Balance between Consumer and Critic

WHAT’S PLAYING: The B-52’sLove Shack

Ask any writer or professor. Read any book or blog, and they will tell you that one of the best ways to learn how to write is to read.

This is very good advice. Problem is that, more often than not, I find myself getting lost in the story rather than dissecting authorial technique.

Maybe it’s because when I pick up a book, I’m doing so as a consumer rather than a critic. Sure, I might go back to see if I can figure out how the author pulled off that neat trick with characterization or setting, but when it comes to reading, my primary aim is always to enjoy a good story.

There have been many times when critics have lambasted some of my favorite books, calling out the authors for purple prose or poor characterization or weak plots, basic skills everyone should master before attempting a novel. They call the author an amateur, a hack, a bad writer.

I don’t care. I still love them.

When it comes to books, I only have one rule: don’t bore me.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s more challenging than you might think. I have a notoriously short attention span. For an author to keep me reading for three hundred pages requires a great deal of skill. If the story sags for more than a few pages, then I’m done. Bottom line: if a writer is going to explore the human condition, preach altruism, or flex his literary muscles at me, then he’d better wrap it all up in one hell of a story.

This attitude has made it difficult for me to develop a critical eye, but I’m slowly learning how to look for what works in other people’s stories, and by extension, my own. There is just as much to learn from poorly written books as there is in stories written by master storytellers.

Still, nothing compares to the rush of diving into a great story and not coming up for air until it’s over. Knowing that I can always go back and figure out how the author captured my attention is just icing on the cake.

What about you? How do you find balance between your own consumer and critic?

Note to Self: Keep Moving Forward

WHAT’S PLAYING: The Pierces “Lights On”

“It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you don’t stop.”

Confucius

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, writing is hard. And, for me at least, it doesn’t get any easier. Sure, I’m a better writer now than I was a year ago, but the actual process of getting ideas out of my head and on to the page remains both frustrating and futile. For every page I write, I delete two. You do the math.

My problem is that I’m a perfectionist. The attention to detail that makes me a good chemist is anathema to creativity. I get caught up in the little things, debating comma placement instead of focusing on writing. I lose perspective. Then I lose patience. Finally, I lose the story.

Every word must be dissected, weighed, and measured by my internal critic before it can see the light of day. Let’s call her “Bitchy Jacqui” or “BJ”. (Insert pun of your choice *here*.) That nagging little “expletive” is forever reminding me that, no matter how good I might think a particular piece of writing is, it’s not good enough. I can’t seem to translate the images in my head to the written word. Not perfectly.

BJ does have a point. I’m not nearly as good a writer as I someday hope to be. I’m learning, and happy to be doing so, but still, there are so many stories I want to tell and my writing is just not good enough to pull them off.

At least, not yet.

I’m lucky enough to have a great mentor who also happens to be a fantastic writer. I’ve been promising to send him the first chapter of my novel for over a year now, and still haven’t done it. It’s not ready yet. It’s not perfect. I have nightmares in which he shows up at my door, waving pages and demanding why I wasted his time with such drivel. (I know. I have issues.)

Letting go of perfection isn’t easy for me. Do it right the first time is sort a battle cry for my profession. Let’s face it, if there’s any career where perfectionism is required, it’s nuclear power. That and the medicine.

The trick is having patience. With myself and with life in general. I know that my skills will grow with time and practice, and I’m putting in the necessary work to improve: taking classes, writing, reading, etc. I just have to give myself time.

What are you doing to bring you closer to your dreams? How are you moving forward? What motivates you to keep pushing for the life you truly desire?

Things won’t always work out the way I want. I can’t control that. What I can control is how I deal with setbacks.

I choose to move forward.

How about you?