If you have read my previous posts about my novel you would know that I’m not much of a planner. I started by thinking about the concept for a while (several months) until I got fed up and just started writing. 30,000 some words later I realized I should probably figure out some things. So I did the basics, I developed a simple timeline and list of characters with their traits and whatnot. It didn’t take long and I had a what I thought was a decent base to work off.
I’m sure more experienced writers see this coming. I was wrong. Now I’m at the 50,000 word mark and have hit a wall, my meager plans were not enough. I finished a chapter the other day and thought, what’s next. I have several ideas but they swirl and shift and I can’t decide on any of them. So now I have to go back to planning. I’m currently in the process of figuring out my characters motivations so I can thoroughly understand what they will do next, not to mention figure out where the specifics of the story are headed.
This is the part I don’t enjoy, I write because I myself want to know what happens. My favourite part of writing is when I’m in the ‘zone’, the story flows almost without conscious thought and I’m watching it play out in my mind. But now I’m stuck in slogging my way through the planning swamp, full of misteps and disjointed paths (thoughts). Which is where the title for this entry comes from, life being the writing, I want to get back to writing instead of planning.
So I might just do that, I’ve been thinking maybe I’ll just choose a path and write, fuck planning. There’s always the edit, right?
I have always wondered why so many famous writers were or are also notorious drunks. Foolishly as I write this I cannot think of a single name but I swear it’s a thing. The other day I was having a particularly bad case of blank page syndrome, it was evening so I didn’t feel guilty or bad for cracking open a bottle.
An hour later I found myself nicely buzzed. And. No. Thoughts. Came.
How do other people do it?
My creativity is not at all linked to a substance it seems, I’ve heard of using drugs or alcohol to help in the creative process but to me at least that seems like a silly idea and at worst a waste of time. While drunk I can’t focus enough to even write a word.
I look at my page, (it’s already full of words, I’m mid-chapter) but nothing comes, I start reading a few sentences to refresh my mind. Still nothing, but I think about rewording those sentences I just read. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll move this, and change this word, what’s a good synonym I could use? Great, now I’m editing and nothing new is on the page. This continues for a while until I start a sentence, a new sentence. A new paraghraph!
The next day, with a slight hangover I take a look at what I wrote the night before. A) There isn’t much, it’s about half a page. B) It’s not well written, the sentence structure is bland and my vocabulary spontaneously shrank by about a million. C) It’s just not that good, it’s not very interesting and the characters are not faithful to their personalities.
So I ask again, why the hell do writers drink and write?
This week has been another slog. I find it frustrating how much I love to write but when I finally have a few hours to actually do it… nothing. My brain blanks, my creativity stalls, it makes me want to throw my computer across the room. Ok, I’m being hyperbolic but you get my drift, it’s annoying. This week was particularily vexing because I realized midway through the week part of the reason for my struggles is because I haven’t filled out my characters enough.
This is a whole other, deeper, far more frustrating issue. First I’ll preface by saying, I am glad I realized this now and not later. I’m not too far into the novel, 45,000 words is a ways but the story is far from over. Anyways, so my characters are not done. Part of this stems from my writing style. I like to plan rough ideas and then write to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately I did this not only with the plot but also with the characters. I realize my mistake now of course, after writing a large chunk of book.
The problem I ran into was my characters don’t feel different enough, their motivations are relatively bland or unrealized in what I’ve written. The dialogue from one character to another is not very different. They probably all read pretty similarily. Which is because I forgot to fill them in as characters. I have an idea of who they are but without little details they don’t feel real or 3 dimensional.
So, its been frustrating. Again, I’m glad I realized this now, although I’m not looking forward to rewriting a bunch of things (I know I will have to anyways, but I want to write the rest of the story first). Now I’m struggling to decide whether to go back and fix some of the most recent scenes just to adjust them to my more fully realized characters or if I should push on and just write them properly going forward. I’m sure every writer has struggled with this to some degree. If you have leave a comment or like. I’d like to know I’m not the only one.
Lately I have been doing a lot of reading. Reading articles, reading novels, reading blogs, all sorts of reading. It’s been great for inspiration and stirring my greymatter into a creative frienzy but there has been a downside. That damn brain of mine keeps getting in the way, I’ll be writing, or (more recently) trying to write and the stupid voice in my head says “is that a good choice? would the character do that? is this even worth writing? why are you spending all your time trying to make this dumb story?” It’s unpleasant and annoying. I’m sure every writer has that voice, if not you are a god or not human, or the more likely option increadibly lucky and confident. I on the other hand am not so, and for some reason it has been getting the better of me.
I wish I had some solution, I wish this a post where I offered a way out. But I get the impression that is basically the holy grail of writing… So if you also have these issues feel free to leave me a comment and we can comisserate together!
So I took an extended break from writing for nearly 3 months. It wasn’t on purpose but I became busy and occupied creatively with a game I’m designing. Over the recent holidays however I found myself taking a break from game design. I dove headfirst into my shelf full of unread novels. I read one, and as soon as I finished I picked up the next. The first was a spy novel in the Daniel Silva series, the second was a favourite of mine, Pillars of the Earth. As I began Pillars I quickly became full of inspiration and new ideas. I had forgotten the feeling of creating and exploring a story. Rereading an old favourite helped me a great deal to think about my writing and story structure and the more minute details of the story.
I would not have guessed this to be the case, but looking back now it makes total sense. Reading a book for the first time is like watching a movie or playing a game or even listening to a song for the first time. It’s difficult to analyze something critically on a first play through or read through, or at least it is for me. I am most often totally distracted by the story (unless it isn’t a good movie or good book). I find it easy to become immersed in the world of the story and forget about plot holes or discrepancies or other issues. But on multiple viewings or readings those wholes appear.
This is when a good story is obvious, on a second or third go you appreciate the story all the more when it’s good, the wholes may be small but forgivable or maybe there aren’t any.
I noticed this especially when reading through Pillars for a second time, I could pay more attention to the quality of the story telling and writing because I knew where it was going. This is why I felt so inspired, I saw errors in my own writing or how my own story was faultering or missing something which inspired me all the more to go back to writing.
Now I have written a few thousand words and the flow is back. So maybe if you’re in a lull try taking a little break and reading a good story, it may be more helpful than you think.
PS: I know a lot of writers say its important to read almost as much as write, I never felt this was that important but now I see. But any old reading isn’t necessarily the best, reading quality works is definitely important and now I really understand why.
Technically this doesn’t have to do directly with my current novel in progress, forwarning. On this fine afternoon I was discussing writing with some fellow wordsmiths and we decided to compare short stories. I found one I had written a few years ago but was still relatively proud of and showed it off. Immediately I got feedback and felt an urge I hadn’t really ever felt. I wanted to edit.
I have always dreaded the edit, in my earlier writing days I hated the process. I never wanted to sit down with something I had finished and re-write the bloody thing, I was done with it. I wanted to move on to the next thing. Or, I thought it was good enough, no need to go over it again. Such a naive, stupid thing to think. As I grew older I realized the editing process was important, my first drafts (no matter if it was fiction or non-fiction) were never even nearly perfect. A great deal of editing was always, always, always required. Often though I would spend hours writing and then feel sick of the piece, I never wanted to go back and have to re-do it all over again. So I often put it off until I forgot about the piece.
Then today happened. I took out an old piece that I had actually edited around the time of writing it, even letting others look at it, and eventually posting it on this blog. I let some writers take a look and they had some suggestions. I read through it again, I noticed so many things that I wanted to change. I turned on the change tracker in word and set to work. It took several hours to go through, line by line, meticulously examining and re-examining each sentence and word and comma.
Finally after an hour or two passed I was finished. I read through it again. It was so clearly better. I hadn’t reduced the word count by much if at all but it was smoother, the flow better realized. I felt proud and reposted it to the group. The feedback was even better.
This experience showed me not only is editing not as terrible as I had so foolishly believed but it also is important for your writing. In order to improve we need to see the mistakes we make and realize they are mistakes, they need to fixed or worked on. I used to constantly use the word seem, everything in my writing used to seem a certain way to the viewpoint characters. I never noticed it much before, until this meticulous line edit. Now I avoid using that word at all costs, unless absolutely necessary.
Editing is good and absolutely necessary to become a better writer. Don’t be afraid of it, like I foolishly was.
Based on previous posts you may know that I have been struggling to write lately. The block has become a wall, one that I have yet to surmount. The odd thing is, I know what I want to write. I’m currently working on a chapter, which I have totally planned out, I managed to get about halfway through and ran into the wall. Last week I had a day where I basically sat in front of the screen knowing what I wanted to write but the words did not come.
It has been very odd. So I turned to YouTube and blogs, what have other writers been using to get over the wall? Based on my not so extensive research I have figured out that most successful writers tend to figure out there own method that works best for them. Some use planning and deadlines, they have to hit a daily wordcount. Some write other things as a distraction to warm up their fingers and minds. Some outline in even more detail until the block is worked through.
I haven’t used or tried any yet. The block still persists. However I watched a lecture by an author and I really want to try what he said. He said to set achievable goals (it’s what he did to finish his book). So during a time of block instead of trying to set wordcounts or planning intricate outlines, set a more simple achievable goal. Write something. Write a sentence or a paragraph or a page. But just write something.
So I’m going to try that.
I’ll let you know how it goes.