Why My Post Is Late

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I meant to post hours ago, though I hadn’t quite decided what to write about for today.  It’s funny really (at least to me).  Part of what we talk about as writers, part of what Catie’s post from yesterday (and my reply) was getting at, is the fact that when writing is a job you write on demand all the time.  None of this waiting for inspiration stuff.  I sit down at my computer in the morning, knowing that I’ll be working on Chapter Whatever, taking characters x and y from this place to that place.  You get my meaning.  I write what I have to write everyday.

But when it comes to writing blog entries, I sometimes find that my mind just goes blank.  I don’t know what to write.  My mind was filled with Super Tuesday stuff this morning, but I didn’t want to bring in more political stuff to this site.  And I had nothing else on my mind.

So I got to work, and promised myself that I’d blog later.  I’ve been working on this story for a couple of weeks now.  I’ve known generally what was going to happen, and I’ve been excited about where I thought the story was going.  But I’m not used to writing short fiction, and I was having trouble getting past the middle section of the piece.  Some stories are like that, I guess, just like some books are like that.  Sometimes the words just flow, and other times it’s a real slog, and it’s not always clear to me what it is that’s slowing me down.

Anyway, today, at last, I broke through.  I hadn’t written more than a page or two in any of the last nine days working on this thing.  Today I wrote eight pages — two thousand words.  As I said, I don’t know what was holding me back before, and I don’t know what changed today, but suddenly I was just writing.  And maybe that’s the secret.  At some point I stopped thinking about the story; I stopped trying to make something happen.  Instead, I listened.  I listened to myself and I listened to my characters.  Rather than trying to impose my will on the story, I gave in to it and let it guide me toward what I think will be a pretty good ending.  And as soon as I did that — as soon as I stopped pushing and just let it flow — everything became easier.

Yes, to be successful in this profession, you have to apply butt to chair and write.  You can’t wait for the Muse.  But neither can you push your creativity in specific directions, at least not all the time.  This is a job.  It’s also art, a creative process. There’s a balance that each of us has to find.  I know authors who swear that you really can control every part of the writing process, who control their characters and plot and know exactly where their stories and books are going from start to finish.  I know others who just write — no outline, nothing more than a vague sense of where the project should go.  I’m somewhere in between.  I make myself write each day, but when I try to grip a story too hard it fights me.  For me at least, writing is both an act of discipline and an exercise in relinquishing control.

Anyway, it worked today.  I wrote and wrote, and completely lost track of the time.  And that’s why my post is late.

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5 comments to Why My Post Is Late

  • Michele Conti

    I think readers can definitely tell when an author has over-thought the process. It’s almost like some books out there are just too structured. There’s no sense of real life, the bad thing happens at the exact moment that it should and the process of resolution is exactly five chapters long which puts you at the precise point in the last chapter when the problem is completely solved, in a way that makes absolutely no sense with the rest of the story because it just kind of…cut off, you knew there was going to be a resolution but you had absolutely no idea that it would end right there. Where’s the rest of the book? *G*

    (hrm, hows that for a run on sentence…oi)

    Others are more random. It more closely resembles the uncertainty of real life, which is something that I quite like.

  • I’m with you on this one, Michele. The formulaic stuff doesn’t work that well for me. Some people like it, and that’s great. But I like things more haphazard. As you say, that’s more like real life.

  • MelanieGriffin

    Phew! David, this is good for me to hear. And others I am sure, too. As a yet unpub’d writer (as Faith calls it), I have struggled with the same sort of thing. Writer’s block as an entity is not something I focus on, so it hasn’t been like I just stop, but more like what you described: I just don’t go properly forward.

    The one time I really got stuck, I threw up my hands and wrote a chapter with two of my important characters doing something apparently entirely unrelated to my protag/narr. I had no idea how I was going to incorporate it. Not even if I would. It turns out to be an extremely revelatory chapter, and terribly important to the progression of my character’s understanding and growth. She was eavesdropping, and I didn’t know it until halfway through. *grins* And I got to lace the whole thing with a bunch of good future-supporting clues and problems. (heh heh heh)

    Anyway, I want it plotted, but not so tight while I’m writing that it squeaks, and I lose the haphazardness of real life. Or that it gets flat as cardboard. This was a good situation for me to learn that I needed to listen to my characters. *smiles* They are amazing for what they tell you. I don’t know how I ever got along in the world without doing this!

  • Michele Conti

    I love foreshadowing like that. It’s particularly amusing when you can say “Oh, that bugger, he’d better not do what I think he’s going to do.” And a few chapters later it’s “Oh crap, he didn’t listen to me….”
    I like a bit of surprise too though. There has to be a decent mix between the two, otherwise there’s no point in reading past a certain point. You know the outcome, already, so you don’t have to listen to the characters or storyteller.

    I’ve started writing a book recently. I’ve written something like 30 pages….report style as I never bothered to change it when I stopped taking courses that required reports.

    My problem is, these pages don’t seem to be at the beginning. I have to come up with a beginning and it’s not really going all that well for me. Is that something that happens to a lot of writers, or am I just weird?

  • “Is that something that happens to a lot of writers, or am I just weird?”

    Okay, I have to ask: Are the two mutually exclusive? 😉

    Sorry, Michele. Couldn’t resist. Yes this happens to writers all the time. Ideas for books and stories don’t present themselves in perfect outline order — that would be way too convenient. Ideas present themselves (at least in my experience) as snippets, as vignettes, as little tidbits. Our job as writers is to give them meaning, to tie them together into narrative, to lend them coherence and intrigue and suspense and all the other things books or stories need to have.

    Sometimes that means writing the scenes as we see them and putting them together later. I know writers who work that way. I don’t. I tend to collect those snippets and make note of them without actually writing them out. And when at last I have the story figured out, then I sit down and write. But that’s me. There is no right way to do this. I find it hard to write when I don’t know what came before in the narrative. I have to work my way through chronologically when I write. I can’t jump around from scene to scene. Maybe you can, in which case that beginning scene will come to you when you’re ready to write it. You have to trust your creative process. Does that help at all?

    Melanie’s example is pertinent here, I think. As writers, we can feel it when something isn’t working. We understand better than anyone else what our own creative process is like. If the words aren’t flowing the way I expect them to, that tells me that I’ve gotten off track somehow. Melanie solved this problem by writing what she thought was an unrelated scene, and even if it had stayed unrelated that would have been a great idea. As it was, it sounds like it jump-started the book.