Pages From a Writer

Glorious is the thought going through my mind as I face a week and a half of “free time” (well, not entirely — there will still be mornings here and there of work in the office, but I get a blessed week off from the major lifting). It has been such a busy summer for me that I welcome a slowing down of time, long afternoons in which I can write.

A few months ago, midway through my current work of fiction it occurred to me that the book needed to undergo a rather significant change, from third person into first. I ignored that inkling and continued working on it, noticing that my enthusiasm and pace were slowing. Even though what I had written was good, deep down I knew it wasn’t what it was supposed to be, but I was not certain how to change it, or what it should become. Inspiration abandoned me and left me in despair. Fortunately, though, breakthroughs are inevitable and liberation came with my total acknowledgment that the book had to be abandoned. Not entirely, as it is going to be rewritten into the revision, as much of it as I can salvage, but enough that in the course of a single afternoon I went down from 150 pages to 2. That 2 is now 10, thanks to a few afternoons of focused effort. The problem seems to be fixed — I figured out what was wrong (third person, not a good plan for this series, and my main character is now much younger, so I can ease into the young adult genre with this book as well) and set about remedying it. I even managed to be satisfied about the opening line, which normally is the bane of my literary existence.

I’ve always thought that being an author was a little bit like playing God, and that as such, it should give us greater understanding of Him. After all, we are creators of our own little worlds and characters and sometimes must let them suffer the consequences of their choices. But the plain fact of the matter is that God never has writer’s block, whereas we do. I’m of the surly sort of writer who if she cannot write, either through a lack of time or a lack of inspiration, the entire world becomes a dark abyss into which no glimmer of light penetrates. My lack of creativity rapidly turns into a form of depression and I cease caring about the world in general, other than the people who irritate me most (and they tend to be more annoying in those times… hmm, wonder why?). This summer was a yo-yo of such emotion, because I knew the book wasn’t working but plugged away at it anyway because I hate to admit defeat. So I would have an afternoon of tremendous success and literary genius that left me feeling good… followed by a week of dread at returning to the manuscript, because I had no idea what to do with it. Not only that, this literary befuddlement spread into other areas of my life — it left me disinclined to write much of anything, which for me is a disaster, considering that 70% of my time must be dedicated to writing in some form.

You may hear in creative writing classes that the best thing to do when you have writers block is to push through it and write anyway. If you are anything like me — don’t. That is how you end up miserable and dissatisfied with your work. If it isn’t working, leave it alone for a few days and go back to it. If it still isn’t working, seriously consider whether or not this is what you are meant to be writing right now. Because either your initial idea wasn’t good enough to carry it through or it has become apparent that there isn’t enough inspiration in the angle you were working from to make something decent out of it. There are times when the idea simply works, it clicks and almost writes itself, and other times when I approach a topic with the best of intentions only to have all my creativity fail me. Anyone else could read the result and think it was good, because in a purely writing sense, it would be good. But I always know if it is or isn’t working, and in the cases when it isn’t, I sometimes am forced to abandon it. This makes me a compassionate editor and not inclined to bite anyone’s head off if their submission comes in from a different angle than they intended. It happens.

Speaking of writing, submissions are flooding into my inbox for this issue of Femnista, and I have most of the ones I have received formatted already. What a wonderful exploration of literary and cinematic sleuths! My only concern at the moment is doing the subject material justice with decent layouts, but I’m happy with the layouts I have designed thus far. I am also stocking up on reviews for this weekend. I finally managed to make it through Gormenghast, a miniseries I tried watching multiple times in younger years and couldn’t take it. (Pratchett, I think, has changed me in that regard, and I’m not so keen to dismiss outright absurdity as I once was.) I also freaked myself out right and proper this afternoon with Michelle Dockery’s version of The Turn of the Screw (with Dan Stevens… same actors, same time period, I’m shocked no one has incorporated any clips into Downton Abbey music videos yet). I’m totally behind on all of my shows this week, having spent the last few evenings diving into new costume drama discoveries but… who cares?

8 Replies to “Pages From a Writer”

  1. Hi there! I figured I’d amble over here. I’m glad I did!

    For me, plugging through is the best course, or I get too discouraged and don’t write anything at all. I think it’s different for different people and we all need to figure out what works for us.

    I’m glad your novel’s coming along so much better. I know the feeling of scrapping something that you really want to work. But usually the rewritten piece is so much better!

    I didn’t know there’s a movie version of The Turn of the Screw! I read the story a few times in college, and was actually thinking about it a week or so ago and how I’d love to reread it. I’m going to have to see if the library or Netflix has it.

    1. I don’t suggest not writing something, just that if an article, or a chapter, or whatever is giving you trouble, to try a different topic for awhile — it usually means your creative streak isn’t working with the topic, rather than just a general state of “blah-ness.” I realize that we’re all different but I don’t think forcing ourselves to finish something that we are not feeling passionate about is always the right way to go, if it’s optional. (For this reason, I would probably never want a six book contract, which is what most authors want more than anything — if it was on a specific topic, there’s always a fear that I’d get stuck writing a book I have no passion for anymore, and then it would turn out only half-rate. Such was the fate of Stephanie Meyer and “Breaking Dawn.” Sigh.)

      There are multiple versions of The Turn of the Screw; one is The Innocents, which is a classic adaptation, and there have been several BBC productions of it as well. The latest (the one I watched) you cannot get very easily over here, but I’m sure Netflix (or at least their DVD rental, for streaming I doubt it) has the Colin Firth / Jodhi May version. =)

      1. I can see that, and maybe that’s why I have a hard time finishing some things that I write. Maybe I should try something else or try a different approach. I’ll have to remember that. I kind of get in college mode where I feel I have to finish whatever it is I’m working on.

        And I totally understand–I wouldn’t want a multiple book project, either. It seems you’re always reading about different authors who tire of the characters they write about.

        Thanks for the tip about The Turn of the Screw!

  2. Congrats on getting up the courage to change the direction of your story! =) Sometimes changing something to 1st person or to 3rd can make much more of a difference than people might think.
    I feel for you about the frustration- sometimes I have to take long breaks from my writing projects, and come back with fresh ideas and perspective. I have some projects that have nearly 200 pages, but that I know need much, much more work, and could probably be cut down to half that but with better quality writing. One problem being that some of the projects that I started were back when my writing skills were not as great- so the writing gets progressively better in the manuscripts, but starts out quite terrible. It’s an odd malady to have, that asks for some serious and painstaking rewriting! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    What is the subject-matter/setting of your current fiction project? Or is it a secret? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. I know what you mean — sometimes my story takes a dramatic shift in the second half and then I have to go back and lay the groundwork in the first half. With my last work, I got to the end and realized that my hero wasn’t strong enough of a character, so all the revision I did on it my second go-through was to make him stand out more. The end result was great — but it took a year to write that book and revise it!

      My two current books are Victorian fantasies in a sense — they lean a little more toward allegories in the sense that Spiritual Gifts are heightened and actually give the main characters certain abilities. The last book was more of an adventure, and the one I am working on now will be a mystery. =)

  3. Oh! It sounds like you are making productive progress on your new novel, Charity – yay! Cannot wait to hear about how that develops. =) What I am working on right now is more “young adult” with characters who are in their early twenties. I kind of feel like that is better for me right now, since I will be able to relate more. Reading stories in the first person is a challenge when I am first starting a book but if the story is good, that is not an “issue” for long.

    Hmmm… I’ve read about “Turn of the Screw” but never seen any version – I saw that Michelle and Dan starred in the latest version too, how ironic is that!? Looking forward to your new updates at Charity’s Place this weekend – and the December first release of Femnista!

    1. I normally write third person, but my last novel was written in first person and since this is a companion novel of sorts, it is probably wise that for continuity’s sake, I keep it in first person even though it is a different character. It’s working well for now. *knock on wood* I’ve always kind of liked first person because it lends a sense of intimacy with the narrator, but it’s more of a challenge because the audience is only permitted to know what the writer knows, whereas in third person you can follow more than one character.

      Their starring together is very odd — no wonder they are such good friends, having spent so much time together! =)

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