Writing Is Hard – Part 2: In Flight
And so here we are again… meaning here I am again. Writing fiction. OK, not right here, exactly; this is more of a reflective semi-public journal. But I’m at it again, the fiction, these days.
It’s been a long time, I have to admit, since I have written fiction in any meaningful way. I’ve abandoned two manuscripts in the past two years, and it was painful to do so, but there came those points at which I had to accept that the sunk money fallacy was at play and simply stop spending my time and effort on stories and characters in which I found no passion. The reader would have seen right through it. Actually, the reader might simply have stopped reading. As I recently looked over some the pages I’d written over those years, I found plenty of fine paragraphs, some engaging dialogue, and even a few sentences and phrases that were just gems. But overall, there was something missing, something akin to what Stephen Pirsig was searching for in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Or rather what the late Pirsig was looking for in life: quality. When it’s there, you can feel it. Ditto the dearth.
And maybe I’m in the forest and only seeing trees, sure, but right now, the work I’m doing feels, finally, after many years, not like work at all. It’s a pleasure again. And I think that might damn well mean there’s quality. Averaging 900 to 1,000 words a session, and I’m writing at least five nights a week. It’s like old times, I’m glad to say.
What changed? What is it that helps a writer finally get his or her hands out from under his or her ass and get them back on the keys (or wrapped around a pen, if freehand is your thing)? For me, it involved a lot of changes and progress in life, sure, but also the removal of excuses (AKA bullshit) and a concerted plan. First I read a book and plenty of articles and essays about writing. The book, which you should also read, as millions have, was Stephen King’s On Writing. Then I started reading even more fiction than normal, starting with Tolstoy to remind me what great writing can be, and then in the genre at hand, to prime the pump. Then, as soon as I started the actual writing, I moved away from the genre in my reading, in fact turning to nonfiction. (Re-reading The Crusades by Thomas Asbridge, if you must know.) That way I can still enjoy reading at night without another author’s style, characters, or stories sneaking into my subconscious in these early pages.
I’ll pass 8,000 words tonight, maybe 9,000. After 20k or so, I’ll probably grab another author back in the genre to keep motivated and inspired, then safely ensconced within my own world.
Here’s another big difference this time: I’ll tell you and anyone else who wants to listen that I’m writing, but not a word about what it is. I’ve flapped my gums about an ongoing book too much in the past; this time, it’s nose to the grind and lips tight until the books is done. Then, ideally, a lot of people will just go ahead and read it. No need to wax on more than that for now, I’ve got other writing to do.