I’ve been working hard on “The Book of Antiquity”. I’ve worked through a second draft (a second draft of a 550 page book) and now I’m working on a third. I have recently started a writers group to help me in this process, which I have to say is maddening, difficult and frustrating, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.
I worked on my first book “A View of the Edge of the World” by myself. I wrote all the stories through various means. I have outlined. I wrote and let the voice of the story take me where it wanted to go. I wrote plot heavy stories. I wrote character heavy stories (thanks TNT, now all I can hear is “Characters Welcome” when I think about character driven stories, but that’s a discussion for another time). I wrote character sketches. I wrote histories of place. I wrote to shock. I wrote to pull on heart strings. I wrote to scare. I wrote to provoke. In all this time I spent writing and re-writing and editing it was always about what the end product was like. I seemed to have lost focus on what writing should really be about. Namely the love of writing.
I quote Stephen King a lot because I respect him as a storyteller (I’ll have to get into my rant about the difference between a storyteller and a writer later on) and I’m in awe of his ability to focus. He’s been said to be able to sit in front of the computer for hours knocking out story after story, or page after page of novel. He never seems to have a problem with where the story is going to go, but instead is very vocal about letting the character dictate where the plot will go (This could also explain why so many people hate the ending of his novels, because sometimes they feel as though they weren’t thought out). In fact he is said to have sat in his chair writing for hours just after being hit by a truck and bleeding out. Blood dripping down into a pool on the ground underneath him because a stitch broke while he was writing, but he had such focus he didn’t notice.
I have often thought about this focus and why I seem to lack it. Does it have something to do with personality? Is it the fact that Stephen King has an addictive personality and he gets addicted to writing and cant quit? Is it because he comes from another generation? A generation without MTV, without “Real Housewives” and without twitter where people could stick around for more than 140 characters? Is there a focus gene that people are born with? Is this a nature versus nurture issue?
I know for a fact that others whom I’ve spoken to have this same issue. They have trouble with focus and writing a outline feels as though it’s cheating, or its a crutch, or it’s too strict for the natural course of the novel. I have talked to people at length about the mid-story blues, where they know where the story starts and where the story ends, but when they get past the beginning and wade into the proverbial deeper end of the pool; into the darker second and third acts, they get lost and writers block settles in. Suddenly twitters 140 characters rules your life and you burn the midnight oil with Facebook as a companion instead of your protagonists.
Is this truly an endemic? or is this a shift in perspective?
I work full time to support my writing habit. I have a wife and a dog. I have a house which constantly needs work (and I am never endingly grateful for all of these, don’t get me wrong). I think about all of these things when I sit down to write. I think about my life, I think about the lives of others, I think about money. I think about promotions. I think about what my wife wants for dinner. I wonder if I fed our dog that morning. Then I stress myself out and think that I have to write the Great American Novel, so I can do all of these things while doing what I love and not worry about any other type of working.
I focus so much on getting just right what the potential agent, or publisher, or future reader might think, that I think about them instead of my character and what they are thinking about. This is why the mid-story blues hits so strong for me. I’m worrying about all the other things that might happen instead of just enjoying my time with the characters and trying to force something amazing to happen to them.
I’m taking the character pledge. I’m going to write for the character and the world they live in instead of writing to improve my own. I’m writing for the love of the story instead of the love for what the story can bring me.