Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Praise of Showing Up

The hard and fast rules of reality are not the only things I don't believe in. I have a great mistrust of many words: mandatory, webinar and heartstrings to name a few.

I'm four chapters in to my new mystery, my first swing at the genre, and for me the writing is going at a glacial pace. I'm keeping my word count pretty steady, if low, but I don't have that great sense of bounding that usually sets in at this point in a story, the feeling that I can't type quickly enough to keep up with the ideas bearing down on me. Please don't think I'm one of those writers (if such a creature exists) who never fears running out of ideas or who never hits a lull, it's just usually, I have an ultimate sense of the story and action that, due to the nature of this story, I don't have. Circular, but it makes sense to me.

So here's the thing: I am tempted, OFTEN, more often than ever before to take a night off here or there, to put the pages down and say "Why don't I let this just stew a bit?" I've reread what I've written and I'm satisfied enough that I don't want to throw myself under a bus. Surely I'm on the right track, right? I can take a little breather.

But I don't. Am I chicken? You bet. Maybe it's because I am so unsure of myself in this new endeavor. Or maybe it's because I do like what I've already written that the thought of NOT showing up to this damned keyboard for another round makes me nervous. What if I lose the teensy bit of momentum I've managed to gather? It's not much but it's more than I had a chapter ago. Even worse, what if what I've already written ossifies into the dreaded "nice try" or "good start" You know how those go, those little false starts and half pages that mock you and scurry around under your desk when you're deep into a self-loathing in which you assure yourself that everyone who has ever doubted you was absolutely correct. Leaving even one little bone fragment of a story ungrown is like putting one more bullet in that gun.

I just don't trust myself.

And so here I go, another day, another pot of coffee, another low-ball word count expectation. I'm just going to keep showing up and chipping away at this little bastard and I will unearth that narrative even if it's more a result of erosion than insight. Basically, I'm going to outwait it. Because what if it turns out this cold I've got isn't a cold at all but an exotic coffee born virus that will pluck me from this earth before I've revealed whodunnit?

Here's hoping I can create some equivalent drama on the page. After all, who's going to vindicate the iguana-habitat builder wrongly accused of hanging the land developer from a banner nail?

How about you? Ever have to grind it out? I'm not talking about legitimate life curve balls that need to be addressed. How do you overcome your ineritia? Self doubt? Any good ideas? I could sure use them.


Tiffinie Helmer said...

I'm right there with you. I feel like everything I'm writing is crap, but I shovel through it. My other books were a race and this one is a walk over uneven ground. My critique group reassures me that the story doesn't refleck my hate for this project, and I really hope they aren't telling me what I want to hear. I doubt they are. A good critique group like mine doesn't worry about sparing your feelings. But I do the same thing. I show up and plug along, hoping that spark will catch and flames will light from my fingertips.

Anonymous said...

I've found that taking a break can help a lot. I'll wander off to explore some arcane topic or just to interact with some friends for a while, and suddenly an idea for the plot strikes or a character becomes that much clearer. The difference between this and those quirky little false starts is that the story never fully leaves my mind. It's still rumbling about in the subconcious... but really, if a story is a false start I tend to think it was for a reason. After all, I never would have started a finished manuscript without having ended a previous effort.

Marilyn Shank said...

I just thought I would let you know that I'm enjoying your blog!

SG Redling said...

The funny thing about those grinding periods is they always seem to come right before a break through of some sort. No sooner had I posted this then "that thing" that was wrong with my chapter, that was grinding like sand in my teeth, jumped up and said "Here I am and here's how to fix me!" You'd think I'd see this coming...

(Glad to see you Marilyn!)

Donald V. Phillips said...

Let me say... great blog!!!

I found when word flow has turned to a trickle or stopped completely that it's time to return to research. I will google a location, zoom in and "drive around" the streets with the google camera to get a feel for a neighborhood. I travel frequently and carry 3x5 cards with me for the purpose of dumping a thought, scene, direction, question or character movement. I use questions to interview my characters... I step into different roles for this. Interviewing a character for the newspaper is different than interviewing the character for a police report. All kinds of ideas start to pour out when I change things up for pulling a story out. I will also visit a location similar to the story and visualize the ficticiuos movements and see how they might play out.

SG Redling said...

What a great idea - to interview the character for different forums. Especially in a mystery. Thanks for the great idea!