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May 23, 2004

Writing Problems « Writing »

Have you noticed I haven't triumphantly proclaimed a word-completion total for my novel lately? There's a good reason for that.

At first, the problem was just that traveling over here and adjusting to the different sleep schedule was giving me problems.

...and it's possible that this is just an inertia problem. The more I write, the easier it is to write...but if I let it go for a week, then the inertia of not-writing becomes huge.

But the problem is different this time. It's not writer's block, because I've never had a problem with that. The solution is simple: you write. You put something on the page, even if it is just free-association stream-of-consciousness stuff you delete later. (none of that has ever been included in my word-count total)

Every novel I've attempted has foundered on the shoals of realization that the novel I'm writing sucks. It's not a realization, it's a process. I guess I needed to start enough novels to see that the same thing always happens: I start with a good idea, I have a fair idea of what I want to do, I start writing...and somewhere along the line, I lose the voice of the character, or the plot starts to seem contrived, or I realize it just won't work.

This time it took 12,000 words to paint myself into that corner. Each time it takes longer. Each time the novel starts out better and rolls along longer before coming apart at the seams.

I'll hold onto it. I think the last 2-3 attempts may be fixable when I get more experience.

Part of the problem is that I want to write a Great Novel, with Grand Themes and an Important Message to Impart. At some point, that aspect tends to trip me up. I lose the voice of the character because Nathan the Writer keeps trying to say something, and then the next problem shows up: Impatience. Nathan the Writer gets tired of waiting for the character to do his job, and so starts ham-handedly pounding the keys that jerk the marionette's string.

I think if I try to keep pounding away at this novel, I'll just irritate myself.

It may be time to recognize I cannot write a novel. I can't tell a story, and I'm none too good at even a narrative joke or anecdote. Maybe I do not have the demeanor of a storyteller. Lord knows, there are enough people out there who would love to see you fail, I might as well please 'em, right?

Nope. It's a goal of mine to finish a novel. It's a process, and I'm learning and improving. You don't learn to run a marathon by running 26.2 miles your first time out. You build up to it.

I'm going to spend a week thinking about exactly what I want to write. Maybe the Neo-Western that's been bouncing around in my mind. Maybe an Anti-Terrorism-themed novel. I love the idea of a Muslim hero who fights against the Islamist meme that's taking over many of his friends and relations. I like the idea of bringing my knowledge of China and the Chinese language to people. Heck, I've even considered just retelling an old Chinese story in a new setting. It worked for West Side Story, no?

I will write. I will be a novelist. I'll get paid at some point, even if I just ask a friend to pay me $5 to cover the cost of printing it out once. Technically a paid, published author... [grin]

It may take a year. It may take ten. I probably won't meet my deadline of July 4th.

But it will happen.

Posted by Nathan at 07:40 PM | Comments (3)

Are you a guy who thinks out the plot arcs all in advance? Or are you the type of guy who writes as he goes, thinking about plot elements as soon as you create them? (I know there are other elements to writing, but this is where I find myself when I do creative writing.)

I'm a guy who likes to read and write causes and effects. (Element A occurs early, a bunch of stuff happens, but in the end, Resolution B is an obvious end result of Element A, but its never obvious when its introduced. That is why you have all that other stuff happening, to flesh it out.)

But depending on my mood, I've found myself writing to the moment, or writing to the grand theme. My breakdown point is when I'm no longer interested in the theme I'm developing, or the character I'm developing, and while I have other ideas I want to hash out, I don't want to leave whatever thread I've left hanging. I'm too anal when it comes to getting resolution, or a place to break away from a scene and work on what I want to extrapolate next. So my ideas stay on the back burner for what seems forever.

Do you find yourself in such a knot?

Posted by: Jeremy at May 23, 2004 08:29 PM

I've tried just starting a story and seeing where it leads me, and I've tried to map out a very broad, general plot, letting specific plot devices develop as I write.

I'm very much a performer, in that I cannot really know how things are going to work out until I'm actually typing it and seeing it on the page. In some ways, I've approached writing as a reader: what would I enjoy reading? It was the combination of those two methods that I used on this last attempt that netted 12,000 words.

And I think I have another idea ready to go. I'll start working on it tonight.

Posted by: Nathan at May 24, 2004 07:13 AM

I'm glad you're not giving up on writing. I've often found that as I write consistently my level of creativity rises. That has always been a problem in that it distracts me or makes me want to finish all the sooner. the latter then affects, plot, voice, character, narrative, etc. what I started doing was allowing those sidetracks to exist within limits. In other words I was draw sketches and do summaries like you did but always placed time limits on it. then I'd take a break and think about what parts various parts of my story line I'd like to write some more on. In other words I didn't write linearly or chronologically, for me it's something I can't do until I'm done with the 1st draft of hodge podge. It was only later, while sitting with my writing group that I was able to iron out problems, false character flaws, contrived writing, etc.
I really hope you don't give up writing as I like your blog voice. And I'd definitely pay $2 to read the reworking of a chinese tale. I'd rather welcome reading how another fellow westerner views China.

Posted by: Michele at June 7, 2004 09:54 PM
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