Friday Ramble: Adventures in Not Writing Fiction

blue typewriterHa! So there I was, all inspired by the fabulous keynote address given by Sharon Creech at the writing conference I was invited to. I come home, all jazzed. I’ve got an idea! It’s middle grade. Lots of boys and dads and problems to overcome. I have characters. I give them names. I work out the relationships in my head. I ask a couple of folks I know some researchy kind of questions, just to make sure I’ve got a viable story . I download Scrivener. I think: I. Can. Do. This.  I can write one page a day, until I have a manuscript!

Or… I can write one page a day for three days and then be so riddled with doubt about whether I even have a story  that I stare at the blinking cursor on my computer screen and wonder why I thought this was ever possible. I can happily dive back in to editing some of the client work that’s waiting for me, read some of the manuscripts that are piling up, answer queries. Anything so I don’t have to face that blank page.

Holy crap, people. How do you do it?!

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Friday Ramble: Adventures in Not Writing Fiction

  1. One word at a time! Just start typing. It does not have to make sense. That’s why editing and the delete key were invented. I also agree with Nora, the characters will eventually force you to write the story. The alternative is to ignore their voices and be found huddled in a corner of your writing room, mumbling to yourself. Not good!

  2. Just do it, and don’t look back. That’s what you do. Don’t overthink. Don’t second guess. Just put on your writing shoes and start walking.

  3. I write rough drafts in longhand. A notebook and ink. No delete key. No eraser. It’s crap, but it fills a page. My first revision comes when I type the finished draft into Scrivener. That’s when it’s painful, but I get through it because I have something to fix. You can do it!

  4. Sarah

    If you haven’t read THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, I highly recommend it. I never did the exercises, just read through with an open mind. Almost miraculously, my self-doubt and fear of failure crumbled — and the words poured onto the page.

    I am not yet published, recently shelved my first book to try again after I publish something else, but I received many thoughtful and encouraging personal rejections and invitations to submit in the future. Hope lives.

    Best wishes on your journey! Julia Cameron is a wonderful companion to bring along.

  5. Linda, I think that you might just not be a grinder. There is an extreme in our world, glorified by the insane number of novels completed in November during NaNoWriMo, that you can write 1,333 words per day for a month an wham, bam, thank you, Linda. But I would never have been able to write my first Ezra book in a month had I not introduced him and his motivation in 3 Through History. Also, early on, his travelling partner emerged, cut from whole cloth, as a one-year-older Annemarie Johanssen, early in to novel.

    So I cheated a little bit. And I finished in three weeks. But 3 Through History took me two years. And the second Ezra book got interrupted only a month into its development when I stepped into the other side of the biz. If it takes you two years to write your novel, you;ll probably have a really good book at the end, because as an agent, you know what you want to represent. You also know good writing that you wouldn’t represent. For other readers of your column, since most of us never could read enough to be a literary agent, using a critique circle as a brainstorm lab allows us humans to collect the same reading experience.

    This assumes talent, but anyone who reads your blog regularly knows you can put words together!

  6. Self-doubt is good, because it means the story matters. Self-doubt makes me revisit the words and question whether they belong. If I’m too full of self-doubt I save the draft before I start letting it go crazy with the delete button. My characters don’t give away the whole story all at once. Even when it feels like a path to a dead end, I have to trust that they’re leading me somewhere better than I can imagine in this moment. If not, unfinished stories are post-modern, so I squirrel them away in a folder and continue writing.

  7. Susan

    I love this post. Thank you.

  8. Erik Larson

    Everyone is different. For me, scenes come to mind, and I string them together to outline the story. Then I always know where I’m going, and I let the characters take me there. Usually I stray off the path, but I redo my outline to keep a roadmap going. Plus, well, it’s something I do to relax so it isn’t too hard to push through when it gets tough. I also subscribe to the idea of always going forward in that rough draft, there’s plenty of time to rewrite, revise, and refine.

  9. The only time I’m faced with a blank page is when I first start writing a new story. I never stop writing at the end of a chapter or end of a scene without making notes on the following page of how I’m going to open the next scene or what I want to accomplish in the next scene or chapter. That way I’m not lost and faced with a blank page. This comes in especially handy for me since I write four books at a time. When I get stuck on one I shift my attention to another.

    You say you’ve got the characters and relationships in your head… get them out of your head and do a character study on each of them. You have the major conflict in mind and some stumbling block…actually type them out in a outline or mind map so you can see it. By knowing where my story is going and how to get there, and knowing my characters they come alive. No stuff stuffed in my head to get confused by.

  10. we drink.

    seriously though, who hasn’t been haunted by the blank page? you have to walk away sometimes to stir up the ideas instead of trying to force them.

  11. I love that thing inside you that makes you want to add this to your plate.

    Maybe try other approaches until something feels right? Like, when you’re feeling it, drop what you’re doing and write. I don’t think B.I.C. ’til you make something works for everybody (me, for one). I can revise on a B.I.C. schedule but a first draft comes out when it feels like it. And I actually feel pretty productive. I also have an understanding family. I’m either totally here or totally somewhere else in my head and they know I’m not available for human interaction, even if I’m physically in the room.

    • It’s also possible I’m just not a fiction writer. I have to be open to that. I’ve been waiting for the goddam inspiration to overtake me for decades. It’s like a story gets tangled up somewhere between my brain and my fingers. In the “making it into language” part. I can sort of see/feel the story, but words? Mmmmmm…they just ain’t coming.

  12. I agree with Nora. There’s a point when the story has a mind of its own ….. but, believe me, a writer will stare at many, many blank pages before that happens. The key is …. never give up!! Never!!

  13. See? You really are a writer! That’s what we writers do…and then B.I.C. (Butt in Chair), we push through it. I find it helpful to have the final conflict/scene in mind and then I write toward it. Also helpful? If the story involves a secret and a “ticking time bomb.” And you may not be a linear writer. You might instead break it down to just writing different scenes and then string ’em together into chapters, etc. But the ultimate trick is to quiet that side of the brain (the side that both is fabulous for editing and that always is so critical) by diving into the creative part with no apologies. Write and enjoy the story, write like you are doing a diary entry that no one will ever see and that’s just for you. Don’t even think about any fussy revising until you type “the end,” and then you can go back a zillion times if you want and revise away. 🙂

  14. If your characters want you to write the story, they will haunt you until you do write the story. I could never write a story by myself, that is, without my characters telling me what to write.