Friday, May 15, 2009

The Hardest Part of Writing


I can tell you the hardest part of writing in two words: getting started. Whether it's an initial getting started as in the beginning of a novel or story, or the daily getting started of beginning to toil on a current work in progress, this is the hardest part. Actually getting started on a new project is actually easier for me, and less daunting, than starting work on something that I've been writing for a while.

Take this morning, for example. I am more than 80,000 words into my latest book. Yesterday, I wrote four pages of notes about the remainder of the novel, mapping out details of what will happen and how we will arrive at the ending and, I hope, closure. I am all set to go. And I do not have the bar set high: 1,000 words is all I ask of myself.

Yet here I sit, writing a blog. Did you notice I am NOT writing a novel? Yet here I sit, updating Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, answering e-mails, playing solitaire (just ONE game!), taking care of loading the dishwasher, throwing recyclables into the bin outside, walking the Boston Terrier, marinating chicken for tonight's dinner, taking a picture of myself to accompany this blog (see above). Should I wash my hair? Blow my nose? Sometimes, I think I'd do just about anything to avoid the kind of writing I profess to love the most.

Why is that? I wonder. Is it performance anxiety? Good Lord, I think I wrote my first story when I was all of six years old. I have written innumerable short stories, poems, essays, plays, novels...some published, some not, some good, some "what was I thinking?" bad. The point is: could performance anxiety be what's causing me to drag my heels? It shouldn't be, but there it is. One never knows the precise time or date when the magic well will run dry.

Or is it because I fear the slipping under that accompanies writing fiction? See, I do go into a kind of "state" when I write (I met a professional hypnotist once who told me that creative people actually may self-hypnotize when they're working, and this made a lot of sense to me). And maybe I'm afraid that slipping under will further reduce my already tenuous hold on reality. Perhaps one day I will disappear into my imaginary world, never to return. And if you know some of the things I write, that prospect is downright terrifying.

Or is it just because I am lazy? Maybe avoiding work, rather than working, is what I do best?

Who knows? I only wrote this to avoid working on my current novel a few minutes more and now I am really out of things to say on the topic. So, now the manuscript looms before me and I am about to plunge in.

Oh, wait, I see by the tab above I have seven new e-mails in my Gmail. I better check those first. Then I'll get started. I promise.

32 comments:

  1. God, do I know that place so very well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Even if we do what we love to do for a living, it is still technically "work". Amazing how our minds tend to change things around on us, isn't it? And even though it is something that we love to do, the word "work" sometimes takes away the shine of it and we realize that we'd rather do other stuff than "work" LOL It could also be that you really want to finish this the best way you can but still might have second thoughts about the way you have it planned. Either way, good luck to you, Rick! LOL

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good point, Duane. I am promising myself (and my editor) that this will be done by the end of June. Maybe I just don't like the pressure.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We all do but somehow, page by page, a novel gets completed and I think we're as surprised as anyone else is...

    ReplyDelete
  5. As an addendum, William S. Burroughs said the biggest obstacle a writer faces is knowing how much bad writing he'll do before he does any good writing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yeah, but for me, the second hardest part is being able to tell the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  7. LOL! Right there with you! I have two that I'm supposed to be working on but instead I'm playing #punchlinesonly on Twitter, checking all of my social pages (haven't blogged today), and praying that I'll be able to write a bit during nap time.
    Got the package...thank you SO much!! I love it and am going to crack into it as soon as I'm done with Dahlia's.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I visit this place daily as well... Today I have researched home theater soundbars, written to Fox about Dollhouse, tweeted... and not a word on my current WIP. And this despite the fact that this has been an awesome week for me re: the creative side.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't have anything but sympathy to offer, I'm afraid. 500 words today and that was like being wrung out like a wet rag. I have no idea why this is being so hard at the moment, but lets hope the notorious creative drive kicks in as soon as we get a bit closer to the deadline!

    ReplyDelete
  10. >I met a professional hypnotist once who told me that creative people actually may self-hypnotize when they're working,<

    Ooo, that DOES make sense! Man, that explains so much... *laugh* And yeah, there's a certain energy drain that happens when I'm working, and I avoid that sometimes. At least that's what I'm going to tell myself. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Love your blog design!

    Great post and I'll share it on FB as soon as you accept me as your friend there.

    Is that your TBR pile on the bookshelf behind you in the photo?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Rick, disable notice of comments here. They'll all be there waiting for you to get some writing done. The promo is no-go until you have something new written. Focus on the new page, and DO IT. Keep your priorities lined up!

    As opposed to...um...reading other people's blogs...like me.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Procrastination. The first deadly sin of writers. There's always something more important to do, more critical. Clip my toenails, go out and count the dandelions on the lawn, watch the birds stiting on my windowsill, oh there's another 20 emails to go through. It's a wonder sometimes I get anything finished and actually published.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm happy to say that I just completed 800+ words and can now look at all your wonderful comments guilt-free. The chapter ended on a nail-biter...the wife he thought was in a coma is now awake...and looking for him. Josephine: I just accepted you; thanks. P.A. you know what I'm talkin' about.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Go out for a walk, do something other than writing or thinking about writing. Procrastination is your mind's way of telling you that it's bored, it wants a break from its normal work habit and routine, i.e. writing. It needs a holiday, so give it one, even if it's only for a day. Shut down the computer, close all books, put away all writing implements and take a guilt free day off. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Enabler! I do that often enough, thank you, using the rationale you describe above.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I guess I'm going to be the wet blanket. I do suffer performance anxiety - at some point in every book, I convince myself that it is a total disaster. And I too started as a little boy (if anyone asks, I will tell the tale of my first story.) But, put off my writing? Never. First thing in the AM I have coffee and do the crossword (NYTimes weekend only; L.A. Times Sunday; WSJ Friday); I read the local paper and do their puzzles while I have breakfast. And then off to the computer, and I write. No length requirements, no time requirements. Sometimes most of the day; sometimes for an hour or so. If I can't get the scene I was working on going, I write another, and patch them together later. I have done this my entire career. Every thing else is subordinate. I don't recommend it. There are things in life far more important than writing a book, and too many of them I have neglected. But it's what I do.

    Victor (who can only post here if I do it as Anonymous)

    ReplyDelete
  18. I hear you. I have one chapter left to revise on my latest WIP -- ONE measly chapter!!! -- but it's also the "problem chapter" I saved for last. It's kicking my butt harder than the entire rest of the manuscript. I have four hours left before I turn in the completed project, too. Yet I find myself wanting to take a long lunch, followed by a nap, or a pointless trip to the grocery store, or maybe some of that housework I normally try to get out of. Anything but, you know, finish revising this one damned chapter so I can send in the story and meet deadline! :P

    ReplyDelete
  19. Victor, It just goes to show you that everyone has his or her own way of working and there's no right or wrong. And I share that performance anxiety all the time, especially on works-in-progress.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Oh my God, I am so there with you. I love starting a new project, it's the middle to the end that gets me. I will do anything to avoid working on it. I don't know if it's performance anxiety or the lost feeling of not being sure where to go with the story, if what I've concocted will actually work and what if it sucks? I'm avoiding my own work as I sit here and respond to this . LOL Have a good weekend.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I'm so glad it's not just me!!

    Loved the comment about self-hypnosis, btw. I once found myself reaching for the cup of coffee I'd just had someone give my main character. Could this be why? (I just thought I was going mad.)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Glad to hear I'm not alone. I practically have to put a gun to my head to get started, but once that first sentence is out, I'm good to go. Oddly enough, beginning novels is harder for me but I pick up steam toward the middle and end.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Ah, so I see it doesn't get easier even for veteran writers! This sounds all too familiar to me, too. Right now I'm stalling on starting a new novel. That's the hardest and scariest. Correcting galleys is another point I put off as long as I can. But the blocks happen all throughout the process. Still, it's comforting to know I'm not alone.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Okay, and why am I here instead of working on this book? I mean, it's just started but it's going to be hot! Well, I hope it is. I'm sure it is. Publisher likes hot. I love the guys name. He's pretty cool too.

    Yeah, I'm here avoiding the 'f***ed if I can get going on this blankety blank book' too. I flounder, I procrastinate, I whine, I moan, I wash the dishes, I take out the trash, I check the weeds in the front garden...I...am not writing right now. Soon though. Any minute I'll quick jabbering here and scroll down the page to where I stopped yesterday. It's just a short one. Only 15K. Hell, a week and it'll be done.

    At this rate it'll take months.

    Rick, a party sounds like a hell of an idea.

    Hugs

    ReplyDelete
  25. The hardest part of writing fiction, for me, is not knowing if you're going to make any money from it. Back in the day I used to write for free. I don't do that anymore. Unless I write a short erotic piece for an anthology, where the editor and publisher are paying me a flat fee, I don't know if I'm going to be financially compensated for my fiction. That's not so cool with me anymore.


    In order to be compensated you have to do A LOT of promotion. And then, that's not even a guarantee.


    I'm becoming more and more attracted to nonfiction because it pays WAY better than fiction; I love it; and I know I'll be compensated. I can actually pay my bills with nonfiction. I'll still write and edit fiction, but it won't be my main gig anymore.


    I just got hired as the Chicago Lesbian Scene Examiner for Examiner.com.. They pay you based on page views - which works fine for me because I promote like crazy and the site gets a lot of page views on top of it. So, here I know my promotion works. (I've been paid through page views before and it works for me because of my promotion techniques.)


    For me, fiction is a roll of the dice, and I'm tired of gambling. Either you run into publishers that don't want to pay you. (Not my present publisher - Logical Lust is wonderful.) Or you don't sell enough books to make anything. With fiction you have to write what the public wants in order to make any money, and if you don't follow that formula - you won't make much.

    Jolie

    ReplyDelete
  26. Good points, Jolie and I can understand why you're making a shift in priorities. Good luck with the examiner gig...it seems I'm seeing that name everywhere now.

    ReplyDelete
  27. That's interesting, because I am just the same. It isn't just writing though. Going to the gym, my day job, DIY, everything, for me, takes a while to get going. Thing is, once I start, I can keep going and it's best I never stop, otherwise I have to go through the agony of starting again. Is it the same with you, or is it only writing?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Oh man, Rick. I hear ya. What I've figured out about myself is that when I'm avoiding my WIP (and I'm talking about really AVOIDING it, not just having no time in between kids, the day job, etc etc), it's because something's not right. My subconscious brain will usually pick up on it before my conscious brain will, and I'll end up doing all kinds of other crap in order to not write. Then I'll have an epiphany, figure out what's holding me back, fix it and have a massive word-gasm all over Admiral Crunchbyte (my laptop).

    This is what's going on right now, btw. Something's WRONG with the current chapter but I'm not sure what. So, it's blog-reading time until I work it all out :)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Rick wrote:

    Yet here I sit, updating Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, answering e-mails, playing solitaire (just ONE game!)...

    Oh to hell with soitaire Rick. We need to hook you up with a copy of Windows Majong. That'll really kill some writing time!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Mark, like you, I do get started eventually (always), unlike you...I can stop. Ally...good point...and very valid possibility that the procrastinating is actually my subconscious warming up to the task at hand. Helen...you so funny. I know Windows Mah Jong, which is why I now use a Mac!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Okay, now that I'm done bitching about the pay - I'll answer your actual question. No, I don't have a problem starting. I write at least 3,000 words a day and I'm probably going to get carpal tunnel soon or some shit. Are there enough hours in the day? No. Otherwise I'd write 6,000 words a day. I write so much I have to force my fat ass out of the chair. Getting started isn't the problem. Having enough time to get it all done - is.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Um, your ass doesn't look fat to me. And I am astounded by your ability to churn out that much writing in a single day. That's awesome...in the most literal sense of the word.

    ReplyDelete