I’m writing a lot right now, which is pretty amazing. Actually, the current situation is a bit of a dream come true—daily writing, watching a manuscript expand and expand. But, while the word count increases, I’m just not feeling my story and the characters, they’re… meh. At best.
Thankfully, since the last time around, I’ve developed something of a network of expert writers who, I’m pretty sure, just saved me from a lot of pain. And by pain, I mean many wasted days and angsty tears. Writing, when it goes smoothly and the characters speak to you and the plot works like well-oiled gears, well, that writing is heaven. To me, it’s like a really, really good conversation with a best friend, where you’ve already interrupted each other for three hours and you never ever want to go home. That conversation. But when it doesn’t work, writing really messes with your emotions. It makes you think that maybe you didn’t actually just finish two other books. It makes you feel like you might as well give up because you just don’t have it in you and these stupid characters deserve about a half sentence in a How Not to Write manual. You get the picture.
This weekend, thankfully, when presented with my character/plot dilemmas, a rather excellent group of women helped talk me off the ledge of writing despair and into a better plot. I came out of that conversation jazzed and ready to go. The final piece of advice I received was to try starting with the juicy scenes--the ones I couldn't stop thinking about--and expand from there.
So, this morning, I sat down and started to write. Only, when things got really, really good--when my heart got all tight with excitement and the ideas started streaming in--I stopped. I set it aside and thought, ‘Great, now I can tackle the harder stuff.’ But there’s an issue with that and it’s something I forget about myself: I save my favorite for later. Always. Over the years, I’ve adjusted, forced myself to wear a favorite sweater or dress, rather than pushing it to the back of the closet. The same with books: I save that one I’ve been wanting to read forever, until… well, later. Which I realize is pointless.
It’s weird. I’m weird. But at least I know it, right?
And I even think I know where it comes from. By nature, I'm not a delayed gratification type of person. If they'd given me that marshmallow test as a child, it's pretty clear that I'd have swallowed that thing down in seconds. From the age of five until I was about ten, I had a best friend who knew how to wait. In fact, she made something of an art of it. While the rest of us gobbled our treats down, she collected them. By the end of the day, when the rest of us were just starving for a new round of treats, that bitch always had a marshmallow or ten. Eventually, I learned my lesson. After too many years of disappointment and end-of-day envy, I began to copy her, finally training myself in the art of delayed gratification.
But I'm older now. And I'll eat marshmallows for breakfast, if I want to. Besides, this is about more than a stupid marshmallow.
So, this morning’s new task is easy, because there’s no word count goal and I’m not looking to get any major plot work done. All I’ll do today is draft a fabulous love scene. That’s it.
I wonder if this auto-withholding is a kind of self-sabotage. Am I the only one who puts off the good parts or are there other writers out there torturing themselves for no earthly reason? And, if you've done this, but fixed it, how did you go about that? I'm dying to know.
There’s a lot of satisfaction at completing that last page of a manuscript. Before revisions and second-guessing, outside perspectives, critiques and more self-doubt, there’s excitement. And fear. Lots and lots of fear. I’ve got it in my belly right now—not butterflies. More like angry little guys fighting in there. Churning things up and making my life more exciting, in a virtual way, than it is in reality.
This manuscript, tentatively titled Thirst, is short at about 62,000 words. It’s short and I think it’s choppy, although I haven’t gone back to read it yet. It’s short and it’s choppy and I started it over two years ago—before my daughter was born. This book is the result of more than two years of writing and bringing up children and working the day job and writing the other book in between. Coffees and scotches and moving houses and having babies. Jesus, it’s a wonder I managed to follow the thread at all.
When I wrote those initial few pages, I was sure that this book was a kinky sort of futuristic looking into power relationships. Oh, how wrong I was. It’s not about that and, frankly, it was clearly never meant to be.
This book, which takes place in a thirsty, post-apocalyptic future, takes a different look at love. Not to mention courage and trust and knowing yourself, truly knowing your strengths enough to know how to use them in order to survive. It’s weird how I start these things, these multi-year, word-based relationships, with a very specific view of what I’m writing about. And then it’s thrown on its head.
Well, it’s nowhere near being finished, so I’ve got work to do. I’ll export this as an e-book and read it. I’ll let it surprise me, since I probably won’t recognize two-thirds of the words as my own. Funny how my own words surprise me, each and every time.