**Open with picture of cat to put reader at ease**
Oh, hai, you’re still with me. 😀 Most excellent! Now we can get started.
Forget about fame and fortune for a moment. Take book signings, launch parties, marketing, social media, and all that other stuff out of the equation. Let’s get down to the actual process of writing a book. Writers often talk about inspiration striking out of the blue, long stretches of writer’s block, and any number of levels in between. Of course, for each one who says this, there is another who says “real writers” don’t rely on inspiration, and you’re not a “real writer” unless you write every day. Truth is, there are as many ways to write as there are writers out there, and the trick is to just find the method that works best for you.
Here’s how I do it. The squeamish should look away.
I don’t use outlines. Every time I’ve tried in the past, I’ve gotten hopelessly stuck when the story just didn’t want to stick to the script. I’m also the “when inspiration strikes” kind of writer most of the time. When I get an idea, I fall into my Zone and write like a fiend for hours, days, and weeks. I live and breathe the story and every waking moment is spent either writing, fixing little things in what I’ve already written, or thinking about it. That leads to something like a third or half of a book being written in a short amount of time.
Trouble is, it burns me out. Completely. At some point in this sprint to get the words on a page, I hit a wall and the story just dies inside my head. I could sit at the computer for hours and not get a single new word on the page. My brain, having exhausted itself, refuses to even acknowledge this story exists. It’s not writer’s block in the usual sense, more like my psyche’s desperate grasp at self-preservation. Enforced rest is what it is, really. It can take weeks, sometimes months to recover, and this period of time is characterized by The Dumps. Because no matter how much I might have written up to this point, whenever that dry spell hits, I feel like an utter failure. My internal dialogue looks something like this:
“Who am I kidding? I can’t do this…”
“You’re right. You’re totally useless. This is just a hobby to you, isn’t it? Has to be, if you were a real writer, this wouldn’t happen.”
“That’s true. Real writers write every day. I see them post about it on Facebook all the time.”
“See? That proves it. If you were really a real writer, you’d be posting your word counts on there every day, too!”
“Maybe I should just give up… I’m never going to make enough money from this to do it for a living–I’ll never write fast enough or well enough to make the money.”
“Yeah, true. And what if you were doing this for a living, huh? What then? Take a few months off, skip a year for book releases and where does that leave you?”
“That’s right. Forgotten, and alone, and sad, and pathetic, in your sad, pathetic little cottage all alone and forgotten. Play it safe. Don’t quit your day job. But if you want to quit this, well… that would be the sensible thing to do.”
Not exactly a motivational speech, is it? Yeah, I know. But what can ya do? It happens, and you deal with it however you can, and at some point, you sit down, open a blank page, and words magically reappear. At least I’ve been through it enough times now that I can estimate when a dry spell will hit. Couldn’t tell you whether that anticipation is a good thing or a self-fulfilling prophecy, though.
In any case, this is how it goes:
Beginnings are the easiest. Creating something from nothing is the most exhilarating thing in the world. You make the rules. You paint the picture. You name the characters, dress them, tell them what to do, how to speak, where to park their car… My internal dialogue changes from,”Quit, you pathetic loser,” to, “YES! I can totally do this! Are you kidding me? It’s easy peasy. I could do this morning noon and night. Maybe I should quit my day job and give it a try.” That would be me flying high as a kite on the rush of being a writer. If you’re the creative type, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
Around the middle is where I hit my first roadblock. Once the world is set, the rules are in place, and everything that follows has to obey them. I start to slow down, because this is where the meat of the story happens. The middle is the conflict, and you have to tangle those strings just right, so that the reader keeps pulling at them, but still keep the mystery close. You need to be the only one who knows how the whole hot mess will unravel in the end. If the reader can predict the end, it kills the thrill of the chase, so to speak. The story becomes boring. But muddle things too much, and the reader gets frustrated, annoyed, and loses interest. It has a similar effect on the writer. If I make a mistake here, I regret it for the rest of the book. Not kidding, either. I’ve scrapped dozens of pages before because of one wrong paragraph in the middle.
Once I get over the hurdle, I have two more speed bumps to look forward to. The first is right before the climax scene(s). Call me crazy, I get stage fright. I want to see the scene in my mind before I write it. I want a play-by-play of every action and reaction. It has to be a movie playing on loop in the back of my mind, including snappy come-backs and the moment, method, and mnemonic device by which the bad guy is defeated (permanently, or temporarily). And if I can’t see it, I can’t write it. It just doesn’t happen. I second guess every paragraph and sentence, tie myself into knots, and scrap several versions until I get it just right. And finally, my last hurdle is the very last chapter. It’s about as important as the first one. It creates the lingering aftertaste readers will mull over after they’ve finished the book. Epilogue, or no epilogue? Whose point of view? How long after the conflict resolution? If I say this or that, will it be too open-ended? Do I want to set up a part two? (The answer to that last is usually NO. I never go into a story with the plan of making it a series. In fact, I live for the day when I can just write one book, end it, and have that be that. You can see by my backlist how well that works…)
Sometimes it happens that in the middle of a dry spell, I will force myself to sit and write, and something good comes out of the effort. But it’s grueling, and feels too much like work for my peace of mind. Most of the time, when I do this, I end up scrapping entire chapters, having wasted all that time and effort. To give you an example, I wrote Wolfen, the equivalent of two of my usual books in a matter of 9 months, about the usual time it takes me to write a regular book, with hardly a pause. I’ve never written anything that long, let alone that quickly. Needless to say, the burn-out was epic. I finished the book around March of 2014, and since then, I’ve been unable to finish anything else. I’ve been working on Blood Hunt since months before Wolfen. In that time, I’ve scrapped about half the novel, took out four characters, and added three different ones, which completely changed the story from what it should have been. It’s grown way past the average word count for this series (I’m talking by about 10,000 words so far, and not yet finished). Basically, at this point, I am no longer the Head Sh*t In Charge. The characters are now running the show, and they’re throwing some kind of tantrum and not talking to me. I am stuck just before the climax and cannot budge an inch. (See The Dumps dialogue above.)
Be a writer, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
And it’s not like that creative spark ever goes away, either. Just because something won’t work at the moment doesn’t mean you give up. I crave it so much sometimes I have to do something, which inevitably leads to wordy blog posts (hey, it’s still writing!), multitudes of quote graphics (refer to my FB page on this one), and near-OCD attempts at redesigning my website (did it again, did ya notice?).
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do. But you have to be a certain kind of crazy to deal with this type of emotional rolercoaster all the time. And that’s just the writing itself, without all that other stuff like day jobs and life thrown into the mix.
If you’ve read this far, and still want to be a writer, I commend you. You have my utmost respect. Because, yes, it is amazing, and wonderful, and all that good stuff. But, no, it’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination.
Give it a go, anyway. 😉 You might discover you are just the right flavor of crazy to make it work.
Until next time!