Writing With Trepidation
It seems silly, doesn’t it; to approach one’s Work In Progress with trepidation? A creation solely of my vivid imagination, my book baby that can only be completed by me. The best analogy I can think of is that of a skittish cat investigating a suspicious object. This is linked to my degree in procrastination that I have recently written about here but goes further and deeper than that. It’s not solely a matter of being pressed for time either. Even when I have a decent amount of time to get stuck in, I’m still poking around the edges of actually getting words on the page. I’ve identified that it’s more than writer’s block; the ideas are there, I know what happens and, more importantly, how. I just need to sit down and bloody write it.
Why do I feel like this? I love writing – I wouldn’t be pursuing a dream to be published otherwise. I’ve got the imagination for it; I’m always telling myself some sort of story in my head and have done so ever since I can remember. So why am I having to force myself to sit down and write?
The Big, Unwieldy Beast
The conclusion I’ve come to is multifaceted. My book is long. Too long, as I have been frequently reminded by those in the industry. It stands at nearly 200,000 words and it’s not even finished. It’s a big unwieldy beast that takes Word five minutes to load on opening because there are that many pages. Just yesterday I saw a tweet from a getting published conference where books longer than 120k had to have a very good reason for it. Brevity is not something I naturally excel at; why say in ten words what you can say in twenty with a flowery description? Fitting into Twitter’s 140 character limit is a challenge almost every time I tweet. Despite knowing the answer, why, I inwardly wail, is there such an industry requirement on book length? (Mostly, book length is linked to the ability to sell foreign rights; foreign publishers tend to shy away from longer books because it creates translation cost issues and this is an important income generator for both publisher and author.) Writing heroes like the wonderful Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Penman certainly write books longer than 120k; apparently being an established author gives you more licence (every Harry Potter was longer than the last, too). Planning a novel versus winging it aside, I haven’t written my book chronologically and the job of tying it all together is often simply overwhelming.
Quest for Perfection
Part of it is my quest for perfection. I’ve identified things I don’t like in other books I’ve read and am attempting to ensure I don’t fall into the same traps. Whilst the current WIP isn’t the first book I’ve attempted, I know it’s The One (and hope it is for others out there too). Having learnt the writing craft on the job, I can see that my writing has improved and developed the more I write. Sadly, being a voracious reader doesn’t mean that you can write a book. Learning when fewer words can say more than a hundred has been a big lesson. Also, I can now identify those bits in my novel that aren’t as strong as others but I don’t always know how to fix them and that’s exceedingly frustrating. I’m striving for perfectionism but am missing one of the tools. I can see I’ve made the point I wanted to make but something just doesn’t feel quite right about it. And this applies to sections as short as a sentence and as long as a paragraph or scene. So I get bogged down trying to fix something without really succeeding and then I get cross and abandon it for vast quantities of chocolate. But sadly Smarties don’t seem to have all the answers these days.
And I know what you’re thinking now: For God’s sake, stop getting bogged down in editing and just write something – anything! – so that the first draft is complete at long bloody last. As Twitter reminds me daily, first drafts are meant to be crap; editing is where the magic happens. But I find those little, wrong, niggly bits really hard to ignore. It goes beyond training/forcing myself to write rather than edit. In the back of my mind I’m supremely conscious of the book’s length and adding more words to the page when actually I need to cull about 80k just seems pointless, no matter that there are gaps between scenes that need linking for the story to make sense to anyone other than me. I can see that I’ve repeated myself in sections, made the same point from a slightly different angle three times over the course of a couple of chapters and I don’t need them all. But each point is well written and fits where I’ve put it and now I can’t choose which one to keep, even though it’ll help me get my word count down. As my mother keeps reminding me, an editor can help with that, it’s part of their job and I don’t need to get stuck there now. A song isn’t just magicked out of thin air by the person singing it; there’s also a song writer, musicians, producers, a sound guy, a technician and a record label all involved to make the song the very best it can be – and the same goes for books. Writers; agents; editors; designers; the rights, production, sales, marketing and publicity teams all work together to make the book perfect too.
In Search Of Love And Magic
But even knowing and acknowledging all this, I’m still wary of my WIP. And this is where love and magic apply. It’s been a long time since the writing magic struck me. I remember it clearly, it was a bank holiday weekend and I knocked out 40k with very little effort. And it’s not happened since. The more I try, the more sitting down to write has felt like a chore instead of a pleasure. And when it feels like a chore, I naturally find lots of excuses to avoid it. Though she definitely means well and is a vital sounding board and first editor, my (former history and English teacher) mother nagging me to write as she would for me to clean my room probably doesn’t help.
Super agent Lizzy Kremer recently wrote a blog about falling back in love with reading and this struck several chords in me. What I have to do is find a way to fall back in love with writing. It will take time and persistence, just as it did for Lizzy and reading. But it’s absolutely necessary when reading and writing are vital to one’s existence. Acknowledging this outside of my head is the first step on the path. And it’s already working; I’ve written this blog and loved every minute of it. The more I write, the more I remember that I was born to tell stories. The remembered pleasure of constructing words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs etc. to build my book is trickling back. Magic is more likely to happen again if I actually give it opportunity. I feel like I’ve accomplished something worthwhile today that should help my own writing evolve and maybe even help someone else out there who’s struggling too. My day hasn’t been wasted in pursuit of my dream and I don’t feel guilty that I’m dragging my heels for no good reason. No more avoidance for me. No. I will persevere! Now, I must go do some washing, walk the dog, paint my nails, make a new CD for my car, clean my room, make pudding and sort breakfast and lunch for tomorrow before I can sit down to tackle The Beast.
P.S. Apologies to those having the opposite problem of not enough words. I really hope I haven’t made you mad. Or cry. Let me know your struggles, we’re all in this boat together. Have you ever fallen out of love with writing too?
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