Monday, October 6, 2014

To Love and to Loathe

Today's blog post is based on this reader-question: "What do you loathe and love about writing."

Most writers, if they are honest, will admit to sometimes absolutely hating that which they love most: writing. And those writers who don't sometimes hate writing probably aren't doing it right.

Good writing is a soul-baring exercise, and through the course of uprooting a story from the unwilling soil of inspiration, we must also uproot much of ourselves which we might sometimes like to remain hidden. Insecurity, for instance, and self-doubt. Fear of discovery . . . "Will this story reveal too much truth about me?" . . . or fear of misunderstanding . . . "Will everyone grasp what it is I'm trying to communicate to them?"

If you are writing well, you are writing vulnerably. It's just a fact. If you're not writing vulnerably, you're not writing well. You might be writing capably and entertainingly. But not well. And there is frustration and dissatisfaction that comes with that sort of writing too . . . but I think much of that dissatisfaction and frustration stems from the secret, inner suspicion that you as the writer are not truly giving your all. You're not writing with vulnerability and truth.

I think this is always the first step of loathing for me as I begin piecing the patchwork of a story. When I hit those snags of realization that I am just putting together plot-pieces. I'm just writing "characters" that do "character things"--like shrug when they're confused or bite their lips when they're frightened or (if they're heroes) run their fingers through their hair as a means to communicate whatever emotion finger-through-hair-running communicates.

If I'm not writing real, if I'm not writing truth . . . I'm going to be frustrated and irritated. At the book. And at myself.

So let's say I've worked through that issue for a particular book. What other loathings am I likely to encounter?

The second loathing common to my work is that of It's Just Not There Right Now. Also known as Writer's Block. It happens. There are days when, no matter what I do, no matter what I try, no matter what bargains with heaven I might try to make--it ain't happening.

I experienced this horror right at the very end of my most recent manuscript. I was writing along beautifully for a week or two only to hit a certain day--with just a handful of chapters left to go--a certain day when NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN. I seriously put on my timer (a last-ditch effort if Writer's Block is looming) and forced myself to write for forty minutes. But everything I wrote was awful.

It wasn't that I didn't know what to do. I knew exactly what to do. My heroine needed, for the sake of the plot, to walk across the room and open the window to let someone (or something . . . but this is the Super Secret project, so I'm not saying) into the room. That's all. Just walk across the room. Open the window. Let someone/thing in.

But I couldn't find the words. They simply weren't there.

So I jam-wrote for forty minutes, produced a whole lot of blather that went nowhere, and walked away in a fit of despair and . . . you guessed it . . . loathing.

The next day, however, I sat down to work and very simply walked my heroine over to that same dragon-eaten window to let in the same dragon-eaten something, and everything moved along dragon-eaten fine. I finished the manuscript two days later.

So yeah. It happens. It's Just Not There Right Now happens. And I absolutely despise it!

Do note--Even though I was having an It's Just Not There Right Now day, I didn't immediately get up and walk away. Because those days can and often will turn into Oh That's All It Needed days if you just keep plugging away. But there are days where nothing helps but a good weep, a little gnashing of teeth, a large cup of tea, and an angry nap. On those days, its best to leave the poor manuscript alone until the next morning.

So that's enough about loathing. What do I love about writing?

 Probably much the same things everyone loves: That moment when the story clicks. That moment when the threads begin to weave together naturally into a pattern where all I saw before was snarl. That moment when a character ceases to be a character and becomes a person--a moment which can happen early on or quite late in the manuscript, depending on the character.

That moment when I can accept that this story will never be perfect. But it will be good.

That moment when I can safely say that this story is better than the last story. That even if readers disagree, I know it's true.

That moment when I write "The End." And mean it. (Because sometimes I write "The End" and I'm wrong and have to go back and work a while longer.)

That moment when I've reached the end of a 4,000 word day and know exactly what I want to start writing tomorrow.

That moment when It's Just Not There Right Now melts away into AH! There It Is!

And a single moment like that--a single moment of love--is worth a whole week of loathing.

So how about you? When do you love/loathe your work? What are the best and worst moments of the writing life in your opinion?


Unknown said...

I think what I loathe about writing is that I can be quite stupid about it sometimes. When I get an idea, I'm so excited that I jump into it right away, despite the fact I know nothing about the story yet. Then there's an awkward, scrabbling process as I work the story back to where it would've been if I had waited a few months.

And what I love about it... I love how I don't understand how it works. I don't understand how I can be spewing dreadful sentences at a problem for days, when all I need is a simple perspective-change to turn it back into magic. : )

Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

That was an inspiring post. And I can't wait to see what on earth that window is about! I also can't wait until next week!
My writing life hasn't formed properly yet, I pretty much only get to the thinking up the story part, then I have an idea for something else and the previous story gets left behind, most of the time I look back and am relieved about leaving it behind.

Morgan L. Busse said...

Yes! This! All of it! Especially the part about pouring your soul into the story. It's not so much I loathe it, but the fact of how much it takes out of me. I literally feel I'm pouring all of my heart and soul into the story. In fact, one time someone asked me when I know I'm finished with a story and I said when every ounce of my soul is gone and in the story, then I'm finished.

Thanks for sharing, Anne :)

J. L. Mbewe said...

Thanks for sharing!

I have days like that as well. I love my work when it flows. And when it doesn't, I have to step away. (Still stuck on a short story, but hitting the edits right now, so I'm hoping the story will flow once I'm done with editing). I loath the imbalance of emotions and mental state that affects my ability to function. It's not much in regard to my work in particular but outside influences hindering my progress. Other times, when I get done reading an amazing story, and I look at mine, and I'm like, I suck. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! This is such an inspirational post!

Meredith said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you.

I loathe the way I'll jump into writing something only to go back, (or have someone point out), mistakes that are so glaringly obvious they are almost laughable. By mistakes, I'm not talking of grammatical errors, (although they are frustrating, too), but of plot holes. The story will seem perfectly fine when I read it, but upon reflection I'll realize that major polishing is needed. I'll end up barrating myself if I'm not careful, and then nothing constructive gets done. Also, I loathe second-guessing myself during the revision process. Over this year, I've grown to love revision work itself, but I often worry that I'll remove or add something that might ruin the story.

I love the thrill of immersing myself into a scene, of how words will just come together in ways I could never verbalize them. Being someone who is often tongue-tied, I find that writing dialogue is such fun for me. I also love becoming acquainted with new characters and how you can express good (and bad) feelings through those characters. During these times, writing seems like a mirror. Issues that have always bothered me or times I've wanted to rectify an error can be played out through characters.