Welcome to First Monday mentoring, when I open this blog to your questions and discussion about the writing life. This Halloween weekend , I’m looking at some of the scary aspects of the craft, and how you might deal with them.
If you’re dealing with any or all of these bumps, you’re not alone. Every writer, from the beginner to the multi-published encounters them at some time.
So cue the Twilight Zone music.
1. The fear that never goes away.
Writing is a voyage into the unknown. You’re digging around in your subconscious, dealing with elements of your humanity – and that’s just to create believable characters. If your writing explores darker elements, they may stir reactions in you as a person. While researching my masters, I looked at how writers do narrative therapy on ourselves (rewrite our personal histories for more satisfactory outcomes) through the stories we choose to tell. Any and all of these aspects bring up our own fears. No wonder we sometimes skim over the surface of scenes. The solution is to force yourself to go deeper, write what you’re most uncomfortable writing. There you’ll find your greatest truths, and perhaps your own healing.
2. The facts that trip up your story
These are myriad. From seasons that don’t cooperate with the story you want to tell to distances that your characters can’t have travelled in the time your story allows. These bumps, while scary, can be dealt with. Not by fudging the details, as you may be tempted to do, but by being less specific, changing the parameters. What you don’t do is leave things alone and hope readers won’t notice – they will.
3. Carry around dead bodies
The “bodies” are the books you’d love to write, or have spent countless hours developing, but that aren’t working. Dr. Frankenstein could use lightning bolts to animate his monster, but he was still a monster. Stories with monster qualities are the same. You can check by stripping the problem story back to bare bones: Character wants (goals) because (motive) but (conflict). Do the same for each key character including the antagonist. This should expose any faulty reasoning holding your story back. If you can’t reanimate the story, it might be time to write something new that does work.
4. The ghosts of Christmas past
Charles Dickens nailed this one. Often the scariest things in our writing life are the things we didn’t do. Have you been promising yourself you’ll write that book “this year?” But this year has less than two months to go. Sit down today, right now if you can, and write the opening sentence of your book. The words don’t have to be great or even good, just start. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, the greatest books ever written all began with a single word. Start now.
5. The self-doubt demons
These are perhaps the scariest of bumps in the writing road. You look at other writers – in your critique group, online buds, in the news – and think they all have it together. You are the only one struggling. News for you: you’re not. Every writer struggles with self-doubt demons. Rejection is part of the job. Editing, seemingly the chain-saw massacre of your work, is actually a cleansing process, identifying inconsistencies, logic flaws and other elements the writer is too close to the work to see. Sometimes the person wielding the chainsaw is yourself. Just don’t be too quick to attack your words. First write them for yourself alone, only after you have a coherent draft (or several) let the world in to add their comments.
Writing is a scary process but it is survivable once you learn to expect these bumps. What haunts your writing life? How do you deal? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
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*** With thanks to friend and colleague, Jennie Adams http://www.joybyjennie.com/joy-hub-blog/ ***