When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.

The Walking Dead Knows How To Hurt Me

I’ll warn you when I’m going to post Season 7 spoilers… okay?  The first part of this will be fine for anyone who’s seen through the end of Season 6.

Every time an episode of the Walking Dead airs, people everywhere post how they’re going to stop watching.  I see it in my Facebook feed, and I see it in articles online.  When they pulled the thing in Season 6 where Glenn supposedly was eaten by zombies, but wasn’t, people everywhere got quite upset, vowing to stop watching.

Maybe some people even did quit.  I didn’t.  I’ve never even thought about quitting.

I didn’t want to start in the first place.  My husband watched the first few episodes, and insisted I had to watch.  I got all cranky about it because I hate getting addicted to TV shows.  But I begrudgingly watched the first episode and was hooked.  As soon as I found out about the graphic novels, I bought those too.

We don’t have cable, so we buy the season pass on iTunes, which means it’s not available until about 1 a.m.  So, we got up first thing this morning and watched this first episode with our morning coffee.  Then I went online to see what everyone was saying about it.

People said lots of things, mostly about how sick it made them feel, how difficult it was to watch.  A few people even said they had trouble sleeping.  We’ve all known a character we cared about was going to die.  We’ve known it for like the last 6 months.  Everyone lined up in the circle was someone who’d have some emotional impact.  The only question was… who was it going to be?

If you haven’t watched the first episode of Season 7, you should probably stop reading now.  I’ll start up again below the photo.

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*Spoilers*

It was hard to watch Abraham die, but I suspected it was going to be him, primarily because he was beginning to be hopeful and care about life last season.  That’s the kind of thing writers do, and it made sense.  I didn’t like it, but it made sense.

When Glenn died, I was shocked, but not as shocked as I might have been.  I mean, he dies in the graphic novels, so I knew he was on borrowed time.

What makes their deaths so shocking, in my opinion, is not how they were carried out.  People talk about how graphic the deaths were, but I don’t think they were more graphic than other things I’ve seen.  What made them so shocking and visceral is that they were so senseless.  I’m used to villains not necessarily following through, pulling punches, being full of hot air. Negan isn’t.  Plus, he’s cordial, joking around like none of it bothers him.

At this point, characters being killed by zombies is something we expect.  Even being killed by other characters isn’t all that surprising.  We’ve already figured out that human beings are the real monsters.  And last season showed us one huge moral dilemma when Rick and his group attacked Negan’s group without direct provocation.

We’re a society who sees blood and guts on TV all the time.  Modern audiences have become blasé about a lot of it.  I laugh at horror movies.  We know it’s not real, and most shows don’t kill off beloved characters.  When was the last time two main characters got killed in a show?  It doesn’t happen often.

I keep watching the Walking Dead because it emotionally impacts me.  I care about the characters and know that anything could happen to them at any time.  It makes me think. I was on the fence last season as to whether or not Rick and his group crossed a line.  I’m still on the fence.  Can we use the present to justify the past?

Negan is a worthy villain, a reflection of Rick.  He’s arrogant and affable, with a loyal following.  I doubt this is going to be the last difficult episode this season.

I may not like who got killed (I don’t), but

Like it or not, The Walking Dead experiments with ways of making the viewer feel something.  I would argue that even when people hate the way they do things, the experiments mostly pay off.  After all, I can find tons of articles discussing just about every episode.  Love it or hate it, that’s why they’re already signed on for Season 8.

So, what are your thoughts on all this?  Let’s discuss in the comments!

 

When Writing Isn’t Fun

Sitka, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I mostly love to write.  Putting words on paper to communicate an idea is exciting for me.

Last week, I came back to blogging after taking an unexpected month off.  It’s just that writing wasn’t fun for a little while.  I’m fighting with my novel.

I wrote a novel, and I thought it was pretty good.  I thought it was mostly finished.  Then I had my critique partner read it, and his feedback was unexpected.  He didn’t feel that the main character had growth or change, and made suggestions for changes.  A lot of changes.

At first I was upset.  I wanted to disagree.  I learned early on in getting critiques that not every criticism is valid.  A lot of it boils down to differences in taste.  I like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and you prefer vanilla nonfat yogurt.

(That’s not even ice cream.)

But in doing some critical thinking about the book, I had to agree with him.  So I went back and tried to make changes.

And I ran into stumbling block after stumbling block.  The story is no longer fun, and I don’t feel like the characters are talking to me anymore.  I’ve tried all the usual things I do to start a conversation with them, but they’re remaining stubbornly silent.  The story just isn’t going anywhere.

In the past month, while I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been trying to write that story.  Trying is very different than succeeding.  Or, in the immortal words of Yoda,

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Yeah, he was so right about that.

I have other novels that would like my attention, but putting aside the one I’m working on feels like giving up.  I’m not a quitter, so I don’t want to stop working on it.  When do I admit that taking a break from it might be a good thing?

I think that time is now.  Putting it aside and quitting aren’t the same thing.  I’ll come back to it.  After all, I’ve been trying (on and off) to write that particular novel for about 20 years.  It will keep.

In the meantime, I’ve learned some things about plot and conflict that I hadn’t thought through in the past.  I’ve always taken the lazy approach to writing, figuring that because writing comes easily, I never had to learn the mechanics.  I honestly think that’s why I’ve never completed a novel I’m happy with.

I’ve written three novels (if you don’t count the three I wrote as a teenager).  All three of those novels have critical plot issues.  Yes, they can be revised.  But as with everything else in life, it seems harder to revise a novel than it would be to write the damn thing correctly the first time.

So here I go, off to a new and different project.  Maybe after putting this one in a drawer for six months, I’ll come back to it with a fresh eye and new energy for editing.

Talking to Strangers

Cedar Park, TX Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Cedar Park, TX
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I’m not a naturally social person.  It’s not that I don’t like people; it’s mostly that I like to be left alone.

I love my friends.  I love spending time hanging out and talking about anything that comes to mind.  But when it comes to strangers, I prefer not to talk.  I believe in politeness and eye contact.  I think that these things are important, and so I stop texting or reading email, make eye contact with the cashier or waitstaff, smile, greet them, and say whatever seems appropriate in that moment.  I do that because I believe that people are feeling more disconnected because of forgetting to do the basics.  However, even though I believe in making human connections with others, I don’t want random conversation.  However, I value those conversations and what I learn about people.  Contradiction?  Yes.  Do I care?  Nope.

I was in the hardware store recently, and as an older gentlemen helped me find the part I needed, I mentioned that I recently moved to Austin.  He started telling me how much he loved Houston, and said, “I’m old fashioned.  I love women with big hair.  In Texas they have more of them, but not as many as they used to.”  People say the greatest and most unexpected things sometimes.  I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

A few days ago, I went to Walgreens because I needed two small items, and I figured it would be quicker to go to the drugstore than Wal-Mart.  Wrong.

Although I got my items and paid for them in less than 10 minutes, the cashier started chatting, and before I knew it, a half hour had gone by.  I did enjoy our conversation, but in the back of my head, I kept thinking, “I have things to do.  It’s time for me to go.”  I learned about this woman’s first marriage, and her unexpected third child.  I learned that she likes to travel and works at Walgreens so that she has extra money.  I learned that she has Apple stock, and that she once had a customer who gives all her saved money (like if an item is on sale and she saves $1) to her young son, and that he in turn invests the money, and that at 8, he owns stock.  All very interesting, and part of me is glad when I have unexpected conversations with strangers, while another part of me, the larger part of me, still wishes I never had to leave the house.

I have extroverted friends who love talking to strangers, being nosy inquiring about others’ lives, and just generally meeting everyone.  I’m always perplexed by this behavior, but because I can fake extrovert, I get caught up in some of the same types of conversations.  I just don’t happen to enjoy them as much as others.  I enjoy the end result though, which is having more characteristics for my internal character bank.

So what do you think?  Do you love or hate talking to strangers?  Or are you too somewhere in between?

D is for Decisions

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. ~Author Unknown

How close should I get to this potentially dangerous baby Gila Monster?  Just a... little... closer...

Chuckwalla: South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ; Photo Credit Doree Weller

Good fiction should always have the main character making decisions.  The trick, I think, is having the character make decisions that fit with the character.

I’ve read books before where a decision seems misplaced, and I couldn’t understand why the character would do that.  Decisions shouldn’t necessarily be explained to death, but should fit with what we know about the character.  The one exception to that is Young Adult fiction.  I was reminded of this by JK Rowling.  Young adults need to occasionally make decisions that don’t make sense.  Why?  Because they’re impulsive, with raging hormones and under-developed decision making centers.

I remember making some decisions as a teen that I look back on now and think… “What the *BLEEP* was I thinking?”  I wasn’t.  And the logical adult part of me has trouble remembering what that was like.  Until someone cuts me off on the highway.  Then I can remember for a second or two what that was like.

But the quote makes a good point.  Experience does come from bad decisions.  Sure, there are other ways to gain experience, but most people want to find out for themselves (myself included).  Most people don’t want to listen to someone else.  They want to see it, hear it, taste it, touch it.

We all make decisions constantly, whether we’re actively thinking about them or not.  In books and movies, I love getting a peek into the thought process of a character faced with a tough decision.

A Beautiful Thing

Bahamas... this picture is a mini-vacation.

Bahamas… this picture is a mini-vacation.

I’d hit a dry spell with writing for awhile, where I mostly couldn’t think of any fiction.  I tried to find ideas for stories… and nothing.  I’d try to sit down and write, and it just didn’t work for me.

It didn’t help that I’ve been busy.  I started a new job, it’s Christmas, and I’ve been sick.  But a funny thing happened the other night while I was making Christmas cookies… an idea popped into my head.  I saw these two characters, clear as day in my head.  I knew who they were, what they wanted, and why it would be hard for them to be together, even though they wanted to.  The beginning, middle, and end came to me.  They’re in my head; they talk to me during the day.  They tell me their secrets.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had something so compelling in my head, and I’m pretty excited about it.  I still don’t have time, but because it’s important, I can find time, even if it’s only 20 minutes.  I guess in some ways I’ve been blocked.  I’ve been writing blogs, but three years into it, it’s a routine for me.  I’ve never quite made the fiction writing part of my life into a routine, probably because it’s more fun than chore.

So I have a new story in my head, and I’m making new friends.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Head Hopping

Vancouver, Photo crédit: Doree Weller

Vancouver, Photo crédit: Doree Weller

When I read critiques from other writers, sorting out the useful advice from the less useful advice can be hard.  Of course, I don’t really want my work to be criticized.  I labored over those words and I kind of like them.  So, I don’t want to cut them, even if someone else says they don’t work.  What do you know, anyway?  Or, on the other hand, I sometimes go overboard and do everything a critiquer tells me to.

I cut down on adverbs and I try to keep “so” and “that” to a minimum.  I’ve put in more description and scene setting, taken it out, put parts of it back in, and generally have driven myself nuts with it.

Today’s topic is not about setting, but about something near and dear to my heart… head hopping.

We all know what this is, right?  It’s when a narrator switches point of view in the middle of the action.  Using different chapters to follow different characters isn’t head hopping.

I like bouncing around in my character’s heads.  Besides, if I know what’s going on, why shouldn’t you?  Head hopping is generally seen as a bad thing. It can be sloppy, an amateur technique. The problem is that when I read romance novels, I like head hopping. I like seeing the action from more than one person’s eyes. If I wanted reality, I’d read non-fiction.

I recently read a book I really enjoyed called The Last Prophet, by Kay Hooper.  She’s one of my favorite authors, and I enjoy all her books.  She did a bit of head hopping in her last book.  As I read the book, and was writing this post, I felt vindicated.  There!  See!  A really good author uses head hopping!

As I thought more about it though, I realized that not one of my favorite books uses head hopping.  Not one.  They all either stick exclusively to one point of view or they change point of view from chapter to chapter.

There’s nothing wrong with head hopping.  It makes for an enjoyable book and a fast read.  I can do it if I want to.  However, none of the books I love and admire do it.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that not one book on the list does it.  I guess the question is then… does staying in one point of view make for a better book?  Or is it just that a more skilled author overall happens to write a better book and does not happen to head hop?  I’m honestly not sure of the answer.  But what I do know is that I’m looking carefully at what I’ve written and deciding if I need to keep shifting point of view, or if I can better get across what I want to through action.

I’d love to hear from other readers and writers.  Where do you weigh in on head hopping?