Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing as a Worthwhile Struggle

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

file000104427661My dirty secret is likely shared by many writers.  Writing isn’t always fun for me.

Yes, I’m completely driven to do it.  I’m driven to read craft posts and reference books on writing, and to read gobs of fiction in order to tear apart what others are doing well and analyze what makes their stories work.

But I don’t always like it.  It can be a total and complete joy…and a chore, all at the same time.

I’m now writing my twelfth book.  And this book has been a struggle, let me tell you.  It’s simply not wanted to cooperate. 

Problems that I’m aware of as I write the first draft:  the discovery of the body isn’t soon enough.  Myrtle’s character is off.  I’m puzzling at the purpose of a couple of scenes.  The pace is off…I’m nearly half-way through the book and I haven’t gotten my suspects interviewed.  Heck, I might not even have enough suspects for this book.

Yesterday, I stopped abruptly while writing a scene, wrote “blah, blah, blah” and skipped ahead to the next scene.  I’m guessing I’ll be trashing that scene later. Later….because I finish my first draft before edits.  So I’ll just grimly steam ahead.

One day last week, I struggled through my pages and finished my daily goal with relief.  Then I checked my emails and saw a note from a librarian in Ontario, praising one of my books.  She said that I wrote my characters with “tenderness.”

And I needed that shot in the arm, believe me.   That’s the kind of thing that helps sustain a writer through all the days when they wonder if they’re in the right business.

We learn from our struggles.  We learn from the rotten first drafts and the plots that didn’t cooperate and the characters that act as if they’ve had a personality-changing stroke. 

Because the more we write, the more we know.  I know that just because I’ve written books that practically wrote themselves (Finger Lickin’ Dead, Body in the Backyard), I’ve had books that I nearly deleted mere weeks before deadline (Hickory Smoked Homicide…which ended up being one of my stronger books once I figured out what direction I needed the story to go in.)  It’s not always  this linear path for improvement, either.  Each consecutive book isn’t necessarily easier to write.  But with our experience comes knowledge on how to handle story setbacks.  It’s also easier to diagnose and fix problems.

My advice is not to give up on your troublesome draft.  Finish it.  Pick back up with the next scene you feel confident writing.  If that’s the end scene, who cares?  Write the scenes backwards.  Just finish the book—fix it during your second draft.  Each book, easy to write or challenging to write, is such a valuable learning experience. 

Every time I read a motivational post on a blog, I appreciate the sentiment behind it and appreciate the support that the community offers…but I still realize that writing is still a tough slog.  It’s not just  a mind over matter thing.  It’s skill and tenacity and really just utter pigheadedness on the part of the writer to plow ahead despite all the obstacles.  We take the insights gleaned from our struggles with us when we write the next book.

Image:  MorgueFile: kumarnm