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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

the reality of writing

After all my fine talk, yesterday was a naked confrontation with the problem of work-avoidance.

The aspect of writing that seems like it should be the most creative and the most fun, coming up with original ideas through the free play of imagination, is in fact the most daunting part of the job, at least in my opinion. The work is most approachable when it is at its most mechanical. I almost never put off the most mechanical parts of the job, like typing up my research notes. Indeed, I enjoy that part. I start my "creative" day by reviewing the previous day's writing notes, and highlighting possible "keeper" ideas--again, fairly mechanical and easy, and not something I'm inclined to avoid.

But then we arrive at the day's problems: how to push my story forward? This is where the rubber meets the road, and, by and large, it is the place I am most afraid and disinclined to be.

There's nothing for it: here the writer is on the spot. This is where the writer produces. The insertion-point winks slowly on the screen, ready, waiting. It's supposed to be moving forward, with a string of new words trailing after it.

Yes, this is a corny complaint of writers through the ages. But it's real enough. When the writing matters to you, it becomes very difficult. In this respect it is like thinking through your own life-problems. For we all have those: "What should I do about my alcoholic brother?" "My wife can't forgive me for not getting the vice-presidency; what should I do about that?" "I'm not achieving what I wanted to in life; what should I do?"

Questions that seem too hard we tend to simply avoid, push aside--at least, I do. This is not a wholesome strategy; indeed, it's not any strategy. It's what happens when you simply try to dodge the immediate and impending feeling of failure. In writing, you stare at that insertion-point and nothing comes, perhaps. Or only the same stale ideas that you've typed there before. You get to experience yourself in the act of failing--surely no one's favorite experience.

On the other hand, the failure-point is also the success-point. Whatever magic there is in writing, this is where it happens. New ideas do come, they do blossom in the head--familiar words are strung together, and something new appears. It's just that, on any given occasion, you don't know what you're going to get. Or, rather, you have a good idea that, if it's like most such occasions, it will not be very rewarding. The gold, like real gold, is contained in a mass of native rock that has to be dug. And no matter how much you like gold, some days--many, most--you don't feel like digging.

So yesterday I arranged some notes, did some more research reading--I tried to be productive at those lesser, more doable activities, pushing my project forward in an administrative sense, at least.

This is the reality of writing. There's that winking insertion-point right now: ready, waiting, not judging me but simply doing its job. Yes. Will I do mine?

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