Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writers block and fundamental questions

How the hell did it get to be mid-August and almost 2 months since I wrote anything substantial?  (Besides my blog of course!)  It isn't like I don't know where the story goes - I know exactly how it ends already.  It isn't like I haven't had time - I've sat down several times and re-read the amazing scene where I left off with almost all of my crucial characters finally all in the same room where they can now go on together to the climax.  And then an hour has gone by - or once it was almost three - and not a single new word written.  Not ONE! Very disheartening and after the third time I decided I should really figure out what is going on before I open that file on my computer again.  And here we are... August and neck-deep in self-doubt and self-loathing because I'm STILL STUCK HERE!

So, I've been doing some major soul searching - 3 and 4 mile runs give you plenty of time for it when you're not wallowing in doubt and loathing!  And in the course of my busy life the last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to talk with two of my writing buddies from my critique group who helped put my finger on the real heart of the issue.

It all started when I went to the writer's conference where I honed my skills by leaps and bounds and took my writing to the next level.  What I couldn't see, but that has been lurking in my brain, is the fact that I must once again start over...  or at the very least revise entirely what I have written.  All 63,208 words of it.  Because my protagonist has been acting all wrong.  And I mean ALL wrong!

But, as devastating a realization as that is, it isn't even the true issue yet!

The core issue is:  what kind of a writer am I?  Am I one that writes with a plot or am I a discovery writer who lets her characters decide what happens and where things go?  Am I a write-the-first-draft-before-I-read-a-single-word-for-revision writer or am I a revise-as-I-go-so-when-things-change-I-can-fix-them writer?  Because I don't yet know the answers to these two fundamental questions, I cannot go on.  Because do I write the next part as if I've already gone back and fixed my main character's flaws that I now know exist assuming I'll fix everything in the 2nd draft revisions?  Or do I stop now and go back to the beginning and make things right before I go on?

If there is one thing I've learned in this almost two year journey of being a writer (albeit an unpublished one still) it is that, while every published author has an opinion of how writing should or does happen based on their own creative process, no one is exactly the same.  What motivates us and keeps us writing is as unique as the authors themselves.  And what works for my hero Stephen King (write to the end and don't read a word until months later when it's time to revise it and don't even think of plotting!) is not what works for everyone else - possibly myself included.

So, like an alcoholic at her first meeting, here I sit acknowledging I have a problem to solve.  But, admitting the problem is the first step!  Now I just have to figure out where to go from here.  Stay tuned since even I don't yet know where that is except back to consistent writing in some form.  After all, I've got to finish my first draft of the current project before October 31st since NaNoWriMo commences in November and I already have an idea for my next project...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This was a book club pick - one which I toyed with choosing a year ago myself and put down after about 200 pages and the first graphic rape scene assuming the rest of the ladies in the group would find it too disturbing.  I'm so glad someone else had the courage to pick it and make everyone read to the end.  With its mammoth size at 973 pages it is very intimidating but, as our group proved, it can be done in a month and is so worth the read! 

The story and characters are so well developed and fascinating that even when I was under pressure to finish in time for the discussion (which I didn't!) I couldn't force myself to skip ahead or even skim quickly.  The story tells the struggle over the decades to design and build a cathedral in a small town in England.  It is told from the point of view of the builders as well as the monks who are financing and encompasses bishops, earls, lords, entrepreneurs and the struggles of a civil war to determine the new king. The information on architecture and medieval society were enthralling and the author weaved the fictional story beautifully into the history of the times so it was marginally educational as well as entertaining giving the reader a glimpse into what it might have been like living in the time period.  The overall story arch is a mystery that spans almost two generations before finally being solved and keeps you guessing until the very end.  The story was never predictable and is raw and authentic and emotional. 

I went back and forth on what to rate this book but in the end I chose 4 stars instead of 5 simply because it is not an easy read.  With so many characters and story lines it requires dedication to stick with it.  Unlike many, it is not a book you can easily carry around reading only here and there and thus not one I would read again - which is my own personal criteria of a 5-star tome.  Pick it up when you have time to dedicate because you won't want to put it down once you start.