Beating Around the Bush*
I sat down this weekend to write. Or at least, I tried to. I reread chapters of my second novel making tiny, infinitesimal tweaks all the while recognizing that a major overhaul was needed. (Why the hell do I have heroes flashbacking what just happened instead of having them do it?) Once you see all the holes in your plot and need a chart to keep track of the characters, the task seems daunting. I am a huge fan of procrastination so instead of tackling my monster opus (three books and no end in sight), I decided to do some work on the garden.
“After all,” I reasoned, “I can always work on the book after dark. I can’t do yardwork after dusk or the vampire mosquitoes will get me.”**
In my glory as a new home owner, I purchased many gadgets unfamiliar to me. Going to the giant hardware stores is a lot like entering a medieval armory. There are lots of shiny metal, sharp-edged tools—in short, everything can be a weapon. Recently I snagged a pair of telescoping hedge clippers. (Scythes of Death.)
Because doing any work tends to be boring, when I go out to battle the
crab grass dastardly foe, I like to pretend I am a knight entering a tourney—tilting at shrubbery at high noon. It is a harmless fantasy most of the time. I have yet to figure out an appropriately violent description for mowing the lawn though. It feels more like a Greek tragedy—entering the Minotaur’s Labyrinth never to return.
This day, however, was epically appropriate. I was tackling three massive shrubs that were lush, sprawling, and took up way too much space in my small backyard. (Insert your own overblown metaphor here.) In short, they were in need of editing.
I’m hacking away at these monsters. Mercilessly chopping the unnecessary bottom half; stretching on tiptoes to lop off the heads. Then I finesse my way around the sides to trim the unnecessary foliage and attempt to bring the resultant blobs into some kind of shape. I was sweating and had two bags full of severed, oozing limbs by the time I was done. It looked like an evergreen massacre. It was an ugly job, but it had to be done. And all I could think was, “Why is it so hard to do this with my books?”
This brings up a post I read recently by reviled…I mean revered…author, Chuck Wendig who confronts wanna be writers with the awful truth about why their writing may be going nowhere in 25 Reasons You Won’t Finish That Story. Reading the bald-faced truth of it was painful.*** Especially getting to number 23 wherein he flatly points out: “Nobody wants to hear this, but maybe you’re just not a writer.” Claxon sirens go off. The noise a submarine makes before it dives rings in your brain. Red lights flash. This is the terrible, secret truth inside every single person who sits down with the pretension that they can, in fact, write. The problem with this doubt? It is self-fulfilling. You fear you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. So you don’t write. Yet you desperately want to be a writer. Angsty emotions are yo-yoing away: Will I? Could I? Should I? Stories are piling up in your brain like it’s rush hour traffic on a two-lane highway. And the only weapon you have in your arsenal is the quavering hope that refuses to die no matter how many times you read a particularly awful sentence that came out of your brain. For example:
“She could see the outraged questions forming on her mother’s beetled brow and cut her off before she could explode.”
You read what you’ve written and you want to pick your laptop up and hurl it into the nearest ravine and then fling yourself after it because, at least dying dramatically would feel artistic. But then your internal editor tells you this is trite and formulaic and to get back to the table and come up with a better ending. I’d like to say reading the reasons why my writing isn’t headed where I wanted or expected it to go makes facing the changes easier. It doesn’t. It is hard every single time I sit down. When I write something that makes me want to cry, and not in a good way, it is very discouraging. And yet…it is still better than the alternative.
As Lewis Carroll put it:
“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both — you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*If you are expecting a sexual connotation, you are to be majorly disappointed.
**Face it, mosquitoes are vampires…let’s see Stephanie Meyer’s make a sparkling romance out of that!
***Almost as painful as reading my writing. But not quite.