I often tell people the hardest part about being a writer is: Writing.
I tell them everything else is great. No commute, researching is fun, wearing sweats to work, Cool Gus lying at my feet glaring at me to get fed etc.
But butt in chair, actually writing, is the hardest.
But that’s not quite true. For me, one of the hardest things is: NOT Writing.
It’s being still. Listening to others. Asking questions. And, most importantly, hard THINKING. Breaking my preconceptions about the story and the characters. Giving myself a headache I’m thinking so hard.
What’s hard about not writing? Of the 16 character types in the Myers-Briggs they actually labeled one: Author. (BTW it is the one with the lowest percentage of all 16)
The INFJ. That doesn’t mean you have to be an INFJ to be a writer, but, well, there’s a reason they labeled it that. And it’s the last letter that causes the difficulty in not writing. You’re either a J or a P. Essentially J’s want the result. P’s like the process.
When I’m not writing I don’t see my word count, my page count, marching toward the result. It seems like nothing is happening. I’m mired in progress. The fact I use the term “mired” instead of “immersed” indicates the problem. A P would be immersed.
My wife is a P and I’m a J. She loves working in the garden and yard. I don’t. If I mow the lawn I get momentary satisfaction that it’s done, but in the larger scheme not much because the grass will grow back, negating my result. Argh!!!! My wife is very content clipping away, dead-heading, in order for stuff to grow back!
I’m a third of a way into my current work in progress, Area 51: Redemption. Things were going great, but then I started to think about the bigger picture. This book is the 10thin a series. So there’s a lot of backstory. A LOT. Like the entire history of mankind. Seriously. Read it and tell me it isn’t so. I challenge you! (PS, all are on sale HERE)
And this book is taking the entire concept in a radical new direction and I have learned the harsh lesson to think about future books in a series a little bit before locking myself in. One reason for that is when I wrote the first Area 51 book it was a stand alone. No series planned. However, if you read the epilogue in that first book, you see a set up for the next book. Here’s the interesting thing: consciously I wrote that epilogue as an ode to Arthur C. Clarke’s Sentinel story. However, subconsciously, I wrote it to lead to a second book, even though consciously I didn’t have one planned.
So last week I realized that because I didn’t really know a lot about what exactly was going on, maybe I needed to figure some of it before going further. A third of the way into the book is a good time to do that. I’ve introduced a lot. Characters, plot etc. Now is the time for me to examine all of it and make sure I know WHY I introduced it. I’ve learned another big thing over the years: trust my subconscious. I put things in and sometimes I have no clue why.
Example: I have a character. She’s the assistant to the nominal antagonist (at least for this book, not the overall series). She’s blind. Why? I don’t freaking know. I just did that. But I do know by the time I get to the end of the first draft there has to be a reason that is connected to the story. If not, then I need to rewrite. But there are other things I’ve put in and now I’ve already figured out the why and it requires some rewriting and adjusting now, before I go further.
What roles are they really playing? Is the ending I had in mind still where this is going? Is the antagonist really the antagonist? Is the minion really the minion or does she have her own agenda? Many times I ask a key question: What if what appears to be, isn’t?
Fiction writers lie. We make our living inventing something that isn’t real. I’ve listened to many keynotes over the year and I’m going to give you a secret: sometimes the keynoter lies! Recently I listened to a keynoter talk about how she writes 1,000 words a day. Always.
I checked her bio. How many years she’d been writing. Then how many published books. Either she’s writing many, many drafts or tossing away lots of writing, or well, she lies. Maybe she writes a thousand words a day when she’s writing? But she takes long breaks? Who knows? But simple math indicated her published output is about 20 words a day overall if she wrote every day. Even factoring in rewriting, edited material tossed, etc. let’s double that to 40 words a day. As Jimmy Buffet sings: Math sucks. But it’s real. Writers often fudge about their work schedule because most people aren’t impressed when you tell them you just spent four hours staring into space thinking– as work.
Writing, when elevated to an art, is as much about feel as it is about craft. I’ve been writing emails to my son, the guy with the PhD and phenomenal memory, a lot of it just me thinking out loud. But also asking questions. He’s read a lot of stuff and gives me thoughts and often they lead me to think in ways I wouldn’t on my own. I also go back over books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen. How were these things handled there? How can I do it differently?
In essence, I have to focus on the process before I can resume pushing once more toward the result. In fact, I have to allow myself to feel that process is a result in itself.
PS the first two Writers Workshops for 2018 have been scheduled. Since each are limited to 3 people, and we’re only running 3, it means there’s just 9 slots for the year, so, well math sucks, but it’s real. More info here.
Originally published at bobmayer.com on December 16, 2017.