Goal: To finish my damned book
Motivation: The story needs to be told
Present circumstances: Mundane life
Back story: Wrote some nonfiction. Thought I’d try my hand at fiction.
Will gangsters kill me if I don’t finish my first draft? No.
Will the balance of political power be affected if I don’t finish my book? No.
Will the world as we know it be forever changed if I don’t finish the book? Probably not.
I keep falling off the wagon.
This is because of an insidious form of procrastination – reading how-to-write books.
When I first took up fiction a few years ago it seemed like the thing to do. “What can you recommend on how-to-write books?”
But now it’s become a full blown vice.
More than one how-to-write book has told me I need to write at least a page a day. They say I’ll have a book at the end of a year.
Some of these same books have said I need to read a hundred books in my genre before I’m qualified to write in it. I don’t know how many I’ve read, and that nagging insecurity I feel must mean I should read some more.
But maybe I can make up the difference by reading “how-to” books.
Sometimes the only down time I have is commuting. So I try to tell myself that learning a bit more about craft and structure is a productive use of time, and my Kindle tells me how to develop deep, sympathetic characters that we care about – in its endearing robotic female text-to-speech voice.
I want to write! I’ve tried all the advice about carrying a mini-recorder and putting my notes in it! But I never get around to transcribing them, they are full of hems and haws and I only really get work done when I sit down at the keyboard.
I created a separate account on my computer so I can log out of my “work” self and have an an e-mail free environment where I only write. Kind of like how you have to move the boa from one aquarium to another before you feed it, so it doesn’t think the main cage is for food.
But there’s still a web browser. No writing gets done. I bite my hand anyway.
By now, what do I need to learn? I know I need a strong narrative drive! I know that my characters need a back story but that I shouldn’t include it! I know that the three act structure is both outdated and irrelevant yet critical for a book!
I know too well that I have to create strong sympathetic characters, and if they’re morally ambiguous, a great way to do this is to give them a dog or a wife or something that makes us care.
Heck, by now doesn’t everyone know that events in the story should flow organically from the motivations our characters have? Isn’t it obvious that characters become two dimensional when they are slaves to plot?
Of course dialogue is supposed to be a compressed form of high-quality speech, what that character’s best self could say. I wish I actually had enough dialog written so that I could read it out loud to myself and see if it flows!
I have many examples of the genre beats that my story might want to hit.
Don’t even get me started on the 10-plus hours of lectures that I have been listening to and re-listening to from a recent writing conference. I’m thankful I didn’t get all three days of lectures and only took home what I could capture with my two mini recorders.
I don’t want to hear another word about 1st 2nd and 3rd person, and the different ways writers try to explain the intimate and remote 3rd person. I am fed up with admonitions not to try 1st person contrasted with encouragements to do it. I don’t care if I don’t have a good reason to use 1st person! How about “I’m writing a book” – is that good enough?
I even know that all the rules don’t matter if you’re skilled enough, and that rules were meant to be broken.
(That said, I swear by all that is holy that the choice for me is adverb-free.)
What they’re all saying, the only advice I can’t seem to take, is to finish that first draft!
I guess better writers than I can revise yesterday’s notes to get in the groove for today. But for me, that’s two steps back with no steps forward.
I know how my story ends in great detail. I’ve already started it and written most of the first act. Really, the only thing sagging about my middle act is my persistence in writing it!
It’s pretty easy, really, right? Scenes are just vignettes of conflict. And my characters have goals they’d practically die for. They have such deep motivations! I mean, how else could it be? And all I have to do is write out a bunch of scenes and I have a book, right?
I’m going to try today, to turn over a new leaf, get back on the wagon, and get through this book.
Ok I have to generate the motivation myself. Somehow.
I’m imagining the situation. I have to write the book. There’s a loaded shotgun over the mantle. Did I put it there?
My future self is furious that we’re out of money and that I’m going to die penniless and obscure, because I never finished the book.
My future self takes Chekov’s gun and aims it at my head and says,
This sounds all too painfully (adverb, sorry!) familiar – just one more ‘how-to’ book, one more seminar, one more workshop….instead of sitting down and writing the damn thing!
There’s always one more thing to see to first :-/
I’ve been in a slump recently too. Vacations and summer activity with the kids have killed my writing time. Too many excuses and not enough drive.
My plan is to schedule writing time into my week just like any other meeting, warn the family to stay way, plant myself in the chair, turn on the music, and start typing. It’s been too long since I’ve been in ‘the zone’. Gotta get back.