Saturday, December 6, 2008

Writer's Tripwire

I have many writer friends. I think it's inevitable. We who choose this rarely lucrative profession glom on to one another as we cross paths throughout the years. From high school to college, I must have gathered almost two dozen friends who wanted to be authors someday.

After college, that number slowly dropped, and continued dropping as my writer friends' attention got caught by other things, or when they came to their senses and realized that becoming a writer not only required the sacrifice of many other grand things, but also required constant selfishness and a good bit of self-loathing.

I started writing when I was seventeen. And by "started writing" I mean I had that first, seductive glimpse of being a famous author. I put fingers to keyboard with the firm notion that I was writing my first bestseller, all the while entertaining the thoughts: Wow! Wouldn't that be cool to be Piers Anthony and write Xanth novels? Or wow! I bet Margaret Weis has the best life ever! Can you imagine? Thousands of fans waiting for your next story, aching to find out what happens to Tanis, Raistlin and the rest. Wouldn't it be sheer bliss to have readers living and breathing the lives of the characters you love? Yes. That is what I want. That is my heart's desire.

It's been twenty years since then, and most of my original writer friends have gone on to other professions, other adventures. I don't think many of them actively decided to give up writing. It's just hard to keep The Writing as a top priority when there's little encouragement and less money. They just let that dream lie fallow, and the years rolled by.

However, there are a few who stuck to it, gutting it out through the rejection slips and the grinding task of creation, throwing their passion onto the page in fits and starts. And of those friends, most of them fall prey to the topic of this blog, and will recognize what I'm talking about. I bring it up because it hit me smack in the chest this week.

I let my mind get the better of me. I let those incessant, chattering monkeys curl back upon me and wreck my house. I fell into a writing depression.

Maybe this is inevitable. Maybe this is, like the rejection slips and self-grinding, a necessary aspect of the craft. I mean, what is more cliched than the tortured artist? When I first started writing, all I heard about was the half-insane writers. The misfits who were so socially awkward it was painful, but could put their finger on the pulse of humanity. The alcoholics and drug addicts. Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. Emily Dickenson. Writers who destroyed their lives for their craft, who cut out their hearts and threw them on the page, then died bleeding, miserable wretches.

I never wanted misery with my writing. I refuse to believe I have to become one of those wretches to be a great writer. I fight the notion all the time, but I can't deny the depressions on this rollercoaster of creation. This is an example of that seductive, destructive cycle:

Last week, during my writing nights (those of you who have been following the blog will know this is Monday, Tuesday and sometimes Sunday, based on the angelic benevolence of my wife), I delved into the character of Medophae. I'd reached my 100 pages looking through Mirolah's eyes, and it was time to start the next segment of the novel. Wildmane was ready to be born again.

I wrote it. And it sang. It trumpeted. A host of celestial beings converged on my house and struck up the orchestra. When the chapter was done, I floated out of that room and made myself a manic nuisance to my wife, who tolerated me, smiled affectionately, kissed me and sent me to bed. That was Sunday night.

The euphoria lasted through the Monday workday and into the next night, when I started the following chapter and flew along with the divine spirit flowing out of my fingers. And then I reached a crossroads, a place where a choice needed to be made. With happiness coursing through my veins, I hung up my keyboard and went to bed. I'd face that problem with ease the following night.

Tuesday night rolled around, and with joy in my heart and a full bag of Taco Bell gorditas on my desk, I jumped into the saddle set to work.

I failed. I tried again. I failed again. I shook my head, shook out my fingers, and tried to work out the problem. I tried to find that angelic orchestra which praised me so highly the night before. But it was gone. Those damned angels just up and vanished.

I like to blame it all on Taco Bell, but it wasn't that. It was that same tripwire that causes so many of my writer friends to stumble and, in this case, me too.

I was so enamoured of what I had written that I did not return to what really drives me. I wrapped myself up in the "glory of me" after creating something that lit me afire. And of course, so thoroughly wrapped, all I would write from that moment forward would be brilliant. Right?

But no. I looked back at the past few paragraphs and, sure enough, they sucked. I wanted to slash them to ribbons. My glorious pillar of self-appreciation cracked. Maybe I wasn't that good. Maybe I actually stank and my love of the previous chapter was simply the obliviousness of an over-tired mind.

Since then, I haven't written a lick. I'm afraid the moment I return to the keyboard, it'll all come out crap, and how could I possibly shame my previous chapter by following it with a dog?

And there is the trap.

I struggle through this even now as I type the blog. I'm going to have to return to Medophae, and I'm going to have to count on myself to guide him to the next scene with the same intuition that birthed him, even if it all comes to crap, because here's the thing: If I don't, there is no Medophae. It all began with my passion for his character, not an admiration of my prose. The words arose from that love.

And so, when I get to the keyboard this coming Sunday, that is what I will do. Simply start writing. The Revisionist can shred it later. Sometime in 2009. But right now, he has to shut up. Until the end of the book, the Creationist must have his way, or there will be no book at all.


Peter said...

You sound like me. Kick its ass, you'll get through it. I myself am writing this because nothing is flowing through my fingers doing my magazine articles, so I'm procrastinating and lurking on the 'net. As with writing music, sometimes great things come out, sometimes they don't, I don't think there's more to it than that. You'll be fine, and if Wed. night is any indication, people are confident in what world you will throw them into. Also, if it helps, blame it on Taco Bell.

Todd said...

Indeed. That's exactly it. And yeah, the book signing was pretty awesome. It was neat to see readers being interested in what comes next. I'm excited about that!

Aaron said...

I don't understand this "depression" you speak of. Sounds crappy. I'm just thankful I've never had to deal with such a perverse beast.

Shemp said...

Hey Todd. This is Paul, freinds of Stephanie and Scott.

I totally hear you when you speak of the highs and lows. I spent the last weekend working my synopsis for submission, and inevitably ended up doing yet more minor editing on the book...a word here, a deleted image there, an added sigh for Beam. And as I should've expected, I fell into the ethers of creative consumption and spent the weekend with my mind living in that world while my body walked in this one, much to the consternation of my wife. It leaves me an outcast in this world, and brings on a kind of manic depression that screws with my physical life but ultimately breathes gold dust into my fictional one.

I've suffered many time warps in my writing where I cannot seem to find the scene. I write it again and again, and hit the delete key far more often than I'm fond of. But eventually the characters whisper in my ear and I see the world through their eyes again, and the story writes to me. Hang in there, this will pass.

Excellent blog. Thanks for sharing that.


Paul said...

Damn, misspelled "friends" up there. So much for editing. LOL!


Todd said...

Hi Paul,

The editing stumbles get us all. And me more than most, I assure you. In fact, my previous blog was posted with a whole paragraph of "discarded notes" at the bottom. A good friend of mine who reads the blog wrote me and said, "Good post. Looks like it could use a bit of editing, though" and winked, knowing that I would, of course, rush back and fix it.

So I did. I went back through the post with a fine tooth comb and adjusted some things, but nothing too egregious...

And missed the entire paragraph at the end again (it was separated from the real post by about five or six paragraph spaces), and posted the blog entry again.

I decided I'll never be the perfect revisionist. I'm going to have to settle for charming goofiness when I screw up instead. People like to laugh, right?

Anyway, thanks for your comment! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

littlekma said...

I was sorting through a very old bookcase of books, and found an interesting one called 'Rejection' by John White. It was a glimpse into the rejections that many famous people experienced, and by the time I was done, I almost even felt quite inspired.