The Author's Corniche - 2

In a recent writing class, I was asked the question, "Why do you write?" We were given ten minutes to write out the answer.

I didn't need that long. I knew my answer immediately, and wrote it down. "Because I have to."

There must be authors out there who sit down and say, "All right, me. I think I'd like to make a living at writing. Let me copy a plot form from a popular genre and make a lot of money." These are the people who churn out books by the cord, and are very successful, and have boats and ponies, and don't stay awake at night fretting over backstories. You can find their works right next to the TicTacs, or left over on the shelves of group housing.

Oh, I'm being harsh on some probably very talented people, but it's only because I'm a frustrated wannabe writer. I would be perfectly happy to quit trying, but my "projects," let's call them, come after me like a scene from "The Birds." Caw - write us! Caw. Caw. We won't leave you alone until you do! I feel like the parent of a bunch of bratty kids. Since I can't kill them, I'll have to graduate them and kick them out the door and hope they never come back. I have to finish writing. Can't help it.

When people ask me, "Are you still writing?" my eyes take on a gleam of terror, much like a man in front of the bulls of Pamplona who has just been asked, "Are you still jogging?" Do you understand me, people? No choice... no choice!! I marvel that the question implies one can stop writing, like you can sit back one day and say, "Yup. That's enough."

Maybe if I actually finish a project I'll reach such a state of zen, but I don't see that happening any time soon. It's surely one of the comedies of existence that the harder I focus solving my narrative dead spots, not only do those spots grow more tenacious, but suddenly I begin to question elements of the plot that I thought were working fine. My story, if it was a car, would be a paid mechanic's dream, with bits breaking off even as it sat motionless in the garage. And so I spin myself in circles trying to straighten everything out, garbling what sense the story used to have, creating new characters, killing old ones, changing the setting by a few hundred years, and finally collapse with a cry of, "Magic! A big magical butterfly drops down from the sky and fixes everything, fer hfnxig!!!" (That last sound is me choking on spit.) Ah, deus ex machina, how I long to dance the dance of love with thee!

Then I stop thinking about the story altogether. I do the little Dutch boy thing and shove my finger into the leak in the dam. (Stops that thought, by crikey!) But by and by, that irresistible writing urge blows open another leak in a totally different part of the story, and suddenly I'm thinking from a new perspective, solving problems from another end, and making a few new ones as I go.

Is it this difficult for every novice writer? In the pinball game of authorship, I feel like I'm getting whacked around more than normal on my way down the table.


TSOldtimer said...

Well, what a problem. I do not envy you that. Since you asked, however, I'd say that MY writing problem is that I'm not as skilled with language when I have a story to tell. I'm so left-brained that I use the fewest words possible to share all the information. Not very colorful. At least you CAN tell a story, even if you want to change it before you get to the end.

Monster Library Student said...


Write about not being able to write...maybe that is your start to getting those creative juices a flowing...but I hear ya, I am the same darn way!

-W- said...

I have a hunch that your problem is more a crisis of confidence than anything else, Kt. I don't think there's anything wrong with having a few plot holes and narrative dead spots. Piers Anthony used to come to those points and just insert brackets filled with his day-to-day activities. When he thought of something else, he'd write the story again, even if that meant he skipped over a hole or two. Then he'd go back through the manuscript, find the brackets and figure things out in the next draft.

Free yourself from perfection and just give yourself to permission to WRITE!

PS: I have finally forgiven myself for the way stories won't leave me alone. For years I tried to pretend they were not bothering me, but this year, I gave up. Damn it, I'm a storyteller, like it or not. Sounds like you're there, too.

Kt said...

tso - Hemmingway only had a vocabulary of twenty words, and yet he's considered a greatie. And you can tell stories, I know, because I read your blog. 8'P

mls - Oh, I can write, all right. It's just that it never amounts to anything conclusive. I'm like the old woman in the corner mumbling stories, falling asleep before I finish.

w - How 'bout a crisis of crappiness? I fear I fall into that 99% of self-deluded writers who are too dumb to quit. I like the info on Anthony, though, as per:
"The warrior drew his sword, daring the monster to come, hating his own life with every breath he took...
[today i ate a cheese sandwich. need to go to the store for more batteries. oprah was good this morning]
The monster lay dead at his feet, and he was left wondering how he survived such a horrific battle."

Yeah. Skip the difficult parts, write about shopping lists!

bearded vet said...

K t, in my humble opinion, you are an excellent writer. I would definitely read a book that you wrote. Good luck with your writing, I hope you and your writing come to terms so that you can find peace, and I hope you find your story.