Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ahh, the muted roar of yokels. . .

Yes, neighborhood Fight Club is back. Just now I looked out the window and two big girls were bravely punching each other in the face and seeming as if they weren't so much enjoying it. I bet.

There are some 50 people in our neighbor's yard, gathered around a makeshift boxing ring. They're drinking and cheering each other on. The first time this happened, we were sort of amazed and appalled. Now, it doesn't seem like that big of a thing. They're not making that much noise, and above the whirring of two big box fans, it just sounds like kind of a muted yokel-roar with the occasional cheery whistle. All in good fun. [snort!]

The heat wave continues, though it isn't as bad today as the past several, and tonight it might even rain. (Please o please.) I have my laptop back with a pristine new keyboard. It is ready for a new book. I tried to download Scrivener, but it doesn't work with my operating system. [frown] Seems I shall be writing another book in Appleworks. That's fine.

Yesterday, with the full force of two fans pointed at me, I worked on the first few pages of my new book. I had already written this first few pages, by the way. Months ago, in a needed interlude from that other book. But. I am a notorious tinkerer with beginnings. Oh, how I labor beginnings! But today I moved forward to the next few pages. Into the scary unknown.

How exactly does one begin a book? It's so hard every time. I recall that the beginning of Silksinger was fraught. Terrifying. And I have been so excited about telling the story I am now setting out to tell, and I am excited, but when you stop daydreaming about something and begin it, well, for me, the terror kicks in. I've been building up this story in my head for months, and now I have to -- ulp! -- write it down?

How do you create a character?

How do you get to the meat of the story, hook a reader in, hopefully fascinate them?

How do you create a convincing world?

I don't know. You just write. You write a lot, and much of it will be bad, and some of it will be good. And you keep the good, and write a lot more. And so on. I wrote Not For Robots as a procrastination tool when I was still in the early stages of Silksinger, and it was very useful to remind myself of things that I know. Like: the story only happens once you start writing it. No matter how complete an outline or synopsis, you don't really know what's going to happen until you're in the story. There is a magic that happens in the act of writing, where it becomes a collaboration between You and Mystery. Story comes down from somewhere, ideas blossom from nowhere, you have help from an invisible, unknowable source. I'm not saying it's really a muse, but it feels like that. I think we get ourselves into a state where a new realm of our brain opens itself up and gets into the act. That's the real muse: an often untapped, mysterious region of our minds where creativity resides. Part of the challenge of writing for me is the seek that region. Some people find it more easily than others. Perfectionists like me have a hard time, because we're like entomologists: we're down on our hands and knees in the meadow of our story, peering at bugs through a magnifying glass. If we can get up and sort of. . . romp in the meadow, then something magical might happen.

That's what I think, anyway. I try to push myself toward that place, and often I fail. I've learned to keep trying, to insist on defeating my worst tendencies. If something doesn't come easily to you, don't take that as a sign that you're not meant to do it. I used to get so defeated by hearing writers gush about how "the characters took over, the story spilled out of me, etc" -- and sure there were times I thought that it is supposed to be like that, and if that wasn't happening to me, I wasn't really a writer. But sometimes now it does happen, because I show up and work for it.

Here's a quote from a dance memoir I just read for research:

"It is safe to live in one's own well-worn groove where one is comfortable with one's chosen limits, chosen measurements of success and failure. But today as I pirouetted straight through the limits, I knew I could do more and then more again. For one triumph leads to another, on to infinity. How far can I go? How far will I go?"
-- Winter Season, by Toni Bentley


Q said...

I've had a story gush forth a grand total of once, when I wrote 2500 words in a few hours. I think that that much story only came because I had been dying to write that part of the book for ages--up until the point where I skipped the entire middle of the book to write that one part.

Apart from that, though, my writing doesn't gush so that I can hardly get the words out.

Thanks for writing this, though. You've given me a reason to write again.

Stephanie Perkins said...

You can do it. I KNOW you can. You are going to ROCK this book!!

(And remember -- NO ONE is reading over your shoulder right now. Just write!)

Hmm, you'd think the heat wave would deter the fight club, no? But I suppose if they're crazy enough to beat the poo out of each other, it doesn't matter what the temperature is. I suppose you can expect them this winter too. And during lightning storms. And freezing rain.

Not to discourage you or anything. (Is Jim looking at real estate again?)


S R Wood said...

Laini -- Turns out you have "Write Club" all around you, we're just a lot quieter and less budweisery. There also tends to be less face-punching (except during revisions).

I love the image of writers crawling around with a magnifying glass. Did you know that in some places (like my yard) you can spot wolf spiders in the grass by shining a light and watching for the reflection from -- are you ready for this? -- THEIR EYES. That's right, their eyes glow in the grass.

My point is: yes, we're crawling around looking ... but there are Things out there. Waiting and unexpected, and you can't find them until you work, work, work.

What would be the point if it were easy? I don't think failure's a sign that it's all wrong; it's just a sign that you're working. A byproduct, like an onion peel you just have to throw away to get to the good stuff.

Heather said...

I find that sometimes I am so in love with the idea of the story that it never gets anywhere but my head. Hence why I've yet to finish something.

Please tell me that something you write in the future is going to include a yokels fight club (or maybe something Jim works on)! That would be so awesome!

Elise Murphy said...

One of my favorite things to do in real life is dissect the motivations, personalities, and psyches of people in order to understand my interactions with them. I do this with my characters, too. I can't say I just sit down and they pour forth but I aim for an amalgamation of traits I have known and recognized in others in order to make them real to me.

I guess I also write about subjects I would LOVE to read about in a good book. I stay in love with my work that way.

I think I've had two or three ecstatic writing moments in my life . . . but they only lasted a few hours and resulted in a chapter or two.

The hook? You sure do ask the hard questions! Mood, I guess. If I can create an atmospheric feeling in the first few pages I can allow my characters, setting, and plot to inhabit it.

I can't wait to see what you come up with next!

Anonymous said...

Well, if you're looking for interesting characters, it sounds like you've got 50 of them next door at any given time!

Here's an idea -- a kid whose mom is one of those duking it out in the fight club ring. There's a cool story lurking in there....


Anonymous said...

Hi! I've never commented here before but I really appreciate your insights into writing (and I really enjoyed Blackbringer), so I figured I ought to come out and say thank you! Especially because of this post, which resonated particularly strongly. That feeling of "the characters aren't alive, the story isn't taking over, I'm not a real writer! Aaaa!"

Now I do get to the point where I feel the story come alive, but gosh, it feels like such hard work to get there sometimes, and it occasionally makes me wonder if I'm doing something wrong. But like you say, I think it *is* work, sometimes. That we have to exert effort to be open to inspiration, and there's nothing wrong with that.

So thank you! And good luck on the new project!