The writing has been stalled a little bit on the book. I have big ambitions to get it going again. I feel like I have probably 80% of the plot worked out, 66% of the structure and over half of the chapters written or at least outlined. I was feeling overconfident of course, because this weekend I had a chance to read some chapters to a friend of mine. Like actually sit down and read them out loud. Do you do this in your writing? You might not. Odds are you don’t. In my mind, the words were all great, the story was compelling, but when I read them, it was like I was reading a newspaper printed on a piece of Swiss cheese. The holes and gaps were distracting. The reaction I got from my audience was more than enough praise to continue with the project, which really is the point, isn’t it? Say what you will about the artist’s drive to produce something they value themselves, but seriously, don’t we all secretly, in our heart of hearts want someone else to enjoy our stories too?
I don’t think there is any shame in that. At least know the kind of monster you are. Some people write because it is a compulsion and some people write for attention. I just want to be honest here and break it down to what it really is: a performance. You don’t see actors performing entire plays on their own in their homes do you? Then why would any writer want anyone to read their work when they could just as comfortably write a book, put it on a shelf or leave it on their hard-drive, indifferent as to whether or not anyone would ever read it? It is silly and pretentious to say you, as an author, don’t write for your audience. Don’t play to the audience, but at least be honest with yourself and say you would get a thrill seeing that book on a shelf. Otherwise, you are either lying or crazy.
Having had my work heard and received well, I realized that the audience it failed to impress was me. I know I’m a better writer than that. Granted this was first draft stuff, but I found myself frustrated with the quality of my work. It resonated with my daughter’s honest review of my book, Song of the Cinder. She’s 14. Which means she has no filter when it comes to cutting dear old dad down to size. She liked the book. Said it had all sorts of excellent things about it, but I killed her favorite character, almost predictably and the ending felt rushed.
She was right. The ending was rushed. I had spent five years on the story from the first short story I had written to the novel it eventually became. Not saying it wasn’t fun to write, and well-received, but also she was right. At some point I told myself I needed to just finish the damned thing. I needed to move on creatively from that story and it was a make or break situation. Sorta like that old car restoration project your uncle has had up on blocks in his yard for the last twenty years. Either finish the damned thing or sell it to someone who will!
However, no matter how perfect and well-centered teenaged daughters might be I thought of her advice when I was cleaning her room the other day. Yes, you read that correctly. I badgered her all summer long to clean her closet. She wouldn’t even break stride while she texted her friends and she would simply say, “Okay, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Well, shortly after sending her back to her mom’s house for the week, I decided enough I-will-do-it-tomorrows had passed. I chucked two large garbage bags of crumpled up drawings, half-finished projects, and clothes that hadn’t fit for years that had accumulated at the bottom of her closet like some sort of sludge, ideal for the preservation of organic material that could be fossilized for later study by scientists long after humanity has wiped itself out.
I couldn’t even blame her. She had emotional attachment to a lot of these drawings, though they were treated like garbage, ultimately. The task must have been completely overwhelming. That two foot by five foot area may as well have been the Marianas Trench. She needed someone impartial, cold and unfeeling towards the sentiment of the accumulated crap she had collected there over the years. She was too close to it to even know where to begin.
Maybe that’s my problem with the book. Scrivener is an awesome tool for writing, but in some ways I think it makes it too easy to start something, lose it, and never finish it or have to keep restarting it because you can’t find it. I wrote Cinder on Word, one chapter at a time, rather than one scene or segment at a time. I compiled it in Scrivener and dumped it into a PDF file for publication. I have been no better off with it as a writing tool, because it isn’t much help in letting me do the job. So either I need to figure out a way to stop struggling with the tool, or ditch it outright and go back to what has worked.
Anyway, one thing I do need to do is continue to focus on chiseling away at the novel. Jumping around might be attractive, but really it’s a matter of getting the words down. If I write all the fun scenes right off, then what motivation have I got to write the meat and potatoes of it later? None, really.
So, maybe for your writing, consider reading it outloud to someone else. Even if they love it, they might just be impressed that you can put words down on paper, or maybe they are jealous and cut your writing down because you finished something that wasn’t a text about how dismal and dark existence is and how High School has no meaning. I don’t know. But I do know that maybe at some point I really need to rip and tear, chuck things I haven’t looked at in forever, and just clean out the closet.