After a bit of a hiatus, I’m doing yet another video blog. This one is for the writers in the house! I’ve written all kinds of stuff (movies, books, tv pilots, articles, reviews, etc.) and these are just some thoughts that have been rattling in my head for a while. Hopefully it’s helpful to some other writer out there!
Writing a novel is a marathon. It takes months, if not years. You have to be in it for the long haul.
You have to train for a marathon. If you want to run a marathon you have to gradually build up to it with shorter runs at first. Gradually, inexorably, you find the skill and endurance to persevere. To keep going.
You have to train for a novel. You have to write, and write, and edit, and rewrite. The long form of storytelling will ruin and exhaust a novice. You’ve got to build up to it.
Too many marathons will ruin you. Your body will fall apart. Joints and bones will give up after repetitive pounding against concrete. You can’t run a marathon all the time. But you don’t have to stop running.
You can sprint.
There is freedom in the sprint – the freedom of laying it all on the line in short bursts. No time for boredom. No time to think of giving up. Just go.
Novelists need to sprint sometimes too. Write a short story. Write a screenplay (which, in comparison to a novel, is a pretty short endeavor). Give yourself time to recover and do something that is joyously brief.
My poor, lonely blog has been neglected for a while. It’s largely because I’ve been focused on finishing my new screenplay, thinking about what I’m going to do with my latest novel, and the usual various tasks that a man in his 30s has to take care of. Ironically, I’ve been so busy writing I haven’t had time to write in the blog.
But, in a way, that’s a good thing because it shows that I’m so absorbed in my work that few outside forces can take me away from it. I’ve had an incredible run of creativity over the last 6 months and I’ve finally produced some stories that were percolating in the back of my mind for years, and others that were totally new ideas I didn’t even know I had in me. It’s fulfilling work, more fulfilling than all of my other accomplishments.
That’s why I keep doing it. It’s lonely, not financially stable, oftentimes frustrating, and sometimes humbling work. But it’s the only thing that really makes me feel alive.
So I keep writing.
I’ve started writing movie scripts. My first one is basically complete, and currently undergoing edits. I’m in that special “gratification” phase between “I’ll never finish” and “everything I wrote is crap and I don’t know why I’m doing this”. Needless to say, I’m enjoying the gratification while it lasts.
But, as a novelist, I have to say I enjoyed writing a full length story in a month. Novels are long, laborious works of love and sweat and pain and joy. But the screenplay thing is quick in comparison, and an exciting process from beginning to end. I am 100% sure that this is because I’ve spent so many years crafting stories in long form. Somebody just starting out in screenwriting would probably find it very challenging. It’s all relative.
For me, screenplays are an outlet for the stories I’ve had in my head for years, but they weren’t quite right for a book. Sometimes I think of stories that are rich in visuals, audio, and sight gags…and it’s quite difficult to pull those off in prose. But with the screenplay I can paint with images, and that’s creatively liberating.
A while ago I stumbled upon an excellent excerpt/article from Peter Mendelsund’s book What We See When We Read (Vintage Original). It talks about how the best novels are often very vague about physical descriptions of their characters, leaving the reader’s imagination to subconcsiously fill in the blanks.
From the excerpt:
Good books incite us to imagine — to fill in an author’s suggestions. Without this personalized, co-creative act, you are simply told: This is your Anna.
It really got me thinking about how I describe my own physical characters. I often leave a lot to the imagination and just drop a teeny hint about their appearance every now and then, but I have to say in my current book I was a little more cognizant of how readers “fill in the blanks” after I read this piece.
I’m still working on finishing the first two books in my new science/magic series. Various life events have slowed down the progress, but I’m getting there. It’s happening. Light at the end of the tunnel, finish line ahead, *insert additional completion metaphor*
But some days, the words just don’t come out. One of my favorite writers (me) once said, “Some days the words flow like a mighty river. Some days they’re as slow as molasses.”
I used to struggle in times like that because 99% of the time I really tried to make whatever I wrote worthy of being published, even if it was just written during a draft. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with reaching my daily writing quota if I knew what I wrote was just going to get tossed the next day. I still feel that way most of the time, but I’ve also begun to embrace an idea that helps me get those days when the words just aren’t there…
Sometimes you have to write crap.
There’s one big benefit to writing crap: at least you know what doesn’t work. And another, smaller, benefit is that sometimes that pile of crap you just excreted out of your mind has some valuable seeds in it, and those seeds can grow into beautiful ideas worthy of putting in your finished work.
Various life events have been slowing down my writing and social network posts, but I somehow found a moment to write this here blog post. So, to make the best of the time I have before my mind insists I attend to one of the dozen other pressing matters I have to attend to, I’m going tell you about a scene in the novel I’m currently writing.
I don’t often write love stories, but when I do, I make them complicated. Writers have to speak from their own perspectives, after all, and I’ve never felt that love was a simple thing. It’s a messy affair that isn’t at all like the Disney tales made it out to be. I find myself drawn to stories of love that allllmost worked out, but tragically failed for some reason.
I’m writing such a story now. Two characters are slowly discovering feelings for each other, but circumstances keep them from having a real relationship. They’re two lonely people with an inexplicable attraction for one another, but nothing can come of it. The only thing that eases the pain is the promise of a brighter future when their work is done, and they can finally have the time to be vulnerable. Because that’s what love is about at its core: vulnerability. Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open”, and that’s the problem my characters face. They can’t risk that vulnerability. Not now. Not until they finish saving the world.
Then, maybe, they can find time to love.