Monday, June 21, 2010

Just When I Think She's Done Surprising Me

So. I've basically been sitting around the last few weeks, staring at the screen, and nothing's been happening, and that doesn't make sense, because I know this story like the back of my hand, right?

Well. Today, I was sitting in the laundromat, and I had one of Those Moments. You know those moments, right? If you're a writer or other artist, you have Those Moments at least some of the time, if you wish you were a writer or artist, those are the moments you're looking for. It's the stuff of legend, you're sitting around, because you're tired of staring at the screen, the house is a mess and you haven't eaten anything but instant mac and cheese for three days because you feel guilty every time you leave your house because you've only written three pages today, oh gods. And then something shifts, a veil lifts, a bolt of lightning strikes, the ground moves under you, and something changes inexplicably, suddenly, perfectly.

I have a hard time with scheduling writing time. Some days, it's five or six hours, some days it's thirty minutes. Too many days, it's nothing. Ten minutes or less. I'm working on fixing that. For those of you who do not understand this yet, we are not actually at the mercy of the almighty Inspiration. We need the inspiration, to find the stories at all, and there are small moments of inspiration in the writing process. And there are large earth-moving cracks of inspiration. Usually, I get the first one when the idea hits, then I have to squish it down, because some ideas are, well, stupid. And some ideas are amazing, but they're intimidating and all-encompassing, and I don't have the mental capacity or fortitude to focus on it, and it sits and stews for a few months (or on memorable occasions, a few years, coupled with a few false starts. Hello, Gerard, you blood-sucking pain in my ass). I am saying this, rather condescendingly too, because it still shocks me how many people think words will get written, if you're not writing. Seriously, I know I have time management issues. This is not because I lack inspiration. This is because I am neurotic and therefore easily distracted. I am not a morning person, so morning is when I write, because I know I am of no use to anyone besides myself. If I sleep in, usually, because I did not sleep well the previous night, or I overextended myself the previous day, I hate myself. Hating myself takes a lot of mental energy. You can see where this is going. I'm not making excuses. I'm a flawed writer who badly needs to work on self-discipline.

When I was in London, there was a guy. He was in TV, I don't know exactly what he did, some desk job, but it was in television. He worked part time as an extra. When I told him what I did with my spare time, he told me about a screenplay he really wanted to write. When I asked him what was stopping him writing it, he said time. He assured me he had it all mapped out and knew exactly what would happen, but he was waiting for the right time. When I asked how long he'd been waiting, he said ten years. I tried not to judge. I asked him how much he had written.
"Weeeelllll... you see, I haven't, really. But I know exactly how it's going to go, so once the inspiration strikes, I'll be able to jump right on it." So I said, you should make it a habit, to write every day. "Weeeelllll.... I just, I don't feel inspired to do it." I walked away trying to hide the smirk because we both knew it wasn't ever going to get done, but really, there was no need to rub it in.

Seriously, I don't know about anyone else, but my muse is a grade-A asshole. On the good days, I feel like I've got this person whispering in my ear that if I do not get this out as quickly as possible, it could blow my head off, I will explode in a shower of guts and grey matter and all the wrong words, and on the bad days I'm stranded in a desert and he's five feet away with a cup of water, yanking it an inch further away every time I take a step. The thing is though, words can actually come out whether you're inspired or not. I am not yet immune to how crap the words are, but I'm at the stage now where at least I know crap is a perfectly normal thing and I just have to suck it up and deal, or in theory, anyway. Because then there's the second kind of inspiration. Where you've spent like, two or three (or in my case, four or five) drafts on this stupid thing, and the tone's not right, and the timing's all off, but the story is there and you're doing a whole lot of telling people what's happening, instead of just having it happen and then something, some inexplicable THING happens, you ask the right question to an empty room, a typo leads you to an adjective which leads you to an idea you never would have thought up on your own, and then it all kind of fuses together.

Like my friend, I had Hannah mapped out. So there was no need to write with any real urgency. Everything has been fits and starts and me screaming at my laptop, and erasing huge chunks of pages. But the map was wrong. After all this time, I didn't imagine that could be true. Of course, the writing of Hannah is still moving at a somewhat steady pace, but a slow steady pace, so much so that I've had to extend the original deadline to the end of October. I had the brainwave yesterday, that maybe I was wrong, maybe the plot was a little thin. So I had the idea, as I had had before, that maybe I could smush all three stories together. Which caused a panic attack because, a) I tried to do that before and it didn't go down so well, b) even if the first novel comes in half the length I had planned, that still makes the book almost 500 pages, and too expensive to self-publish, and c) I hadn't planned that far ahead yet. So there I am, at the laundromat, in utter despair as only a writer can be in utter despair, and trying to sort out what I'm going to do, and telling myself I am not going to start spinning around the floor in front of innocent bystanders. You see, I have a stim. I pace. I pace a lot, particularly when I am imagining all the places I would rather be, like at my computer writing a best-seller that will make me a gazillionaire, instead of alternating between the clock, the spin cycle, and my empty notebook. I try hard not to do it in public, except at work, when I am required to stand in one place for a long time. So I stared at said notebook, and started mapping out the second Hannah book just in case, you know, as a fail-safe. And I realized something. There was a slight incongruity between *spoiler alert* Hannah as a teenager, as she is in book 2, and Hannah as a small child, as she is now. Nothing huge, she hasn't all of a sudden become a completely different person, but there's a distinct change in her motivation that I can't account for. This leads me, like a PI following a gut instinct in an old movie, to thinking, "Hm. Something happened in book one that is not there. I don't know what that is. What is that?"

That was all it took, you guys. WHAM. Hit me like a freight train. I knew exactly what happened, I knew exactly what it was I had been intimidated by in the first place. And just as I thought to myself, "How am I going to pull that off?" I knew the answer to that, too. When you write, you give characters traits and habits and personalities, and you know you're only going to use pieces. The rest is extra, stuff you use in your head, to solidify the characters so you can keep writing them, so you can get to know them. Sometimes, you don't know which extras you're going to end up using, and sometimes, in those extras, there are answers. I thought by now, after all this time, Hannah had finished surprising me in the big ways, and everything from here on out was extra. But oh boy, that last step was a doozy. It was glorious. Beautiful. CRACK!CRACK!BOOM! then all the little pieces, snapsnapsnap as if it was always meant to be exactly that, as if at fourteen, I saw a picture in front of me and fell in love with it, and suddenly, eleven years later, I just noticed the picture is a mosiac, made up of dozens of little pictures that fit with the big picture so perfectly you can't notice them, until you do. I was wrong, and it cost me time and effort and energy and blood and sweat and tears. And I don't care, because when it comes out, it's going to come out amazing. We're still moving. But it's a whole new game.  For the first time since this last leg of the journey began, she is running ahead of me. I don't know where we're going. It's gorgeous.

I am not destined to be a great writer. At best, I will be a good storyteller. I am not trying to change the world, only trying to believe that I could. Most times, I think I really suck at this, that I've always sucked, and that's why it gets harder as it goes on, not easier. And that's why stuff hasn't worked out, and that's why what happened in college happened, and that's why I chose self-publishing over the traditional methods. When I get comments on this blog, or when I get to talk shop with other writers, or I help people, I sometimes think I am good at this thing that I do so compulsively, but even that, sometimes, is empty and hollow because after all this time, I had better at least be good. There are people in my life who rather foolishly think that if I am to set out, to do this job, and the job of being read, I will change the world, I will do Great Things. I will be a Great Talent. Most of the time, I believe it comes from love. Some of the time, I believe it comes from ignorance. Today, only for today, I think I just believe it.


* to my knowledge, 'stim' is a medical term for self-stimulatory behavior. Please do let me know if is derogatory in any way.