Archive for February, 2019
This particular post is directed largely to my writing friends, though many of you who are not writers—that is, writers in a more or less full-time sense—might get a similar take-away message that could be applied to other professions and activities. What I’m talking about here is the most difficult thing I have encountered since starting to (try to) become a full-time, professional writer, and bring in a limited income from writing and publishing novels and short stories.
Writing is not a slap-dash profession. That should be obvious to almost anyone, even to non-writers. One does not merely sit down to write a best-seller (though you may delude yourself into believing that you are), but through a series of starts, stops, tedious read-throughs and edits, one gets a story or book in reasonable form, and tries to get it published. All of that takes time, some money, many letters of query and investigation, and more time. Time is the big factor here.
None of this ever struck me as all that “difficult,” though, in an absolute sense. Being retired, I have the time and I’ve learned through trial and error, through reading books and articles on writing, attending conferences, lectures, and by just plain straight talk with others, how to get it done. (Quality is another matter which I’m not concerned with here.) I’ve been able to do it, one way or another. So what’s the most difficult part about writing?
For me, the most difficult part in my continuing battle with words on the page has always been the transition from one project to another. Writing on one particular story, novel or short story, and putting that away and going to another story has always been difficult. I can’t just drop one and go to another. For example, at the time I’m writing this blog post, I have just sent out copies of my first science-fiction novel manuscript to two contests for unpublished novels. That required getting the manuscript into the format the contests insist on, especially by removing all identifying labels such as my name, address, any acknowledgements, references to previous writings, etc. And I had to read through the submissions several times to make sure they were in proper format. God forbid I should send out a manuscript with errors. But now, a couple of deadlines for short stories are coming up, and I’m going to have to drop the novel (which I like to work on) and take up a totally different story (or, in this case, a couple of stories). Getting the novel out of my mind is time consuming. I have to gear up to the short format, and immerse myself in it to an extent that I can get a good read going. That may take several weeks. Once I get into it, I can whip through it like the proverbial Epsom salts through a widder woman. Getting there is the hardest part.
What’s your hardest part about writing? Or doing anything?
A couple of weeks ago I sent the first 50 pages of the manuscript of my first science-fiction novel to a professional editor for evaluation. It had been read by a number of non-professionals, including other beginning writers, non-writer friends, and those in several critique groups, but never by a professional. The editor was almost effusive in her praise for my ability to string words together, and made it clear that she thought the book had promise in the marketplace. But there was also a serious drawback, or rather a pair of drawbacks. These had to do with the stakes that the characters were working toward or against, and their motivation to keep doing so. I was glad to have her opinion.
I have to admit that I would never have realized on my own that these vital components of the novel were lacking. The stakes and motivation were there, but were so vague that the reader had to look hard to find them. I had been so focused on getting the writing accomplished that such esoteric concepts as laying out the reason(s) the characters were doing what they were doing had pretty much escaped me.
Clearly, characters in any story (short, medium, long) have to have a motivation to do whatever it is they do. Sometimes it’s obvious: a kidnapped person wants to get back home. But sometimes it’s not so obvious: a man takes a day off from work and goes on a rampage. That kind of story may make interesting reading and there may be tension and conflict on every page, but the reader is going to want to know why? This is true in everyday life. Everybody does something for a reason, though we are generally not aware of others’ reasons for acting. Rarely does someone do something for no reason, and in a novel this would soon become so boring no one would read it.
People don’t act in a vacuum. Thoughts and desires do matter. An author must look beyond the mere words and phrases and sentences of his/her writing. Something drives the character—what do they want? What keeps them going toward that goal? Is the goal obvious in the first place? What takes a person out of their humdrum, tiresome existence and gives them motivation to do something they otherwise would never accomplish? I thought I had that aspect of the life of my main character(s) covered, but it didn’t come through to an independent reader. That’s also a good recommendation for getting your work read by others. I guarantee you won’t be able to figure out all the little details that bring a story alive by yourself.