It’s Not Magic. Well, Maybe.

Carey snorts when I say it: “My story is crap.” Then he rolls his eyes.

It’s good to have somebody on your side. Someone who understands you. A partner who can roll their eyes convincingly when you’re being ridiculous.

I love my story!” “Wow, this is really bad.” “This is awesome!” “I can’t do this, what was I thinking?” It is ridiculous. Remember yesterday? Yeah. Today my book is crap.

It’s a game my brain plays, I think, to keep me from finishing the book.

When I was a girl, long before the days of the animated Disney version, we watched a live action movie about Aladdin, made for adults. The hero was given an opportunity to obtain the genie’s lamp. He would gain wealth, glory, and the hand of the beautiful princess. All he had to do was get to it… without ever leaving the path and don’t touch anything. How hard could that be?

I remember wishing I were in his place. I’m an expert at following instructions, especially easy ones: Stay on the path, stupid.

Of course he couldn’t do it. He was fine when he passed all those riches by the wayside. I mean, he kind of wanted to touch things, you see, but he was a good boy. Then there was a beautiful woman beckoning to him. That one was tough. But he stayed the course. It was when he heard cries of terror and saw someone in desperate need of help that he did what was forbidden, with dramatic and terrible results.

That is exactly what writing is like.

All the experts say, “Sit down, butt to chair. Just write. Write. Write. Butt to chair.”

And you think, “I can do that. Just follow the instructions. Butt to chair.”

Then you sit down and it’s not very comfortable. But that’s okay, you can brave discomfort for the sake of your art. You are a writer!

You’re staring at a blank page, and for fifteen minutes you can think of nothing to say. That’s okay. Butt in chair. It will come. You are a writer!

Then you write a few things and they’re crap and you think, “That’s okay. Just write. Everybody writes crap sometimes.” And you keep going. You are a writer.

So then your brain has to get creative. It decides that it would much rather be blogging. Wouldn’t you rather be blogging? That’s a form of writing, right? Just blog for a bit. You can come back to the novel tomorrow. Blogging will help you clear your brain.

So maybe you click over to the blog, but then you remember: “Nope. One hour. Butt to chair. Working on your novel.”

Check. But that’s not the end of it, of course. Like Aladdin, you’re going down this path and it’s lined with temptation and distraction. But you’re good. You’re good.

Open an email? Nope. Read a forum post? No. Watch a video on how to get published! NOOO!

Somebody has said something WRONG on the Internet and you MUST SAVE THEM from their idiocy before it is too late. But you don’t. You are a writer.

Write. Okay.

And maybe you make it through several days like this. Every day, one hour, butt to chair. Maybe weeks or months.

One morning you wake up and you’re sick. That’s okay. You got this. It’s just one hour and you can pause the timer if you have to leave your chair to throw up.

But the next morning, your brain starts playing deceptive little tricks on you. It tells you maybe you’re not really a novelist anyway, and you’re wasting your time. If you were a novelist, wouldn’t you just want to write in your novel, the way you always want to write in your blog? You wouldn’t have to fight so hard. Besides. Maybe your blog could save someone, like Glennon‘s does.

And it’s this that gets you in the end. You miss your hour, because you think, for the briefest span of time, that you were never really cut out for this after all. And there is something more important you should be doing. So you leave the path. You. Suck.

Might as well quit now.

Except the ceiling doesn’t cave in and the walls don’t crumble. You’re not dodging molten rock or sudden chasms. The nice thing about writing is you get forever chances.

I spent approximately 14,000 mornings NOT writing a novel before I finally sat my butt down to do it. So why would I let one missed morning get to me?

You get back on the path and you keep going.

Will I prevail? I don’t know. The experts all say I will, if I just stick to the path and don’t touch anything except my novel for that one hour a day. And at the end of it: Riches, glory, and the hand of the princess. Actually, let’s leave the hand out. Sounds gory.

And maybe there won’t be riches & glory, either. Fortunately, that’s not what I’m after (not that I would turn my nose up at it). But there will be a book. By gum, when I’m done, there will be a book. And when you rub it just right, it will open and reveal the magic within.

I’d rather have that than riches and glory and a disembodied hand any day. Well, not ANY day. But most days, at least.

P.S. Truth in advertising announcement: My book won’t really open just by rubbing it. OR maybe it will. I think I’ll demand that feature in negotiations with my publisher. I’m sure that will make me very popular with them.

P.P.S. What are the games your brain plays to keep you from your art? What are you doing to defeat the temptations?

8 thoughts on “It’s Not Magic. Well, Maybe.

  1. Very nice thoughts. I’ve never been through something quite like this because I’ve always written books since I was little and never really cared if it was crap (and yes, of course most of it was!), but I DEFINITELY relate to the days of wondering whether you’re really wasting your time and it’s always going to be substandard. Even though my book got signed to an agent and keeps getting requests from publishers, I’m getting dangerously close to a year on submission without a book deal yet and I can’t help thinking over and over that maybe it’s just not going to happen or I just wasn’t good enough yet and my agent was wrong that it’s worth representing. I haven’t started a new novel since finishing my last novel over a year ago. I’ve written other stuff, like you mentioned with blogging and I did a nonfiction book and all kinds of other distracting things, but the stories are really where I want to be and where I belong. I don’t have a butt-in-chair problem at all. I have a deciding-to-commit-to-butt-in-chair problem. ::sigh::

  2. It IS crap. And I say that speaking of my stuff, although your stuff probably is too because it’s a first draft and you’re a human being. Your idea is what you’re in love with, and every time you edit you’ll be getting closer to it.

    Sometimes I need a little alcohol to write first drafts. It’s just too painful otherwise. Speaking of which, I should be writing…. *makes a highball*

    • Oh, I know full well my book is crap. Absolute rubbish. For now. There are a few scenes that may be quite, quite good. But as a book, it’s rambling and long with lots of “tell more about this” text thrown in to remind myself to write something decent on revisions. The question is whether it’s salvageable. Right now I have my doubts. I’ve just started in on the climactic scene and I gotta say, right now, it’s feeling rather anti-climactic. Can it be salvaged in revisions? Who knows. As Carey reminded me last night, the reason I started was just to see that I could finish. When I finish it, I will have succeeded. If it’s good enough, upon revision, to be marketable, bonus. If it’s a blockbuster well, that would be just shiny. :D

      • I’ve only done this twice before, but both times I wrote the climactic scene it was absolutely awful. And I’ve only edited a climactic scene once, but it improved greatly… into something I enjoyed rereading. Everything’s salvageable. You’ll know when you’re done if it’s worth salvaging. (And you’re saying that already — we’re bouncing around semantics.) I found, in my second novel, that something being worth salvaging depending not on the writing but my interest. Two totally different things. I don’t think there will be some horrible situation where you’re super interested but unable to fix it. I don’t think that’s possible.

        • This is extremely encouraging to read. Thank you. In particular, it’s helpful to have a little push to just get that climax down, even if it sucks, and plan to improve it during revisions. Thanks!

          • This is how it went for everyone during NaNoWriMo too. You saying “just get it down” reminded me of that, as that was the rallying cry. Especially true during the climax. I think I might have written, “And then they fight and there’s lots of magic back and forth, splashing with the water, lots of grunts and angry screams and such, until he beats her, barely, and she’s pinned down somewhere.” Just because I did NOT have the energy, especially knowing there was a good chance I might be changing the whole scene around. Waste of time.

            I’m not a big proponent of doing that, either, as I think you can learn a lot by forcing yourself to write details out. (I’m not a big proponent of NaNoWriMo either.) However, there’s really nothing to be learned in the climax. It’s the climax. It builds on everything; nothing grows out of it.

  3. Pingback: Where Are the Elves When You Need Them? | Writer for Life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>