Finding the way

I don’t write that often about how I write because for some time I’ve had a superstitious fear that if I attempt to analyze what I do I’ll somehow destroy it. It’s not broke, so I don’t try to fix it.

But I’ve been thinking about this following conversations with other writers with whom I agreed that venturing into the unknown is part of the process. To write well, and above all, to write consistently and regularly (not to mention adverbly) requires a letting go, a surrender to something that just feels weird. So a bear enters the story (as it did in A Most Lamentable Comedy, on sale here with free shipping–was that good for you too?); a quirky character arrives and you don’t know quite what they’re doing but you feel they have to stay so you leave the scene in, just in case, and later they prove to be a major player in resolving the plot; and so on.

It’s hard and frightening to let the process, the unknown, take over which I think is why so many of us dither around with deadlines looming. The procrastination factor means that eventually you have to dive in and let the angels or demons of the creative process take over. And there’s always the fear that, yeah, I love this character, but what if they never do anything significant to forward the plot? Or what if my editor wants me to take him or her out?

The irony of course is that once you’ve got beyond the fear and doubt and procrastination, it’s great. It feels wonderful once you’re in the Zone and the story starts writing itself. And there are also the practical considerations like making the daily wordcount and meeting deadlines. So why all the avoidance?

I think fear is a necessary part of the process. We don’t know exactly how the creative works (even if it can be explained in terms of hormones or electrical impulses) and we should treat it with respect. At the same time we have to learn to trust our instincts and accept that we can make the story work, fill in the (in my case, gaping) plot holes and find solutions.

I suspect it’s pretty much the same for other creative endeavors and also for athletes. What do you think?

Over at agent Lucienne Diver’s blog today talking about bad girl heroines, HEAs, and offering a copy of A Most Lamentable Comedy as a prize!

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Jeannie Lin
13 years ago

Hi Janet! Great post. Perhaps these nerves and fears and neuroses are all part of the creative jelly that makes it all work.

>>I suspect it’s pretty much the same for other creative endeavors and also for athletes. What do you think?

Leave it to a new St. Louis resident to quote Albert Pujols. During a hot hitting streak, a reporter asked him his mental state — whether he thought the streak would continue. Albert’s answer was that it was great to be in the zone, but it wouldn’t be like that all the time. He didn’t want it to be, because then the game wouldn’t be any fun.

13 years ago

Hi ๐Ÿ™‚
Thanks for a terrific blog post.
I feel the fear every writer has with every book is a good thing, it separates the real writer from the non-writer, for the real writer will persevere.
You can see FEAR at work in professional golf when the leader self-destructs, or it is channeled into a sharp focus.
All the best,
twitter: @RKCharron

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I hated to read what I wrote when I was younger. I would just turn it in as was (with papers and such for school). Now I’m trying to write a novel not really to get published, but because I have a story I want to tell and I’ve started rereading my work. I was afraid to do so at first, but some of my phrases I’ve really started to enjoy. While some of it is crap some of it is actually good. So I’m slowly getting over my fear of reading my work.

I should say I come up with my best ideas is during my dreams at night. That is when my mind is most active. I’ve learned to write in straight lines on a piece of paper in the dark so I don’t have to turn on the light for a great idea. Ha!

13 years ago

This post definitely hit home for me. I remember a long ago conversation with a friend, when I first started writing again. I worried about making sure I wrote it right. My friend gaped at me as if I were daft. What? “You’re the writer,” they said, “whatever you write will be… well, right. After all, it’s your story.” I blinked and felt sheepish for a moment and then thought, “No, it isn’t my story at all, it’s belongs to my characters, and I’m simply the one putting it to paper for them.” I fear most not being true to the characters.

Side note, funny that my word verification word right now is “inking” since that sort of describes what a writer does. The story is there, it simply needs ink, or inking as the case may be. ๐Ÿ™‚

Barbara Monajem
13 years ago

Heh. I think the alternative to the fear would be boredom. I’m beginning to enjoy the process of filling the plot holes… It’s scary but exciting, because there’s always a way to do it, and it’s such a thrill to figure it out. Fear at one end of the process leads to delight at the other… works for me.:)

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Janet, maybe you are right about fear being part of the process. I’m certainly afraid I’ll never have another good idea.

In my last ennnnnddddlllleeesss book, I think I had the hardest time fitting the pieces together. Fitting that original vision in my head with what came out eventually was excruciating. I like what came out (thank goodness) and at the end, I did have a few “zone” moments.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Great post, Janet! Maybe it is fear that makes me waste so much time wandering around the Internet before actually sitting down to write (the procrastination is the hard part! Once I actually start it’s usually okay, but getting started–ugh). It’s also hard not to second-guess myself, to just let the characters take the story where they will–which is usually the only thing that works…

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

I think the fear is necessary, too. I think it’s why we develop rituals connected with writing–certain objects have to be in place, the right music (or silence), and the ever popular kitchen timer! (Best $3 I ever spent.)

Jane Austen, one of the most terrifying yet confidence-building things you can do is read your work aloud to strangers. No kidding. I did it very soon after I started writing and it was such a boost that people laughed in the right places and I didn’t have to wear a paper sack over my head.

Thanks for all your interesting comments and sorry I’m responding so late–I have hideous things happening at work and tonight I was going to go to bed early (!) but went shopping instead at bookdepository.com (awesome site, bought some great books).

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