Delusions Of Grandeur, Premonitions Of Doom – or, The Ups And Downs Of Writing

seesawThis story is great. No, it’s garbage. Everybody will want to read this. Nobody will get past the first page. I’m going to be rich and famous from this stuff! I might as well give up right now.

Sound familiar? I’m convinced that writing fiction is one of the most manic-depressive jobs in existence. Every single writer I’ve talked to has had to deal with the twin demons of fame and failure, at least at the beginning. Every stage of the writing, rewriting, and editing process is besieged by delusions of grandeur or premonitions of doom, with remarkably little room for anything else. In my own case, these opposing thought forms can switch places daily.

Here’s the secret for you, one that I believe every writer needs to find: they are both wrong.

It starts slowly. A turn of phrase, a delightful metaphor, a paragraph that does its job, shines on the page with that special twinkle. That’s pretty good, I thinks. That’s worthy. People will like this one. They’ll pay money for this. Hell, they’ll even tell their friends. I can do this. It’s easy, in fact! Just string a bunch of these excellent paragraphs together and I’ll be able to find an agent. They will get me a bidding war. I can feel that first advance cheque in my hand already, brimming with big, fat zeros. Then I’ll do it again, piece of cake. I’d better pick up a smoking jacket.

All this time – an hour, a day – my fingers haven’t been moving. My mind has been captured by the fairy of future greatness.

Or the words don’t come. I reread yesterday’s work and it’s tripe. It feels like I’m rubbing the paint off the delete key. I can’t see the story for the inner fog, and it’s no use. I can’t do this stuff. Nobody will like the story anyway, several of them have already said so. That last rejection letter had a coffee stain on it, at least I hope it was coffee. It’s too hard. I might as well give up now. It looks nice outside, where all the normal people are. There’s no story in here anyway, at least not anything interesting. I’m done.

So I leave the keys. The depressive swing of the seesaw has stopped me for days, even weeks.

But I noticed that the two demons were never far away, and they were completely arbitrary. The first time I saw them switch places within the space of three sentences, I actually laughed out loud. Then I kept writing. I’d found the secret – all they are is distraction from the work that needs to be done. All they are, when it comes right down to it, is the writer’s mind doing what the writer’s mind should – making up stories. If it’s doing its job, then your mind will make you believe the unbelievable.

So forget about it. Laugh at the delusions of grandeur, the premonitions of doom. Be entertained by them, even. Just so long as you don’t believe them, and don’t let your fingers stop moving. That’s what a real writer does.

Published in: on December 5, 2014 at 5:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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Writing Great Characters Step 1 – People Watching

child-laughingWriting great characters is one reason why we write. Right? We get to imagine being a whole other person – lots of them – and the better we put ourselves in our character’s heart, mind, and body, the more we give our reader a strong, effective and touching experience. It’s the essence of the art.

But first we need to have a character to write about. I’m talking starting from scratch here, when the last story is done and we’re wandering about with an empty imagination waiting for the next to arrive. Who will we imagine?

The good news is, they are all around us. Characters are everywhere.

Eyes Wide Open

Plant yourself on a bus bench. In a mall, at the fountain in the town square, anywhere you will see masses of people moving. (I come from a massage therapist’s perspective, so I prefer movement.) Sit still, open your eyes, and as far as possible without staring, look at them.

You’ll see people. They’ll be moving. Then you will notice something – they all move differently. That guy with his head high and chest out, striding forward like he’s going to conquer the day and save the damsel; that laughing fat man with the rosy face who carries his weight like a point of pride; that other fat man with the complexion of underdone pastry who looks like he’s drowning inside himself; that young girl with an armful of books, moving slowly with eyes wide open because there’s just so much to see. She’s the one who catches you looking.

See? Do you really see? Every body shape, every variation of movement and set of face and style of dress, tells you something about the person inside. And your writer’s mind creates the story behind the moment. Your fabulous writer’s mind, always and forever asking the magic question Why. Then you will start to know why the little girl smiles when she sees you, and why the conqueror has such a bold stride but looks so frightened.

Inside Their Skin

Just like that, you have the beginnings of a great character. Lots of them, in fact. Just by looking. Take out your notebook – you brought it along, right? – and jot down the salient points of your favourites.

What’s next? Seeing is good, but a thoroughly-imagined character is much more than skin deep. Next, you get inside their skin. We’ll save that for another post. For now, go out and watch people.

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