I’m having a writing-related crisis (as opposed to a “I’m the worst mother in the world crisis” or “Shit, I forgot to take something out of the freezer for dinner crisis”). This writing crisis, depending on it’s resolution, could very well signal the continuation of a somewhat promising writing career or the need for me to join a therapy group very, very soon.
I think I’m a bit of a writing slut. A floozy. A commitment-phobe.
Consider this: I’ve written very few characters (I can think of exactly 2) that I’ve committed more than 25 pages to. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that these 2 characters have been with me for almost 20 years – that’s saying something, right? Mostly though, I’ll write a character and give up 25 pages of my time and form no attachment at all. I invent them, write them, give them breath for a little while and then leave them behind. These are one-night-stand characters. I write them only to get them out of my head; once they’re on the page, I’m done with them. I don’t call, I text them or email them to tell them what a lovely time we had together. I don’t summon them again.
In an attempt to “finish” what appeared to be “unfinished” work, I reopened a story I’d written awhile back. Initially written as part of a class assignment, it was brief, caustic, sharp-edged. My main character, a woman recently widowed, was cruel but in a delicious way. She had her reasons and I really liked the way she stood up for herself, finally. I was fond of her… I thought she & I might be friends.
I opened the story and began to flesh out the character. I took it to about 22 pages and then stopped. I didn’t like where I was headed (which was basically nowhere) and I wasn’t enthralled w/her anymore. She wasn’t as sharp and witty as she’d been in the first 10 pages. I kept going back to the beginning, re-reading, and hoping to light that spark again (sometimes that works – I can pick up a thread or a tone…a vibe that I’d had working before). Nothing was working. My new BFF was boring me to tears.
In something of a lather, I spoke to my writing coach. “What if I’m incapable of writing more than 22 pages of anything?” I whined. “What if I’m a perpetual sprinter and unable to run a long race? What if I don’t have the endurance to write a novel?” I think I even asked her if I was shallow and lazy – incapable of a long-term relationship with any of my characters…she listened patiently and then told me to keep at it. Just write, she said. You don’t have to love it and it can be ugly,ugly, ugly – it can be a shining example of what Anne Lamott refers to as a “shitty first draft.”
The truth is, I did write and write and tried to hold my nose against the stench – which is hard to do when you’re trying to type. The truth is, I’m not a patient person and it irks me beyond all reason to “hang in there” and write something that I’m not…feeling in the moment. It’s like having sex when you’re really, really, REALLY not in the mood – it’s worse than just “going through the motions.”
So, what to do? I’ve taken innumerable deep breaths. I am fully oxygenated now but no more into the story. I’ve walked around the house, at first silently and then muttering to myself. So now I have to start asking some questions…if anyone has an answer, please respond!!
Questions: do you have to be “in love” with your characters, always? Am I putting too much pressure on myself to write something “longer” ? Maybe my widow friend IS a short story and not a novella or a novel? Or, is it possible that I’m shallow and lazy and incapable of a long-term relationship with multiple characters? What is wrong with writing short stories? And, how will I ever know if I can “go the distance” if I don’t really hang in there, stretch myself and try?
Maybe this uncertainty is all part of the process. Maybe plenty of writers out there type with clothespins clamped onto their noses so the stench of their shitty first drafts doesn’t overcome them…and, let’s face it, I am notoriously lazy. I am the Queen of Lazy. In fact, that should’ve been the name of this blog. Sloth Queen, Queen of Inertia…
Then J.K. Rowling and her SEVEN (or is it 8?) books float into my mind..all about a young wizard (clearly she was fond of him – I mean, who wouldn’t be?) When I think of the time, the effort, the “hang in there” fortitude this woman had – she was pregnant writing some of it (all I could do when I was pregnant was waddle between the kitchen and the sofa, whining the whole time), I want to go eat a gallon of ice cream for breakfast…on the sofa.
I think maybe I should go revisit my two characters whose work I haven’t finished yet. They’re probably pissed off at me for neglecting them for so long with all of these casual characters I’ve been hanging out with. I’ll come back to the witty widow and maybe she and I will start over again. I’ll be more patient with her, I’ll be a better listener. I’ll bring the ice cream.