Monday, April 27, 2009

Worthless Excuse #487: I Simply Cannot Write When I Feel This Way

Any writer worth their words knows that there is never a perfect time to write. There will always be something else competing for your attention. Sometimes it's something very real and important competing with your glorious pages. Like children or day jobs or curing cancer. (This is not to say I expect everyone is secretly working on a cure for cancer in their cubicle at the office. I more meant that last one for those writers who are also, you know, oncologists and researchers and stuff.)

But other times silly things compete with your muse. In my experience, muses do not react well to being put on the back burner because it's a beautiful spring day and you just want to laze about in the backyard working on your tan. "Laptop lines and novelist's tans are all the rage these days!" she'd suggest sneakily. And you really don't want your laziness to be responsible for that kind of fashion trend, do you?

And still other times, emotional problems will compete with your writing. As novelists, we spend most of our time crafting and commenting on the human condition, but what we often forget is that we're doing that while having to be human ourselves. We have personal lives; we experience things. We would, realistically, be very poor artists did we not do those things, but sometimes it can feel like more of a hindrance than anything else. We like to be in the mood to write, and sometimes "the mood" has about as much chance of magically manifesting itself as my kittens have of sprouting wings so they can really chase those birds that have decided to nest in the hanging plant on my balcony.

Alas, at one time or another, we have all had that thought: I simply cannot write when I feel this way!

You're wrong!

I'm sorry, I wish I could sugarcoat it for you, but the plain and simple truth is that you're wrong. You can write when you feel that way. In fact, you must! And it doesn't matter, for the sake of my argument, what way you're even feeling. Because "write what you know" is the ultimate piece of writing advice and creating realistic emotions is one of the greatest challenges in writing. Writing emotions while you're right there in the thick of them is something of a match made in heaven then, isn't it?

The trick, of course, is finding a way to make those emotions make sense in context. I am not suggesting that, after learning your boss is a two-faced jerk, your bitchy demon-stalking heroine should start complaining to henchmen #3 about how underappreciated she feels. When you have a fight with your spouse, you should not have the hero of your romance novel start waxing poetic about how glad he is to wash dishes for his girlfriend every now and again and how wrong his mother really is about the course of his life. Remember, it’s the emotion you want to grab. Not necessarily the context.

Let me give you an example. Sunday, my husband got some rather bad news about something at work and, on his behalf, I was a bit angry about it. As in the kind angry that made the hour long drive back from the weekly TriMu critique meeting go by in just 45 minutes because anger increases the weight of my right foot for some reason. And once I got done shouting at the empty space in the car, my first thought was "I could write Serah a kick ass scene right now!" Serah is the somewhat emotionally-unstable assassin in my epic fantasy trilogy. The rest of my -- admittedly brief -- drive home was spent planning out a great new scene that will have to work its way into the story somewhere. Once that was done, I took out all my residual aggression on processing my notes from said critique meeting and killing off be-verbs.

The results: I feel better. I have a great new scene. My rewrites went much faster than usual. And my husband's boss -- though blissfully unaware of this fact -- has some poor unfortunate be-verb's blood on his hands.

So the next time you start getting all fussy about how you're not in the mood to write, sit down in your chair and force all that emotional baggage onto your characters instead. They might not necessarily thank you for it, but your eventual readers will.


haricot vert said...
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haricot vert said...

I have issues with the whole "write what you know" dictum. But perhaps that is another post. :)

I do agree with not letting how you feel get in the way of getting words on the page. Maybe I should follow that more often. ;)