Thursday, January 12, 2012

Internal versus external monologues. And why you should just shut up and write.

So here’s an obvious bit of insight for you. Writing isn't just telling stories for other people to read. It's made up of the stories you tell yourself as a writer—about who you are and what you're doing. These don't get written down but they form the bedrock of our motivation and are kind of what makes us do it in the first place.They can also be the reason we stop dead with writer's block or write ourselves into a wall. They are the internal voice, but sometimes they're also the thing we tell others. Because when people ask that question: 'what are you doing?' it's such of a relief to have some kind of answer. And if you admit to the writing thing, it’s hard not to feel you need to offer something up when they inevitably ask you: what exactly it is you’re writing?

I am writing just to check this idea out. That's it. Just playing around.

I am writing a novel. It is going to work. It is going to sell a bazillion copies and be the next (insert bestseller title).

I have written a novel. It is almost done. It is everyone else's fault that it isn't published, not mine though.

I have written the first draft of a novel that I will be working on for a while. It can't be rushed and I'm writing it for its own sake. As I am a novice, structure is something I lack experience in. So this next draft is going to be a reworking that provides more balance.

In all honesty, I have been in all of those mindsets with the novel I 'finished' last year. The novel I have been querying. The novel I have been talking about to everyone who foolishly shows even a skerrick of interest. Poor bastards. And while it is a bit embarrassing, I don't think it's uncommon. If you've wanted to be a writer for a while, it's natural to do a thousand dances of very public joy when you hit onto something you know is working. It's hard not to go: 'See? I'm not just a directionless twenty-something. I have plans! Bet you didn't know that, hey?'

But it really has a lot to do with ego. Of course it does. And since I have clearly come out the other side of this sad place, I have to wonder about how good it is for the actual writing. The first statement and the last statement don't sound very impressive. They sound like you’re not trying, if you don’t know better. That you’re not ambitious. And they aren’t good for general conversation. But if you’ve really just hit onto something with your writing— maybe just shut up about it for a while. Talking about it until it’s not even yours anymore might be a bad idea.

I would argue that the first and last statements are a better mindset to be in when you're in an early draft. It takes the pressure off the idea and lets it be whatever it needs to be. It sounds so obvious, but it’s a good plan to just stop worrying about the story you have to tell others about where you are as a writer. If you’re as green as hell, and we all know I am, then you shouldn’t feel the need to say it’s finished, or say it’s genius or say it’s trash. A better idea is to just give it room to breathe and get out of your own damn way. Don’t rush. Because you are never finished when you think you are. Sorry, you just aren’t. The most liberating thing I’ve had happen to my writing recently is remembering the obvious fact that I know way less than I’d like. That I’m not always right and that sometimes you just have to suck it up, because this shit is going to get hard. Hope you like long hauls.

What this means for me is that my ‘novel’ has forced a lot of horribly painful epiphanies on me. It is two novels, packed into one small space. I feel oddly excited about splitting these conjoined twins apart and helping them survive on their own this year. It’s going to be an amazing year. It’s going to be a trying year. And I’m not going to jinx it by talking about it into the ground.

What this means for any writers who read this, if indeed anyone bloody does, is up to them. But I can say from experience that it’s never as easy as it seems. What’s more, this fact has to excite you. Try to let it.

No comments:

Post a Comment