Quote: “There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."
- Mark Twain
Music Playing: Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria
Okay, so today we’re going to talk about some Important Issues, and we’re going to get some things off our chest, okay? Okay. Glad you’re on board.
First of all, I have mentioned “my current book” or something of that nature to indicate the book I was preparing to write occasionally. What you guys didn’t know is “my current book” did not refer to the same book this entire time. It’s changed several times. I didn’t mean for it to happen that way, but that’s just how these past few months happened. I don’t mention titles because I tend to change book titles a lot. But these past few months I have experienced a writing issue that is ugly, very ugly if you’ve never actually experienced it yourself: sometimes the book idea isn’t ready to be written yet. And it’s hard to know the difference.
Deceptively simple, but it’s true. Sometimes you have a brilliant new idea (or loads of ideas, in my case) but no matter what you try to do with the idea, you can’t come up with ANYthing for it.
This is scary. This is very scary.
In April I decided I needed to start seriously thinking about my next project. I started thinking about the various book ideas I have, but none of them seemed right. They were interesting enough, but I wasn’t “in love” with any of them. I didn’t lay awake at night thinking about the characters. I didn’t drive to work thinking about the plot. I didn’t get a shivery feeling in the pit of my stomach when I thought about the book in general. When I tried to develop the idea, I used every brainstorming trick I knew, and still nothing. I liked the idea, but didn’t “feel” the book. I didn’t have that “it” feeling, that burning passion for the story.
It’s okay, I told myself. You’re just not sure where the story is going yet. Give it some time.
So I did. I gave it some time. I brainstormed, I built some of the world, but the idea still didn’t catch fire.
Then I thought, Maybe I’m rushing this idea.
Sometimes I need to let an idea sit around for a while, like that Mark Twain quote suggests. Sometimes I just haven’t found the right form to tell the story in. I decided to release this idea back into the stream since it wasn’t big enough to be caught, and caught another promising story idea I had (yes, I am mixing metaphors, work with me here).
The same thing happened. No matter the process or time I gave it, I still didn’t fall in love with the story. I never felt like I was inside the world of the story. It didn’t feel completely right. This happened to me three more times.
For those of us counting, that a total of five times I tried to tinker with a book idea and came up with nothing. It’s not for lack of ideas, trust me. I told myself it was just because I was so busy with the wedding and moving, but deep down I was afraid.
What if I never fall in love with a book again? What if I’ve lost it? What if I never feel obsessed with a book idea ever again? What if I only ever feel mild interest in the ideas, and nothing more?
For those of you who think this sounds sort of New Agey, I don’t know how to explain it better. When I write a book, I have to feel this burning sort of obsessive passion for it. When I am in the beginning throes of a book, I go to bed thinking about it, I wake up with the character’s voices in my mind, I dream about the setting. If I get to the point where I am not in love with the idea, but I write it anyway, it comes out like crap. I know because I have done this before. I wrote a book before the idea was ready, and it turned out to be half baked drivel.
In order to write, I have to feel like I am living inside the book, breathing the characters, tasting the air around me.
The pressure to write was awful. Friends in real life who knew I was working on a book would ask how things were coming along. When I answered slowly, they would press for more information. Invariably they would say I needed to just sit down and write it. The terrible thing about this sort of phase, is no matter how you explain it to other people, it just sounds like excuses. Procrastination. “Oh, the book isn’t ready yet.” “I need to let things simmer a little while long.”
This extra pressure wasn’t helping. I know my friends meant well, there are plenty of time a writer needs a kick in the butt from outside forces, but it just seemed like confirmation that I would never fall in love with a story idea again.
But instead of sticking with any one of these ideas, like the “rule” goes, and pressing on, I set all of them aside, and did nothing new. I tried to ignore the voice screaming about how I am a has-been before I ever was. I tried to ignore the gentle pressure from friends and family. I forgot about starting something new, and concentrated on reading, editing, and worldbuilding. And the rest of my life. Heaven knows it’s been pretty hectic.
Then I started getting interested in a character idea. Instead of immediately working on that spark, I just thought about the character. Instead of dumping some firewood onto the spark to start a fire, I just let the spark grow. After a day or two, I “wrote about writing.”
Writing about writing is fun, and slightly crazy. It’s basically where you write about what you’re feeling, like a conversation with yourself. I find it very helpful. I wrote about what I wanted to write, about how frustrated I felt, how I felt like a failure, how I was worried I would never write anything ever again, and so on. I also started writing about different ideas that fill me with excitement (I’ve mentioned this list of interests before, and let me tell you, situations like these are where it starts paying off).
From there, I am starting the slow, gentle brainstorming process. My character idea is attaching himself to another book idea I had, and stuff is starting to catch fire. But it’s not boiling yet, and that’s okay. I am being patient, and just trying to fan the flames a teensy bit.
Now that I have had some time, and the crazy voice isn’t screaming that I will never love another story idea again, I can think more clearly. And I realize now the idea that the creative part of me can go away is absurd. I know some people think their creativity can go away, and a lot of authors talk about the creative process as though it’s this mystical commune with the aether, but I really think it’s just a matter of your state of being.
Creativity feels harder sometimes because you’re stressed or tired or anxious or any number of other things that can get in the way. But that part of you is still there, waiting. Sometimes you have to go after it with a hunting knife, and sometimes you just have to sit and wait for it, but your creativity is a part of you. Writing certainly feels mystical, but I don’t think it will just vanish with a puff of smoke.
You have to learn how to trust your writing instincts, friends. You have to remember that your writing process is valuable, but it’s also flexible. I once read a writer’s blog, and she said she hasn’t written a book the same way twice. Every time a book gets written it’s in a slightly different fashion. I know we all have writing “rules”: processes and methods we’ve tried that do or don’t work. It’s great to know what works, but I just want to remind everyone that these rules you have are self-made.
Sometimes you have to break those rules, and that’s okay. We’re rebel writers after all!
So. I can’t be the only writer ever to have experienced something like this. What about all of you? Have you ever worried about where the creativity comes from? Have you ever tried so hard to make something work but it refuses to? What did you do to “fix” it?