Some days I am a madman. I can crank out 2,200 pretty-close-to-publishable-words in a day’s work and then come right back and do another 2,200 the next day. (Usually in the summer when I am off from teaching.) Without a doubt, when I am in the midst of a novel and it is rolling, let me tell you, it can get rolling!!
And then there are the days when I know that to be a real writer, you gotta trudge through the sludge.
I actually happen to be in that exact phase right now. It’s hard. The work is laborious. It’s tormenting. Nothing comes easy and the fun is cranked way down to level “low”.
I mean, I swear I have re-written this freakin’ part of my forthcoming book at least 15 times… and it still isn’t right. And the thing is, a part of me doesn’t even know what “right” is. If I knew, I would just execute it. All I seem to be able to identify is what’s “wrong” and let me tell you, that part’s easy. It’s always much more simple to find the problems in writing — especially when you keep reproducing things “wrongly” in a variety of different forms — than it is too see the answers to the issues.
It’s a point worth repeating: it’s hard to figure out the solution if you don’t know the problem. (And welcome to my current life.)
However, I don’t really have any other options here. In truth, I must forge on. I mean I can throw a temper tantrum, smash my computer, kick a puppy (okay, not a puppy… a kitten! I can kick a soft, little fluffy meow-thing with big eyes and the cutest, most dainty paws you ever saw and… joking. I’m joking pet lovers. Please save me the emails please – I am still not over the wrath of Alabama). The point is, none of that is going to solve my “book” problem.
It’s like being on a mountain and base camp is just up ahead. There’s comes a time when climbing Everest — and writing what book isn’t, in its own way, like climbing some form of Everest? — when there’s no turning back and you must simply just find a way to put one foot in front of the other to get to the next plateau.
That happens to me every time I write a novel. Sure, seed ideas come easily enough and with them the excitement of the story’s promise, the vision of a smashing end result, the delusion that it’s all going to unfold perfectly without any problems in terms of plot, character, motivation, setting, dialogue, credibility, perceptive, insight, originality, and on and on and on.
Yet inevitably, you gotta trudge. That’s because the only way to solve the problem is to work the problem and in my experience, time spent giving it your best go is the only antidote. Sure, I sit down quite often not having any clue how I am going to solve some “pickle”. But I do know that the pickle isn’t going to solve itself for me — I am gonna have to have at it.
With my book Homeboyz, I finally realized what my problem was with a scene that took place in Juvenile Hall and the answer was that I needed to trim 16 pages from the book to solve the issue.
That only took me a month to figure out.
BTW, do you know how hard it is to trim 16 pages from a book — 16 pages you have already written? Well, actually, it’s not that hard once you identify the problem because once I did, the rest of the novel opened up for me. Homeboyz, btw, won an award from the American Library Association… an award I am not sure it would have won if I wasn’t willing to cut those 16 pages. Why? Cause you have to do what’s best for the writing — always! Follow that rule and there will be material left on the cutting room floor that was just delicious… yet if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. So axe it!
Sometimes I’ll rip off three pages in less than 2 hour’s time and they will be rockin’! Other times I will get into a knife fight with two sentences that take me 4 hours.
It’s just the nature of the beast.
However, I never, ever, ever feel like giving up. Why? Because I always wanted to be a writer and this aspect of that job is the fine print. Sure, I could give up. I could decide I don’t want to climb Everest anymore — or enter in knife fights with sentences that perpetually attempt to puncture my spirit. But the thing is, I made the decision to want to write a book when I was lucid, calm and rationale — so giving up my career when its midnight and I am tweaked on the end of a caffeine buzz, filled with too much candy and ready to kick kittens, well… it doesn’t make much sense.
I never know when the light will go on but I do know that “To Be a Writer You Just Gotta Trudge Through the Sludge”.