Obvious Post of the Year: Some Stories Are Harder to Write than Others

I had the opportunity to spend most of yesterday writing and catching up with my NaNoWriMo-ing (“catching up” is misleading; I’m supposed to have about 25,000 words written by now, and I have… considerably less than that). But it finally struck me why this story is moving about as fast as a pregnant elephant: it’s realistic. 

My first novel was a sci-fi spy thriller with lots of romance. It was easy to end up with an overblown 140,000 words because it’s easy to imagine badassery, isn’t it? Of course she could high-kick that guy in the face. Who’s going to refute that, in the world of the story, that’s possible and even likely? But this second story is contemporary and based in a present-day, boring, natural high school. The place we all went for four years and hated. (If you didn’t hate high school, I don’t understand your life). The girl is also largely based on some personal experiences of mine (a terrifying task that I don’t recommend to anyone). But it was a story I really wanted to tell, and the most agonizing part of it is trying to figure out how the characters would actually talk to one another.

The closer characters are to our own reality, the more suspicious we are of them. We imagine what we might say or do in their situations, and any unexplained variation from that makes us cry foul. ALL characters must be believable, regardless of genre. But the spy in my first novel is so far removed from what we know in our daily lives, that she has a little cushion in how she interacts with others and the world, while girl-next-door protagonist, I believe, is pinned under the microscope. This isn’t something I had even thought about before beginning this project, but it’s something I’d love to discuss with someone else who has ever written across genres.


On Waiting Around for Inspiration

“Inspiration is seductive and thrilling, but you can’t depend on it to call you. It doesn’t work that way. The good thing is, inspiration is irrelevant to whether or not you finish your book. The only thing that determines that is your own sense of discipline.”

This is a pep talk for all the NaNoWriMoers by Malindo Lo, and it reminded me of a passage from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I have been meaning to read for years but only recently delved into. He makes the same observation about inspiration, that you’ll be waiting around a long time if you put off writing in hopes that it will simply come to you when it’s ready.

I always find it interesting (and get a little jealous) when I hear an author say that a story came to them in a dream. It’s a lovely prospect, and makes it all seem very fateful and fortuitous. But for most of us, that inspirational dream never happens. The process, for me, starts with one ingredient. Maybe it’s a character trait, maybe it’s a sentence that I hear that just sticks in my brain and turns over nicely. Then I have to add other ingredients and begin the entire baking process, which often starts with an excited handful of pages and then progresses to slamming my head against the computer for the next 400.

This is why I don’t put much stock in the concept of writer’s block. It insinuates that you’re lacking inspiration and merely waiting for it to come back to you. It takes much of the agency of writing and creation away from you (and isn’t that the reason we love it in the first place?). Problems and puzzles are always going to present themselves, and they’ll stump us and frustrate us, but it’s our own sense of discipline, as Malindo Lo comments, that will get us through. We must always keep writing anyway, even if what we produce in difficult times is completely unusable. It’s all a part of exercising the writing muscle.


The Thanksgiving Game

As the subtitle of this blog suggests, I think I tend to focus on a lot of the negatives of the writing process, but there’s one positive that I don’t stop to be thankful for enough (and since it’s November, it’s obligatory that I do at least one ‘what I’m thankful for’ post).

I met two incredibly talented and sweet ladies when I was in grad school, and they both happened to adore children’s and young adult stories as much as I did. Somewhere down the line we started writing together, and somewhere further down the line we started having meetings where we got absolutely no writing done because we were chatting too much. They have become two of my best friends and have supported my entire novel-writing process, and commiserated with my procrastination process. I love them.

And last night, as we tried to squeeze in an emergency meeting at 10 pm (way past my old-lady bedtime) at the Traveler’s Cafe, we yawned and sipped tea and sorted through riddles that M’s boyfriend had written for her. The riddles all have clues that spit out numbers to lead her back to a lockbox… it’s all very complicated, and very in character for this couple. We think we know what’s in the box, but it’s too soon to declare officially, so I will just say this: on the eve of a possible change in M’s life, I’m thankful for the change I made in my life to move to Chicago right when I did and enroll in the class where I met these two amazing women.

Who knows where I’d be now, or what (or if) I’d be writing.


It’s Not Creepy Unless You Make It Creepy

So I love writing in graveyards. I know I’m not alone in this, especially since my ladies and I have had multiple writing sessions in Rosehill Cemetery here in Chicago. But I was visiting Boston over the weekend and came across this beauty in Cambridge. The gravestones are so worn down you can barely read them, but most are from the 17th and 18th centuries. This made me wish I had thought to pack my notebook… and maybe leave my husband somewhere for a few hours.