Writing is so damn hard.
Lately, I’ve been focusing so much of my energy on learning to write fiction again. Really, I’ve meant to do it since the Shanghai lockdown, but something about China kept holding me back. Call is a post-lockdown paralysis.
Now, I’m writing again, but I’m still paralyzed.
Last month, I couldn’t get past the first lines of a chapter, because I kept on moving two participles around. For an entire month. Literally an entire month. I’ve since made up my mind on the sentence, but sometimes I still think about switching it back. I’m so deeply envious of the writers who are able to get thousands of words on paper in a day. I am at 19,000 and I feel like I crawled through barbed wire for every single syllable of every word. If it doesn’t feel that way for you, then you’re a lucky one.
Sol Stein in “Stein on Writing” said that your reason for writing should not be because you want to get your story across, and not because you might want praise or recognition. The only true reason for writing must be because you feel in your heart that you are giving your readers a reading experience that no other writer can provide. It’s a really tough ask. Everything meaningful has already been written, hasn’t it? What does it even mean to write for the sake of the reader?
Then there’s Kurt Vonnegut:
Find a Subject You Care About. Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
I get his shtick about writing what you’re passionate about, but how do you translate that into something others want to read?
I’m having a hard time filling out plots with actions. How much description to give in a scene of dialogue without interrupting the flow of words or the suspense? Do I describe people’s faces or their movements during a conversation? I ran my last chapter through a grammar checker and it turned out I used the word ‘fingers’ 17 times. I didn’t even realize it, but I kept writing scenes of a character nervously fidgeting with her fingers throughout a conversation. I rewrote the scenes to remove at least half of the ‘fingers’, it felt kind of weird once I saw it all together, all those fingers ‘finging’ all at once, or whatever it is fingers do. (great, here I am writing about fingers… again)
Right. Then there’s the idea of writing and re-writing drafts. The first draft of anything I write (this blog included, but I am working hard on using this for less ‘edited’ writing) is utter trash. It’s difficult for me to write something down, knowing I’ll be ashamed to read it later. But that’s all part of the process (or so I keep telling myself).
Elmore Leonard put it best. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. It’s difficult. It’s so difficult to build tension, to make people you’ve made up on a page sound like human beings, to make readers root for or against someone. All without making it seem like they’re reading something written by an anxiety-ridden adult, at 3am in their pajamas, nursing a cup of tea.
Anyways, here’s some writing resources I like: