The Hard Parts of Writing ... for Me (Penny Rader)

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This month we're talking about the hardest part of writing.  For me, it's:

Getting past the fears
  • Fear I won't have anything to say. (Stop laughing.  Yes, I'm a charter member of the "Help! I'm talking and I can't shut up!" club.  Talking's not the same as writing.)
  • Fear no one will want to read what I write.
  • Fear someone will read what I write...and hate it...or think it's stupid.
  • Fear I'll never finish another book.
  • Fear everyone will discover I'm a fraud, that I don't know what the heck I'm doing, that sometimes the only way I get words on the page is by using writing prompts or exercises.

Getting words on the page
  • Snippets of dialogue will filter through my mind...but don't always get onto the paper as powerfully as I heard them in my head.  
  • I'll see something amazing or intriguing but can't figure out how to describe what I'm seeing, how it makes me feel.  It just seems so...flat.
  • I'm sure this is quite politically incorrect, and please forgive me if I offend you, but here goes. Ever read Little Black Sambo?  Remember the scene where the tigers run around and around the tree till they turn to butter?  Well, that's my brain.  All sorts of stuff in there whirring around, churning into butter, leaving me unable to focus and pluck out what it is I want to get on the page.
  • The cursor on the screen just blinks and taunts and does nothing to coax forth words.
  • The blank page has so many lines to fill and nothing comes out of my pen or pencil.

Conflict
  • I avoid conflict.  Actually, I pretty much hate it.  There.  I said it.  Conflict makes my stomach a jumbled mess, makes it hard for me to breathe, to think, let alone find the words to stand up for myself. 
  • Even though I know stories must have conflict between the characters to make readers care about them, to keep turning page after page, to follow the tale all the way to the end, I struggle with torturing my characters, with finding true conflicts that will genuinely make it impossible for these two people to be together...at least till I figure out their happy ending. I want happy-happy joy-joy, peace and harmony. Being mean doesn't come easily to me.  Unless you mess with my kids.  

Plotting
  • I'll get a snippet of an idea and get a couple pages down and then not know happens next.  I kid you not. I have at least 15 stories started -- most of them haven't made it past 5 pages.  
  • Sometimes a scene bit will pop into my head and I'll know that if I don't get it on paper it will disappear.  That bit of writing magic does not happen often enough.
  • I have learned that if I know where the scene or story is going, I can come up with the words.  It's the figuring out all the steps, or even the big moments, of the characters' journey, of their relationship that I struggle with.  

So, why do I keep torturing myself? I often think about just hanging up this writing thing, but I've never completely been able to do so, at least not since it first occurred to me back in 1986 that maybe, just maybe I could write books like those I love to read..  Mostly, I guess, because even if I'm not getting words on the page, characters and scene snippets continue to flit through my mind.  Perhaps getting out of my own way is hardest part of writing for me.

How about you?

24 comments:

Kate Rothwell said...

yeah, it's hard to torture people, even when they're fictional!

Margaret Taylor said...

Hi Penny,

Here's something that might help with the conflict issues. If you're having trouble torturing your characters, making them stand up for themselves, just imagine they are one of your kids. (IE: Make them a "member of your family", if only for a little while.)

Then, as you write whatever the villain is doing to them, imagine how *you* would react - if they truly were one of your kidlets - and have the character react the same way.

Or, if you can't do that, then give the characters something else to care about, to fight for. If you have a female, give *her* a kid - works for males too btw. It doesn't have to be a direct blood relation, maybe the neighbors child that she/he babysits or has befriended or has some form or attachment too. Could be niece, nephew, whatever, just something/someone for them to care about outside of their own little world.

Then again, have the villain, bad guy, what not, go after them and imagine what *you* would do...

If you do this a couple of times, practice it, even if it's just in a short story/novella to get the feel of it, then you'll eventually get past the conflict issue in your writing and before you know it, you'll be torturing your H/H's with the best of us!

Hope that helps.

Margaret!

Miss Snark said...

Great post, Penny. I'm about the opposite in that I relish conflict but I get where you're coming from. :)

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

When I signed the contract for my first book, Self-doubt came knocking at my door. Not just knocking, mind you, but carrying in a three-piece set of luggage. Self looked me up and down. "How nice you signed a contract for your little ol' book, but we both know you don't have another one in you." Fear, who'd come along with Self-Doubt, grabbed me by the throat, making it almost impossible to voice a denial. I started another book right away. I do that everytime I finish one.

Not everyone will like what I write. Reviewers and readers all have different tastes. That's how it should be. One reviewer gave my novella 3 stars--ouch, that hurt. That same novella won first place in the NERFA. So, reviews are subjective.

Like you I'd started and stopped many stories. I simply wasn't ready. When I retired, I finally reached my "ready point." I've written and contracted 8 titles (novels and novellas). My agent is shopping out two more. I've got 3 partially completed.

Your voice is lovely. Your command of the language is firm. Once you hit your "ready point" I see great things ahead for you. Don't give up. Your talent is too good to waste.

Laura B said...

It's been a while since I've been able to write fiction. I miss it. In academic writing, I'll develop these great ideas, organize the thoughts, and map everything out... while I'm driving to work (an hour drive) and by the time I figure out to pull out the recorder, or get someplace to write, when I sit at the computer all those ideas have run away.
For all writing, editing and revising is the hardest thing. Once I've gotten the ideas down, I'm done, at least my brain thinks I should be. I am getting better at it though.
After I get past that editing revision part though, I get to face my greatest fear and nemesis, publishing.

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Penny,

I can relate all too well to your post. When I need to torture my heroine or hero, I always feel guilty and have to overcome my tendency to want to fix all things for all people. Writing is definitely an endless growth process! Thanks for sharing.

Barbara said...

Oh, I so agree about conflict--in real life and in my stories. I hate torturing my characters and having to kill one off? Horrors.

But at least if we only torture them, we know they'll be twice as good by the time the story ends :) Justification!!

Rox Delaney said...

First, yes, I remember reading Little Black Sambo. In fact, I can see the picture on the page where the tiger turned to butter. I loved it! When I was older, every time we drove by the Sambo's restaurant on north West street, I'd be reminded of the story. :)

Second, about conflict, I get dinged often by my editor, who finds my conflict "on the weak side." *sigh*

Third, my editor likes brooding, tortured heroes. So what kind of remarks in reviews do I get when I make my editor happy? "Too much angst."

My advice? Don't worry, just write. Don't look back, just keep writing. Stop thinking about if it's right or wrong. If it's wrong, it can be righted. STOP doubting yourself. (Yeah, advice from the biggest doubter of all. ;) ) Write a story you'd like to read. Write for the joy of it. Forget about who will like it and who won't. If you like it, that's all that matters during that first draft. What you later don't like, you can revise.

Now I'll take these words with me and get some words on paper. I expect you to do the same.

*putting whip away*

Janice Seagraves said...

You're going to hate me for what I'm about to say.

You over thinking.

Sit down and write. Set a goal for yourself to write a set word count a day and do it. Your muse will come if she knows you'll be there. This way you'll have an appoint with her/him.

Also give yourself permission to write a crapy first draft. Making it pretty is a goal for the revision process.

Now, get off the Internet and write something.

Janice~

Cheryl Pierson said...

Better late than never, Penny! I made it! LOL I have a set of books, THE BOOKHOUSE BOOKS, that were passed down to me from my older sisters. I ended up with them out of all the things of Mom's and Dad's, and one of those books has the story of LIttle Black Sambo in it. The books are very old and the colors are just beautiful. That picture of the tigers running round and round is just done so well it looks like it's really happening. I know exactly what you mean about your thoughts. I had a lot of self doubts in the beginning, but then I thought, "I'm going to just say, I'm doing this for ME, and if no one else likes it, I don't care." It's very nice to make money, but that's not why I write. I would do it anyway. I've always written since I was a child. Just try to think this way--it really helps. Do it for yourself. It's hard at first, because we women are so ingrained to do things for others and hope others like what we do and approve. So saying to yourself you don't care if someone approves or not--that's hard at first. It gets easier. And believe me, you will have people who love your stuff, along with a few of the "other kind" too. That's why you have to do it for you, and no one else. It really works. Wonderful post. I saw a lot of myself in these problems you brought up.
Cheryl

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Kate. Do you have any tips re: torturing characters?

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Margaret. I will give it a try. I especially like give the characters something else to care about, to fight for. I'll put it on a sticky note and stick it in my writing notebook. Thanks!

Penny Rader said...

You crack me up, Miss Snark. I enjoy your blog. Thanks for dropping in.

Penny Rader said...

Ahh, Vonnie, You're such a sweetie. Thank you for the pick-me-up. And congrats on all your sales!

Penny Rader said...

Laura, editing and revising are two of my favorite parts of writing. Maybe because I have words on the page and something to work with. Isn't funny how what comes easily for one writer can be torture for another?

Penny Rader said...

Gemma, I definitely wanting to fix people. My first instinct is to throw a book at them. (Not really throw it at them. LOL. More like, here read this. It might have ideas you can use.)

Penny Rader said...

Barbara, I think I've only killed off one character...so far. Way back when I was first writing I thought one of the little girl characters was going to die...but I just couldn't do it. Before one of my writing buddies, who is a tremendous dog lover, read Sapphire & Gold, she asked if Max, my dog character, dies in the story.

Penny Rader said...

Rox, we had a Sambo's restaurant here? I so do not remember that. And I'm amazed your editor tells you your conflict is on the weak side and had no idea you were a self-doubter,too. Thanks for the gentle whip cracking.

P.S Don't worry, just write and Write for the joy of it are getting their own post-its for my writing notebook.

Penny Rader said...

Nah, Janice, I'm not hating what you said. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :D

My dh tells me I analyze the crap out of stuff , but I just want to know exactly what he (or others) mean to avoid miscommunication. He also tells me I'm negative...when from my perspective, I'm just looking for problems that might pop up before they happen, so I can have a plan for dealing with them.

Re: what you said about the muse coming, I saw a quote the other day, saying something to effect that writing is like a faucet. In the same way water doesn't run till you turn on the faucet, the words don't come till you start writing. I know I butchered what he said (and I don't remember where I saw it or who said it.)

Rox Delaney said...

I think the Sambo's was at 13th and West, but not for too many years. And it was a long time ago.

Yes, I'm riddled with self-doubt. Always have been. I guess I put up a good front, huh? I think most people in the "arts" have the same problem of either comparing themselves with others or just not having faith in themselves and their work. A hazard of the business. But if you let the negativity keep you from what you enjoy, you lose. Don't let that happen. :)

Penny Rader said...

Hi Cheryl! Good to see you. I'm doing this for ME, and if no one else likes it, I don't care." is great advice and will be added to my writing notebook.

Rox Delaney said...

I forgot to add that everyone here has shared excellent comments. We all need some bolstering, from time to time. That's what's great about the writing community.

Penny Rader said...

Thank you again to everyone who visited and who left comments.

Gonna have to buy more post-its [one of the greatest inventions EVER!]. My writing notebook is going to be quite colorful from all the wonderful advice I've received from you all.

I apologize for taking so long to reply. (I was afraid to look and couldn't decide what would be worse: no comments or comments telling me I'm a whining dingbat.) Thanks for not laughing me right out of the writing community because of all the fears, etc. I shared in my post.

Penny Rader said...

Rox, you put up an excellent front. You always exude (did I spell that right?) confidence. I'm so glad you walked into the bookstore so I could meet you. Wow, that wording is kinda goofy cuz you didn't go there to meet me, but it was a pleasant side effect for me! You're a terrific inspiration and I'm truly grateful I can call you my friend.