In the beginning when I first started writing novels I was writing because I had an idea that just wouldn’t be contained and I had to write it. There were no two ways.
Several novels on, however, there ARE two ways.
These days I write with handwritten notes by my side, perhaps even a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Sometimes I’ll have mapped a character and fleshed them out in note form from their birthday to their height, their sexual preferences to their dress sense, before they’ve even uttered their first bit of prose or dialogue on the blank, old, fictional page.
We’re told time and time again, there are so many different ways to write a book but the most important thing is to actually just get it written. If only that were so simple.
As an experienced writer now, I do have the pre-planning stage mastered. However I still have to listen to my other mode of by the seat of my pants sometimes because that approach is just as invaluable as the other. Sometimes if you’re too calculated, the reader knows it, and there’s less intrigue then. It becomes predictable.
Constrained by all these notes and preformed ideas, sometimes you can find yourself bogged down or contained, curtailed. It doesn’t feel nice, sometimes, writing to a method you’ve already written out. Like cooking, really, without tasting the food—even the perfect method might go wrong because you didn’t converge with the meat and the potatoes of your recipe and you thought the balance of ingredients would work out well just because the words on the page said so. Sometimes creative freedom is everything. The beauty and exhilaration of writing for me, in the beginning, was writing not knowing where the story was going. To experience the story as everyone else will is amazing—because if you’re pantsing, you’re seeing the action happen like a reader will.
There’s sometimes a point you’ll come to when you’re writing a book and I call it Writer’s Aggression. It’s where you feel you want to jack it all in or scrap it and start again. The anger of The Block (where nothing is flowing and you feel you’re climbing an ever-building brick wall) can sometimes be all-consuming and writing is no longer enjoyable. You know instinctively something is wrong or doesn’t feel good, and the end feels like it will never get here, and you feel like that novel you wrote in half the time last year must have been so much better because it was so much easier.
So when I encounter The Block, what I do is step away from writing altogether or write something else. I’ve been doing that recently and I’m currently working on two things at once because I need distance from the big thing I’m writing.
Writing is faith. It’s keeping going even when it’s really hard and it doesn’t feel good and you’re not sure it’s going well. I read too many books these days full of hyperbole and flowery language. Readers are clever, they don’t need that. It is a bugbear of mine, but that’s just my opinion. I think all that yucky, gooey muck is what we write when we don’t have a clue what else to write. Hands up who’s guilty!
Readers are sensitive creatures who give meaning to the story themselves as soon as they turn the first page. I think the writer’s job is to provide readers with the foundation to make the story their own. Write the story, not the metaphor of the century. (Maybe I am still suffering a tad of Writer’s Aggression!)
I’m around the 75% stage of my current Work In Progress (well the big one, Unleash…not the other book, a novella I’m also working on) and it’s only now at 75% that I’ve reached that moment where the lights have reached full power and the party is ready to start, the drink’s flowing and everybody’s talking now and some have even been brave enough to get up on the dance floor and… it’s going to be one hell of a night, you know it.
I realised just this morning why I’ve felt so horrified for so long that this book doesn’t feel good; it’s because I’ve always known, deep down in the back of my mind, that what I have to do with Unleash will not be easy. I’ve been subconsciously avoiding something. I’ve been living the story through my main character, Kayla, and I’ve been with her every step of the way and she’s now gotten to that light-bulb moment where the fundamental pieces of what makes her, her, have become clear. Now she doesn’t know what to do about it. There are tons of people this must happen to in life; you’ve spent years thinking you know who you are, what you are, where you’re going—and out of the blue an exemplary force suddenly steps into your domain and you’re then stood in a huge corn field the size of Texas, with nowhere else to go because whichever direction you run in, it won’t get you anywhere fast—unless you have the bravery to reach for that vehicle right beside you which is damn scary but will take you exactly where you want to go.
Writing a happy ending is the easiest thing in the world. It makes everyone feel good about themselves. It’s great. It’s what a lot of readers and writers need to distract them from the difficulties and rigours of their everyday lives. I love a happy ending. However, there’s the literary argument that a happy ending won’t stay with you. The warm, gooey feeling you experience from a HEA will leave you quickly and you’ll move onto your next fix. The book hangover, however, will stop you in your tracks and you won’t forget that one in a hurry. You might not even move on from it, ever.
What if, you’re writing a whole book knowing all the while the story might not give your protagonist their happy ending? But… but… what I’m writing might resonate so strongly with so many, it’ll all be worth it! The pain will be worth it. But… but… it fucking hurts to be writing this shit!
The more I write, I realise art has to represent life and life sometimes does not turn out the way you expect. I never rate a story five stars unless it provokes tears in me and right now, the story I’m writing isn’t even provoking tears—it’s provoking a welling need to write, to get this down now, to eke out this burning feeling in my chest. To gulp the ether of this horrific story of circumstance and spew it out before I choke. I have a horrible feeling of dread and yearning, longing and discovery. I’m stood at World’s End, ready to throw myself in. I don’t have time for the tears right now. They’ll come later, creating wells no doubt as I gulp fresh air on the other side. Kayla is about to learn, you don’t want people standing by your side in life who cushion you, you want those willing to jump with you, willing to race the race, fight fire with fire, give as good as you get… and all that bling.
The Click just happened for me. It’s what we all long for as writers. It all clicked into place and the planning was worth it, so was deviating a little from the plan, and now I’m looking from a bird’s eye view at the whole of Texas and I’m in charge of the story again and I know what to do. The snail-pace, 200-words days are done with and it’s time to jump into the fiery pits of hell. It’s going to cost me to write the rest but what is the point otherwise? If you don’t feel it, nobody else will.
So maybe if you’re enduring The Block, what you’re actually enduring is just a subconscious unwillingness to embrace the story. The story won’t manifest unless you take time to listen; the most important weapon in a writer’s arsenal.
Some stories aren’t always expected, or pretty, or happy, but they’re real.