Your Best Will Always Change
by Ian Clements
Probably the most frustrating aspect of writing is following up on an easy story. Chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about, or you soon will. That story where the research was a pleasure, your characters eloquent and obliging, and the first draft needed little improvement. You never know when these ‘gifts’ are going to occur, or how to summon them into being, so you just enjoy it and keep writing.
Only your next story isn’t a gift. You have to drag it onto the page. Characters that were warm and three-dimensional are now cut out of a cornflake packet. You’re so baffled and bored by the research that you end up spending four hours on a single paragraph’s detail. And the most unpleasant part? You need to keep going. If you stop in the midst of all this, even for a moment, then the truth will catch up to you – you’ve lost it. Whatever divine intervention or lucky accident that enables you to write is no more. Logically you know this isn’t true. Every writer has bad days, days where all you have are bad words; the good ones stuck between your teeth like popcorn kernels. Usually you just work through that, but when it follows something that showed you how good you can be? That’s another level of pain.
My biggest fear is that I only have so much. There are a finite amount of good scenes, exciting moments, and funny remarks stored in my knowledge box. It’s the kind of fear that leads to bad habits like squirreling away a piece of great dialogue, saving it for your next piece because this one has already had its quota. The truth is that writers do draw from a well, and finding out what replenishes your well is vital to future scribblings. Sometimes we have an uninterrupted connection to that well, for who knows what reason, and it’s easy to drain it dry. Trying to deny that, trying to portion out your best writing, is like trying to hold back a river with your hands. If your work was of a consistent, unwavering quality, then you’d be one of many writers in the neighbourhood. What often stops people from writing isn’t that they lack talent, but that they’ve sampled how monotonous it can be to create something coherent with that talent.
Is there an amount of self-delusion here? You bet. A less cynical person might call it faith. Personally, I try to remind myself that some bad writing is a good sign. It means you’re still paying attention. Self-publishing has a bad rap because too many of those writers think they’re pretty great. We all get those ‘Yeah baby!’ moments now and then, of course, but that’s usually just before ‘Oh God, what have I wrought?’ That kind of mind-set may not feel best to the writer, but it leads to better product for their reader.
I know. Similar things have happened to me. I could have a fabulous idea for a story, with a plot to die for, (excuse the pun). However the execution is clumsy somehow, and the characters flat. What I had thought of as a good idea is sometimes left on the shelf after just a few dismal paragraphs. I usually go on to write something else instead. Sometimes I come back to the original piece of work, often I never do. Once a writer has a fixed idea in their head, about how they are going to set about writing something, it is really difficult to take a different angle. I often find it easier to completely create a new idea entirely, rather than try to patch up a lost cause. Even then you have the problem of whether your perception is the same perception as that of a reader. In other words, what a writer thinks is great, may not be so great to readers and vice versa.
Hi Yvonne! Yep. I think the worst spot to be in is somewhere inbetween. You finished the story, there’s some good stuff in it, but as a whole it feels flat. You keep going back and editing but nothing seems to help.
Problem is it’s difficult to tell when powering through is worth it or a waste of time!
I am having that problem with ‘Curse of the Wise Woman’. I am sort of okay with the last 3/4 of the novel, but the first section seems stilted somehow, even after hundreds of edits. Going to get the rest up to scratch then maybe give that section some real thought. If I have any stamina left lol.