If you've been anywhere near me in recent weeks, you know I'm struggling with my work in progress. I mean, really struggling. Like, why am I even doing this kind of struggling. Like, I could be reading instead of feeling like a sucky loser with no ability to string two words together kind of struggling. It's been fun.
I know I can write a book, so what's the big deal? What if my first book was an anomaly? A one off? What I can't do it again? My current WIP has no focus. The characters are flopping about like netted fish on a dry boat deck. The plot flounders in the middle, then fizzles into nothing. I have no idea how I'm going to achieve a satisfying ending. It all feels like scrabble tiles tossed onto the floor. While each story element is a separate something, they aren't making anything cohesive.
I know this type of struggling is common. I've been reading other posts to find some reassurance that I'm not alone. And I know I'm not, but that knowledge isn't helping.
I've forgotten that The Cake Effect took almost 2 years to write with long stretches of no progress. I've forgotten the many, many (at least ten) revisions I did. I've forgotten that the layers weren't there in the first draft (or the second, third, or fourth), the symbols weren't there, the focus was not there. I've forgotten all the sloppiness and only remember the delicate tweaking of the later drafts, where I could play with the language rather than shovel in plot holes. I've forgotten how much it sucked in the beginning. I've forgotten that I wrote that first book just to see if I could, just for the fun of it.
So, with my selective memory being selective, I've fallen down the pit of writer despair. I see a lot of old friends here. There's self-loathing, insecurity, and procrastination (we go way back). In that corner waits self-doubt, jealousy, and fear. It's a party down here.
On top of my struggling is the never-ending parade of colleagues whipping novels off like sticky notes. How do they do it? Why can they do it, but I can't? What is wrong with me? Why are they all so much better, smarter, faster?
I'm reminded I know nothing about how to write. I've never taken a creative writing class (wait, I think I did, but I can't remember anything about it). Everything I do is intuitive, based on years as an avid reader. Sure, I've read a few books on writing, but I really don't understand the craft and art. I have no idea how to pick up the storytelling legos and build a Death Star. I only build the cliched crappy houses with no windows or doors. I can't even build the double-decker couch from The Lego Movie.
So what now? First, I can't compare myself to other writers. I gotta do it my way. Second, after reading those many, many posts hoping for some information, I am reminded that sucky first drafts are a writerly right of passage. We all do them. Let me repeat that. We ALL do them. I read an interview with Wally Lamb in the newest Writer's Digest. He said his first draft is telling the story to himself. He doesn't know who the main characters are going to be, he doesn't know what they're going to do, he goes with it.
And I think that's my problem. I know I want all the wonderful layers, I know I want meaningful symbols, witty dialogue, and relatable characters. But I can't write them now. They need a base to attach them to. I need to start with the story, then add each element in one at a time. A great puff pastry isn't just butter and flour added together at once. You add in some butter, fold, and roll it. Then you do it again, then you do it again, then you do it again (this is why I buy pre-made puff pastry - it's a lot of fucking work). And that's how writing a novel works. You start with the core, add a little more and work with it. Then add a little more and work it in. Then add a little more and work it. It's a lot of fucking work, but unlike puff pastry, I can't buy my novel in the freezer section. It will only come out of me.
I wish I could write with focus and efficiency - but that isn't how I work. It needs to be sloppy and muddy and messy. I need to let the crazies loose on the page to dance and twirl and tear up the scenery. I need to explore the silly, delve into the drama, and pursue the illusive. I don't know what madness will eek out - but I need to let it. Because when I get out the soapy water to clean it all up, that's when I'll find the beauty hidden in the muck.
So there it is, dear reader. I've granted myself permission to not only suck, but to suck with abandon. I'm putting it all out there. I can always fix it later.
Ahem, this gif is purely gratuitous (because all the other Sherlock gifs are absolutely necessary).