Staying the Course

This is going to be a personal journal entry, along with anything else. It’s about writing — specifically, about writing novels — but it’s about a difficulty that maybe doesn’t get talked about enough.

Having noticed that I’m not dead yet, I bethought me perhaps to assay the authorship of yet another book. I have several projects on my hard drive, in various stages of disarray. The one that seems most promising (or doable, which is much the same thing) is the prequel to my Leafstone epic.

The epic is those four book covers up at the top of the blog. Buy the books! Read them! Enjoy them! We will now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast; no more promo, I promise.

Writing a novel is hard work. You don’t do it one day at a time, that’s for sure. It requires commitment. It requires grit. There are days when you wake up filled with reluctance and disinterest, not wanting in any way to write. So you think, “Well, I guess I could go over what I wrote yesterday and tidy it up a bit.” Then after you do that, you think, “Maybe I could write one or two new paragraphs.” This is a way of priming the pump. At the end of the day you’ve written another 2,000 words, and it was a good day.

But there are also times when the story just plain isn’t working. The process grinds to a halt, because something in the plot outline needs to be ripped up. This can cause the writing to stall for months or years.

I may not have years. I might not even have hours; that’s what it’s like when you’re over 70. But I may have years. I just don’t have years to waste, that’s all. In order to keep the writing process moving forward, I need a reliable source of emotional support. A cheering section, if you will. One or two people — I don’t need a fan club. But writing is a solitary business. I need someone that I can grouse with, bounce ideas off of, and so forth. In the absence of support, I too easily get discouraged.

I have no family, so I have to cast the net more widely.

It has been suggested that I join a critique group. Hang out with my peers! But this is not a great idea, for two reasons.

The second reason, which I’ll get to below, is that they’re not my peers. The first reason is because I’m not really looking for critiques. I know what I’m doing. A second opinion is always welcome, but the critique process is largely irrelevant. In any case, the critique groups I’ve looked at (or joined) in recent years tend to want you to submit 2,500 or perhaps as much as 5,000 words per group meeting, and they meet once a month. At that rate, it would take two years or more for the group to read through a 120,000-word novel. That would be useless! If I had a completed manuscript, why would I let it sit on the shelf for two years while the group reads it? And if it’s not yet complete, why would I submit it to the group at all? Too much can change. I might have to revise chapter 3 after I draft chapter 20, so a critique of the draft of chapter 3 would be rendered irrelevant.

No, I don’t need critiques.

Or do I? Maybe I do. Even a person who is a terrible writer can sometimes make a good suggestion about someone else’s work. But the word count limitation is a real problem.

The other issue is, to be brutally honest, that the people in the critique groups I’ve looked at are, without exception, hapless amateurs. After seeing bits of their writing, I would not trust their enthusiasm about mine. And if they expect mutual support for their efforts, as of course they would, there would be no way for me to support them in an honest way. How could I support someone who really ought to step away from the word processor and study writing for a few years before they ask anyone to read their work?

I think the prequel is likely to be pretty good. And there are two follow-up books, for which I’ve made masses of notes. The four-book series could turn into a seven-book series, if I live long enough. But that’s not likely to happen unless I have a little cheering section that can keep me moving forward.

When you’re younger, it’s easier to keep yourself going by imagining a glowing future. You can kid yourself by fantasizing about those glowing reviews and fan letters. But I can no longer entertain that vision. It just isn’t believable anymore. I need something closer to home.

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1 Response to Staying the Course

  1. adonisus says:

    I remember reading somewhere where Fredric Brown’s wife basically revealed just how much he actually hated to write and would do whatever he could to just not do it: he’d play his flute, he’d challenge his friends to chess, or sometimes he’d just take a long bus ride out of state. Basically everything but actually sit in front of his typewriter.

    Whatever it was, though, it seemed to work, because the dude was super prolific.

    Honestly, I envy a guy like Stephen King who can just sit down and force himself to write thousands of words every day.

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