Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Boulders and Rollercoasters

I’m happy to report that my current writing project is going well. It’s exciting to watch a new novel taking shape. Right now I have about 46K—that’s about 164 pages of manuscript—which is probably more than half of my first draft. Whee!

Writing does not always come easily for me. I read about writers with so many ideas that they’ll never be able to write them all, or how they can barely type fast enough to keep up with the flood of words coming from their heads. I, um, don’t think that’s ever happened to me. Sometimes writing a novel is like pushing a huge boulder, though at least not uphill—I haven’t yet had something I’ve written roll backward and squash me. Then again, maybe that’s the rejection part of writing. You . . . get . . . (gasp) almost (pant). . . to . . . the . . . top (urgh!) . . . of the . . . hill . . . and then . . . aiyeee! (splat). I love this quote from Thomas Mann: “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.” After it’s taken me twenty minutes to write an e-mail because I keep editing it, I can definitely agree with that.

But it’s not always the boulder. Sometimes, like with my current project, things really start to flow. The adrenaline pumps. The words pile up, scene after scene. I love it when that happens. It’s riding a rollercoaster, as opposed to boulder-pushing.

Prior to the publication of my first novel, writing involved a lot of rollercoasters. I did it purely because I loved it—it was an absolute blast. I scrambled for the computer every chance I got. But one thing I discovered post-pub is that to be successful, you need to keep new books coming—even if you can’t always find the rollercoaster. Sometimes you’re pushing the boulder, which is frustrating and difficult. I still struggle with staying focused. When I’m boulder-pushing, it’s easy for me to get distracted and waste time that I should spend writing.

But even when the boulder gets stuck in the mud, I can remind myself that I can do this—I’ve written novels before; I can do it again. Maybe I’m struggling with the current story, things aren’t flowing like I want, the plot is thin and boring, the villain is painfully obvious, and all my characters have spinach between their teeth and 80s hairdos, but it will come together.

Some days it's boulders. Some days it's rollercoasters. But either way, there's going to be a book at the end of the road.


Jennie said...

I've been doing boulder pushing lately. I'm up to page 108, that's barely over 40,000 words. I agree with you. There's an assumption that if you've done it once, or twenty times, it should become easy, but it doesn't. The worst part is that making time to write has gotten harder instead of easier too.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Great analogy, Stephanie. I've experienced both the boulder moments and roller-coaster rides. Though I prefer roller-coaster writing adventures, sometimes good stuff comes out of the boulder challenges, when you seem to earn every word.

Valerie said...

Very vivid post, Stephanie. That's why I do articles. The roller coaster rides are shorter but the boulder pushing is also shorter. Long-distance boulder pushing--that takes stamina and muscles. I suppose it's like marathon running, except that after a writerly marathon, you have something that others can enjoy, a rollercoaster ride with no boulders. I am in awe of that kind of focus and effort.

Heather B. Moore said...

Well, said!

I'm definitely pushing boulders right now!

Jeri Gilchrist said...

Such a great analogy, Stephanie. Seems like I am pushing boulders more often than riding roller coasters, lol. But when you are on that roller coaster, what a ride! And there is a lot to be learned during those boulder pushing periods as well.
Loved this post!

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Awesome post, Steph. Reminds me of a quote that I loosely remember by Hemingway, I think. Something like:

You have always written before, and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

Somehow, we manage to string the sentences together. It's hard when you're in the middle of it, making a mess of it. I'm soooo pushing boulders right now.