From the outside, authors look like gods. They're blessed by the muses, continuously bathed in the font of inspiration. Words pour out of them to sparkle on the page like precious jewels. Contracts appear, one after the other. Titles pile up on their back lists. Visit many authors' websites and you'll see word count meters, where the author displays his or her daily or weekly accomplishments on various works in progress. Tens of thousands of words - hundreds of thousands - the mind boggles.
Some authors are so prolific, you really have to wonder whether they ever eat or sleep. Obviously there's something very special about someone who can generate page after page, story after story, and get them all published.
Well, let me share a dirty little secret. It isn't always like that.
Sometimes writing is like squeezing blood from a stone. It's an insidious form of self-imposed torture. The ideas blaze clearly in your mind. You know your characters inside and out. You're breathless with anticipation as they move closer to one another. You feel their uncertainty, their conflict, their need. You imagine the sweaty palms, the accelerated pulse, the damp scent of arousal. The only problem is expressing all this in words.
You write a sentence, then another, and notice you've used the same word twice in a row. After racking your brain for a while, you sigh and pull out the thesaurus to find an acceptable synonym. Insert synonym and pen another sentence. Oops, the structure is exactly the same as the first sentence in the paragraph, so it sounds stilted. Change things around. Transform a gerund into a subordinate clause. Swap the order of the clauses. Weigh the benefits of using the passive as an alternative to yet another sentence that begins with "She". And so on.
Experienced authors will tell you not to edit as you write, but sometimes I can't stop myself. The resulting prose is far cleaner than if I'd just let it rip, but it's a painful process that really kills spontaneity - not to mention productivity.
Yesterday was like that. I wrote all afternoon and produced only about two thousand words toward my goal of twelve thousand. Worse yet, I really didn't enjoy it.
I could see what I was doing. I tried to push my inner critic aside and just write, but the words wouldn't come. My normally broad vocabulary seemed to have regressed to sixth grade.
Thank heavens, writing isn't always like this. Lately, though, I've found myself so pre-occupied with craft that I know I'm stifling my creativity. It's really tough to control, however.
I've considered getting a bit drunk before sitting down to write. You know, lowering my inhibitions... But I never drink before 5 PM, and I normally write in the afternoons. What I really need is a different attitude. I need to stop thinking of writing as a responsibility and return to the notion that it's entertainment. The more "professional" I become, though, the more difficult it is to assume that perspective.
My time for writing is limited. My output is sparse compared to many of my colleagues at the best of times, so lately there's an edge of panic in my approach, especially when I have a deadline.
Not good at all!
I'd love to know how other authors deal with this problem. Because I'm quite sure that I'm not unique. Writing can be damned hard work. That's the dirty little secret that many of us try to hide.