It’s When They Talk Back…

I took a little break from posting for a few weeks there.

The truth is, I am reaching the end of a bulky writing project and I felt happier putting everything else aside to try to get it over the brow of the hill.

I may be wrong but I think I’m over it now.  There may be another hill halfway down this final descent, we’ll see.

It struck me, while doing this work, that writing can be hard.  This may seem obvious but I don’t think it always is. 

I reckon there are people who have tried their hand at writing and given up because it didn’t come easily to them.  I also reckon there are people who it comes really easily to, and they believe they’re great, but really they’re just not working hard enough at it.

It is my experience that great writers often grind and sweat and push really hard to get their writing out.  Granted, sometimes it just rolls along like a Summer breeze but they don’t get to stop just because it stops being easy.  They just have to crank it out.

So my point, I guess, is this.  If you’re writing and it’s not coming easily, don’t take that as a sign that you can’t do it.  And, if you’re churning it out without a care in the world well… ask yourself, is it any good?

I’ve always found there is a point in writing something where I know I've largely cracked it and that, regardless of whether it will be good or bad, I will get it to the finish line.  For me, that moment occurs when the characters in the narrative start doing and saying things for themselves rather than what I tell them to do.

I realise this may sound like a load of pretentious rubbish nonetheless I’ve always found it to be quite true. 

You set up a story and characters and motives and emotions and such and then you write.  And, for such a long time, the characters lay there and do what you tell them to do – go here, do that – no problem.  Then, when you’ve done enough work, and if you’ve done it well enough, a character will just get up and walk in the opposite direction to where you think they should be going.

“I wouldn’t do that,” they will say, over their shoulder as they go, “I would do this.  Don’t you know me at all?”

It’s quite a glorious moment and a bit scary too because the story may now go somewhere you never quite envisaged it would go.

I reckon you’ve got to run with it, when it starts.  What’s the worst that can happen? 

At worst you might write yourself up a dead end and have to go back.  Who cares?  The writer who puts it upon themselves to chart a linear course through their writing is seriously damaging their chances of creating anything good, in my opinion.  It’s only ink and paper, you have to be prepared to write some stuff you will not use.  You also have to be prepared to learn almost subliminally from that stuff you leave behind and bring it along with you into that stuff you keep.

Ack.  I’ve been away too long, I’m rambling now.

Still if it gets me back in the blogging habit again, that’ll be okay.

I missed it, this last few weeks.


Acadia said...

My characters do what I tell them but I only write stories about robot slaves who mine my gold. So I don't know if I'm doing well or not. What do you suggest I do?

Dave said...

All very good advice. I will endeavour to take it onboard.

Maybe I should get my finger out first, and get my arse in gear.*

Nice to see you blogging again.


*These two things are unrelated, I hasten to add.

Laura Cousins said...

This line: "If you’re writing and it’s not coming easily, don’t take that as a sign that you can’t do it. And, if you’re churning it out without a care in the world well… ask yourself, is it any good? is very, very important. I want to go and shout it from rooftops. Seriously. x

Jim Murdoch said...

I frequently doubt my own ability, Ken. I’ve learned to live with it. Self-doubt is like a headache. There's really not much you can do but put up with it until it goes away. I don’t find writing hard once I’ve started. I find starting hard. The biggest obstacle I need to get over is the thought that I have nothing worth saying. So many books have been written what could I possibly add that would make any difference? And so I don’t actually write much. I think about writing constantly. I’m always starting things off in my head but very few make it to a real page. This I find hard. The blog is a useful substitute. I can go through the motions of writing. It keeps me in form and so when an idea does come I can just drop everything and start.

I was reading though some poems yesterday written by someone in their twenties and the only thing I could think about was how ‘young’ they felt. There was one I hadn’t written something similar to in my teens and there wasn’t one I’d even try and write now in my fifties. I do feel sometimes burdened by my past successes, as if what’s the point writing a poem unless it’s going to be a great poem? You get the idea.

Anyway, pretentious or not I’m glad to see you back. This place isn’t the same without you.

Anonymous said...

I completely identify with this. When I was writing a recent script, I was bashing my head against walls, trying to 'force' something to happen, to make the characters talk.

And then, one day, in an almost movie-like moment, it did "just happen" and they DID start talking back. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings I've ever had. And I just hung on, while they told me the story.

Sounds cheesy, but it truly did happen like that.

Glad to hear you're making good progress. Exciting.

Simon Ricketts

Susan at Stony River said...

Amen. I've worked on stuff until I hated it -- and that's usually what ended up in print, not the ones that simply fell out and I like them that way.

It's so good to see something posted here again! Ramble away, go on go on go on --

Laura said...

Sometimes it comes easy, usually those are the times when you have a lot to say and can hardly keep up with yourself. It's good to have nimble fingers. I don't know how the one fingered typists do it!

Other times it is an exercise in patience when you have interruptions and have to keep yourself getting back to it no matter how far away it gets as the day and the interruptions go on.

Other times, not so often, I just feel there is nothing I have to say, nothing I want to say and the world is a nasty, dark and horrible place. Why should I talk to anyone? Why should I even let them know a bit of me just so they can knock me on my butt again, nasty bugger that they are. Those days I give myself the day off, or I write it all down, DAMN THE LOT OF THEM!

hope said...

Ah, to hear another soul admit with witnesses that characters "talk" to him makes me feel human again. :) [Been a long few months with auntie dying and me in charge].

But most of all, I missed YOUR voice! Glad you poked in to check our pulse. ;)