What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?
(Beatles – A little Help from my Friends)
There are days when we write and everything seems to come together clearly and concisely. We answer our own questions, we meet our job specs, and then we meet our deadlines. It’s all very simple. Then of course we have the days when every passage of prose is discordant and jangling. We know that it’s wrong and yet we can’t see where it’s wrong. Our hands are typing a song that our brain isn’t singing. One of those days.
Any Creative can tell you stories of those days. Some people get them on a weekly basis, others go for long periods of creativity and then hit a drought. The point is that having a period of drought doesn’t make you a bad writer or a poor artist. It just makes you a writer or an artist. A creative drought will always end, unless you stop creating. So you write bad stuff, who hasn’t? So your portrait looks like a horse? Maybe rework it before showing the client but hey (hay), now you can paint a horse.
Isn’t that the basic premise of fiction? I spend all of my days writing about people who don’t do the things I say and certainly aren’t in the places I mention. Usually they aren’t even real people. In fact I am a great big “Liar liar pants on fire” most of the time.
The funny thing is that amongst all the fibs, of which there are many, the thing I am searching for is the truth. The truth of what it means to be human. The truth and mechanics of relationships. To engage a reader in a story you have to find the spark of recognition, the place where a reader realises yes I know this, I have lived this, this man is like me.
In order to get to that place your writing has to remain true to your character. Are you trying to make a person behave in a way they simply wouldn’t? Does it ring true? You see people really don’t step outside their normal range of behaviour unless they are placed in extreme circumstances and even then it is unusual.
So figure out what your character’s usual reactions would be and then you will know if you step outside them. If you are going there, do it with purpose and conviction. There are times when you can use this fact to advantage but it must be with a character your audience knows very well and I think possibly several books into a series just to shake up the pace. Part of the truth behind people is that we do things for certain reasons; sometimes we don’t know the reason, sometimes we have some insight. We are complicated and understanding and using complicated characters to get to the truth is just about the highest goal of literary fiction.
I am currently re-reading The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.
It’s a book that I recommend to every writer.
It is a collection of masterful short stories held together by an eerie overarching narrative. It’s by turns engaging and disturbing. Something for everyone.
” The sun was gone. Now the first stars were shining and the moon had brightened the fields of grass and wheat. Still the Illustrated man’s pictures glowed like charcoals in the half light, like scattered rubies and emeralds, with Rouault colours and Picasso colours and long pressed out El Greco bodies.
“So people fire me when my pictures move. They don’t like it when violent things happen in my illustrations…”
Writing can be an isolating experience. We throw ourselves into the worlds of our imagination. We lock horns with the intangible. We love and lose, talk of guile and greed. We engage with our internal inquisitor. It can seem a very narcissistic occupation.
The truth is that the sheer effort of writing well tends to weed out the self important and the showboater. It leaves a honed core of truly dedicated observers. We watch the world. Does that make our opinions more important than those of anyone else? More important? No. Better informed? Perhaps.
Writers are no more important than anyone else in the world. Writers are also no less important than anyone else in the world. We are its voice. So keep ploughing through that draft. Keep papering the wall with your rejections. Keep learning to use the subjunctive. Keep editing. Keep growing.
Someone has graciously agreed to read your work (yay!)
They will be giving you feedback and you will be spending time evaluating that and judging whether it is correct and helpful.
Give yourself a boost here and use your audience wisely. Ask one directive question.
“Is there one word that I use too often? ”
We all fall into the collecting habit. Your writing may be becoming too
“exciting” or “really” or “deeply”
all over the place.
People are bodacious pattern matchers. They really are. Even someone with no writing skill can answer this question for you and being aware of falling into the
Friendly words trap will improve your writing immensely.